None of us ever think about the money we handle. For a society that is paranoid about catching Ebola, no one cares about the exchange of money in our country. At a fast food restaurant or a theater or anywhere, really, we're happy to hand over, say, a twenty and get our change back. But no one ever thinks about the change they give to us. You don't know who held that dollar before you did. The person in front of you at the drive-thru at McDonald's could be a cokehead, and the dollar you get back when you're at the window could have cocaine residue on it. (Unless it was the guy from THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, who doesn't believe in one-dollar bills for coke-sniffing.) Or it could have shit on it, which happens more often than not. It could have Ebola on it.
But no one cares. Why would you?
But never mind that. Some people don't think too often about change--as in, actual coins--because who gives a fuck? My friend, Josh, got rare coins whenever he worked the register at the gas station he used to work at. I have a few Nazi coins because of my stepfather's father. And then there's the scene from UHF about the rare Indian head penny that grants a homeless dude a fortune.
I recently got a 1920 wheat penny back from a transaction at McDonald's. Very few people would think about something like this. If you don't know what a wheat penny is, it's a penny so old that it doesn't have the Lincoln Memorial on the back. It just has ONE CENT back there with a couple of pieces of wheat surrounding it in almost a circle.
But who cares about a penny, right?
I would never call myself an antiquarian. I'm not nearly pretentious enough for something like that. However, I do appreciate old things. I'm interested in eras that have passed us by. Hell, I should be. I grew up in an era where nearly everything that was considered ordinary is now condemned as illegal or at least questionable.
The 1920 wheat penny is worth exactly one cent today. However it's psychically worth more. This penny was seven years old when my grandfather--my oldest living relative I can think of--was born, just to give you an idea. Who knows the hands it passed through, back in the day when one pound of bread was worth ten cents? World War I vets probably held this thing. People who suffered through the Great Depression maybe kept it in their pockets. People who were shamed by Prohibition probably paid bartenders in speakeasies this penny. Hell, it's possible that the last of the Civil War vets could have touched this thing.
Maybe--JUST MAYBE--my grandfather owned this penny when he was a kid, growing up in a household that prohibited speaking English at home. His family wanted to be Americans, and they knew the language, but at home, he would be punished if he spoke anything but Greek. Today? He remembers almost nothing of his parents' language. He recalls the curse words, but that's about it.
He was born in 1927. His wife--my grandmother--was born in 1930. Just to give you an idea.
It makes me wonder: will there come an era when there are new people walking the earth, and they'll be marveling over 2014 pennies that someone gave back to them at a McDonald's drive-thru? Will they be pleasantly surprised? "Dude, this could have been held by the Navy SEAL who shot bin Laden!" Or, less likely, "What if the guy who wrote TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE touched this penny?" Provided, of course, that they still have physical money in the future.