Monday, November 11, 2013

Heads or Tails

In the last twenty-four hours I have found four pennies on the streets.  Three I kept, because I just cannot see disdaining free money even in that denomination.  One I left where it was.

Because that’s how I learned to do it, that’s why.

Every neighborhood has its own rituals and beliefs, and growing up on my tiny suburban street full of children we all knew that pennies were only lucky if you found them heads-up.  Those you picked up, and not only were you then one cent richer but you were also quite possibly in for some good luck.  Since you could never have too much good luck, this was a win all around.  But if you found one that was tails up that was another story.  You could tempt fate and pick those up too if you wanted, but only the bravest and most devil-may-care of us would try that.  We weren’t really a devil-may-care bunch.  The ones that were tails-up we just left where they were.

But we didn’t leave them as they were.

The thing was, if you just left them alone then the next unsuspecting person either had to leave the penny there too (which was just silly – eventually somebody has to pick the thing up or it’s just a waste) or they would pick it up and get all the bad luck that came with such foolhardiness.  So if you found a penny that was tails-up it was your responsibility to turn it over so that the next person would find it heads-up and gain some luck out of it.  It was a way of paying things forward, really, and no, you couldn’t just go back and pick it up once you’d turned it over.  Once you turned it over it wasn’t yours anymore.

I’m not sure I believe in luck anymore, at least not as it pertains to pennies on the ground.  But forty years later I still flip over the tails-up pennies that I find and leave them there for the next person.

It just seems like the right thing to do.


Nathan said...

Oh sure. Tell me if it's tails up and it's a wheat penny, you just leave it there.

I think not.

David said...

Well, for a wheat cent I'd risk a bit of bad luck, sure.

Random Michelle K said...

I don't care if pennies are heads or tails up.

Or any other coins for that matter.

General practice is when you see ANY money on the ground (but especially pennies) you yell, "I'm RICH! I'm RICH!" and then joyfully pick up the money.

Tom said...

David, I'm with you. I think it is the right thing to do.

Doesn't mean I do it, just that I think it's the right thing to do.

But really, I don't bother to pick up pennies. I spend a bit of mind muscle trying to get rid of pennies. If I have some, I'll take 4 in my pocket, both to have some to use, and so that I won't have to take pennies in change. But not more than 4 at a time. Too many pennies eat at pockets. They chomp little holes in pockets that somehow become much bigger holes. Then your pockets won't hold ANY pennies, or any of the other stuff you have pockets to hold.

Just 4 and no more. And if you wanted to abolish pennies, I could go for it. I'm not from Illinois so I don't have a special feeling for the penny.

But change? In general I have less and less of it. Plastic and technology. Yeah, that's the ticket!

Unknown said...

For some reason I never came across this tradition. I like it though! Does it work for small coins of other currencies? And how do you avoid picking up the penny to turn it over?

David said...

Tom - I like having coins, in part because I collect them and you never know what people will give you in change (weirdest thing I've gotten so far: a half-franc from Vichy France). That said, if they eliminated the penny and switched the dollar bill over to a dollar coin (which would mean pulling the bills from circulation completely), I'd go for that.

Julia - You can pick it up, but you can't keep it if it's tail's up. You're supposed to flip it over and put it back down. And no, it only applied to US 1-cent pieces, at least in our neighborhood.

TimBo said...

When they replaced dollar bills with coins in Canada clothing manufacturers started reinforcing pants pockets. Maybe Tom should buy his pants in Canada.