Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Bad Penny, Life One

He knew it was a bad penny when he was twelve years old. It was the one penny he got in the sum of fourteen dollars and ninety-six cents. The old man pulled out a ten and a five. He deliberated, then shoved the five back in his pocket and produced four ones. Then three quarters, then two dimes, and finally that penny.

The penny had been minted in 1983, and yet looked older than God. It was dirt brown and oxidized with disgusting green in bits. One green bit ran across Lincoln's eyes like a gash, as though a second assassin had blinded the president.

Fourteen dollars and ninety-six cents, David pocketed, for a week's work with newspapers and milk deliveries. He brought it all home, and that was the night of the last fight. His father pealed out of the driveway at dusk and never came back.

The penny, and most of the other coins, fell under his bed. He dug them out a month later to spend on lunch. His mother said his father was supposed to pay for school lunches and wouldn't give him the money. His father said his mother was supposed to give him that money out of child support and so wouldn't cough it up.

He had a test and needed food in his system, so he spent some of his money, including that penny, on a bagel. He went heavy on the complimentary cream cheese. It didn't settle in his stomach. He ran out of History halfway through the period to vomit. He leaned over the toilet, holding his head, and could have sworn his fingers smelled of pennies.

Having only completed a third of the test, he failed.

Because his parents excelled at telling him the other should pay for anything he wanted, he asked a favor to secretly work in the back of the cafeteria during his free period. It got him free lunch, and a little money under the counter. His first "payment" was a fistful from the coin drawer. He didn't even realize the penny was back in his possession until he got out of gym, wiped sweat from his mouth, and smelled damnable pennies. An irrational urge made him check his jeans, and there was the blind Lincoln, now with a second oxidized green gash, this one across his mouth.

He got busted by the principal the next Monday for working in the cafeteria. That was not allowed. He was reprimanded. His father was called in to "discuss" things with the principal, the first time David's dad would have been in town when it wasn't his weekend.

David waited for him by the fountain. He threw the blind Lincoln in and wished his dad would not be a dick about this, maybe be moved by the story and cough up some lunch money.

A half an hour later his father still wasn't there. David went inside and waited another two hours to learn his father had been killed in a car crash.

Many bad things happened to David in his life. Many bad things happen to everyone. He had a rich grandfather who would have paid his entire way in the world, but he died the month before David was born, and died without a will. The government took everything, David got no fairy grandfather, and no blind Lincoln penny was involved. Not in any way you could prove.

That grandfather did have holdings in a zinc mine that provided much of the US Mint's metals for penny minting. David found that out when he tried too hard to connect things.

The penny left that fountain and was spent on sno-cone, at a stand that was robbed two weeks later, by a thief who died from snorting tainted cocaine. Eventually it reached the right bank and went into the system, where it was destroyed. The bank it had gone through went out of business a year later, unable to compete with the big franchise with better annual percentages on the same street. That was after the blind Lincoln left circulation, though.

David sketched a theory. He always threw it away when he was done, but always rewrote it later. He wondered on a big thing, because money isn't coinage or paper. It isn't before or after the decimal on a receipt. Money isn't corporeal. That's why so much banking jumped online. The government could destroy damaged bills, but not one cent left the economy. In fact with big banks and stock markets, more and more money kept coming to be. Not one cent was destroyed. It all just shifted into the ether and the ethernet.

So when he bombed at community college, he wondered about the blind Lincoln. When his girlfriend admitted the baby wasn’t his, he wondered and cursed himself. When the economy crashed, he knew it wasn’t the penny. And yet, for days afterwards he could smell it on his fingers.

Please come back tomorrow for the conclusion of Bad Penny.


  1. A lot of people have a Lincoln penny -- the one person or thing they blame for everything that goes wrong in their lives. Just can't manage to look to themselves and their choices as to what went wrong.
    Thought provoking story.

    Giggles and Guns

  2. Thought provoking indeed. Superstition comes easy when you face the worst. Still, after reading this, I'm glad all my pennies have maple leaves and not Lincoln.

  3. John, in your comment on The Man Without Fear, you asked which parts of this I found funny.

    Funny: That grandfather did have holdings in a zinc mine that provided much of the US Mint's metals for penny minting. David found that out when he tried too hard to connect things.

    Funny: It got him free lunch, and a little money under the counter. I worked one of those cafeteria jobs as a kid. At least where I did it, you got food, no money.

    Bleakly funny: When his girlfriend admitted the baby wasn’t his, he wondered and cursed himself. But that's because I'm a sick bastard.

  4. Great story John. I love the bit about him smelling the pennies. Looking forward to tomorrow's installment.

  5. What a tangled web you have wove. Nice story, John, with great depth and imagination. The details are rich and nicely described. Looking forward to next part.
    I guess that's why they're trying to get rid of the penny up in this neck of the woods.
    Laurita - yes, maple leaves on one side but isn't that Queen Elizabeth on the back? And isn't that a green slash where her pursed lips should be......

  6. Mary, superstitions come from everywhere. When I'm in my right mind I find them fascinating. After all, even the language we're typing in right now is a superstition, passed from person to person on hearsay. If you look this story over, very little of the evil he pins on the penny is his fault - even David's belief about the penny doesn't come of his own will.

    Tony, interesting what parts you found funny.

    And Danielle, thanks for popping in on both episodes. Glad you liked both flips.


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