Lame Adventure 420: Springtime Spewing

Three months ago I looked down my block and it looked like this.

Cold and snowy February.

Cold and snowy February night.

On Sunday it looked liked that.

Warm and sunny May.

Warm and sunny May afternoon.

When the weather is warm, sunny and the humidity is low, it’s the perfect time to go outside and take a hike in the hood, which is exactly what I did.

Stop raising plows!

Stop raising snow plows!

Toss that snow shovel away!

Toss that snow shovel away!

Sit the flowers on the sill.

Sit the flowers on the sill.

Upper West Side water towers looking good against a clear blue sky.

Ogle a water tower or two.

Last week, on a lovely spring day, my friend, Coco, noticed this magnificent tree that is growing on the West Side Highway at Canal Street.

Coco's magnificent tree.

Coco’s magnificent tree.

This prompted yet another in our ongoing series of philosophical text exchanges.

Exchange of deep thoughts.

Exchange of deep thoughts.

For those of you who read this site for its vast educational component, Coco accessed her inner dendrologist and has since learned that it is a Redbud tree.

I’ll admit it: I have some quirks. I fantasized about eating cigars as a small-fry thinking that tobacco tasted like chocolate. I started reading the obits at age ten. Whenever I see a ticket stub on the sidewalk I try to see what event it is for — but I don’t flip the stub over.

Frustrating.

Frustrating.

I also pay fairly close attention to my small change.

Recently, when I was purchasing carrots, kale and bananas in my market’s organic department, I needed a penny to complete the transaction. As I was digging through my coin purse, I noticed that I had a wheat penny. No way was I going to part with that special cent, even though the clerk insisted I do so.

Me: No, I can’t spend that one. It’s from 1920.

I pulled the year 1920 out of thin air. I had no idea of that penny’s vintage. The clerk gave me a look that screamed:

Clerk’s look: Nerd!

It takes more than a hairy eyeball to intimidate me. If she wielded a bat, knife, or surface to air missile, then I would have handed her the entire contents of my wallet and a kidney. But, the transaction reached a peaceful conclusion. It so happened that my wheat penny was not from 1920. It was from 1918. Woodrow Wilson was president. The most popular film that year was Tarzan of the Apes starring Elmo Lincoln. (Who?) The second most popular film was the infinitely more intriguing sounding I Don’t Want to Be a Man directed by Ernst Lubitsch about a crossdressing teenage girl who thinks she can have more fun being a guy.

My 1918 penny.

My 1918 penny.

How often does one have a 96-year-old penny in one’s change? Apparently I have one in the 288,104,000 that were minted in 1918. Hold the smelling salts.

I realize that this one one-hundredth of a dollar is showing its 96 years and would never be mistaken with being US mint factory fresh. But it’s been out on the front lines of the world for nearly a century, except maybe when it sat neglected in Hubert’s sock drawer for three years starting in 1936 and then it was stuck in Ida and Ralph’s couch cushions for a decade that began in 1954. Those periods of isolationism aside, it’s been kicked around proving that it’s a coin that can withstand the test of time, it’s a sliver of copper with character. How admirable. Can we say that about the nickels, dimes and pennies in our usual change?

Therefore, it was disheartening to learn that its value is only somewhere between four and forty-five cents today. How can that be? If only this heavily battered and bruised cent, tattooed with nine decades and six years of wear and tear could enter a time machine that reveals all the pockets, change purses, sidewalks, fountains, cash registers, piggy banks and occasional loafer (leather and human) it’s been in. Its many encounters with the rich, the famous, the notorious, the historical, the obscure, and now me, the hysterically insignificant, then it could come full circle and reap the respect this common but rather rare vintage of coin still floating around Manhattan island in 2014 deserves. Then, it could skyrocket in value, merit being displayed under glass and finance my retirement … or possibly just some organic carrots, kale and bananas. I’ll settle for free groceries.

1918-ish looking street lamp and flag displaying a Bill Cunningham photography exhibit at the New York Historical Society.

1918-ish looking street lamp with banner for a Bill Cunningham photography exhibit at the New York Historical Society.

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59 responses to “Lame Adventure 420: Springtime Spewing

  1. Thanks for this spring walk in the city.

    R.

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  2. I understand about the penny. I wouldn’t have spent it.

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    • At least its years of service are appreciated in my world. If a coin could rate a White House Medal of Freedom, this one should make the short list, Jim. The down side of this accolade is that the medal would completely obscure it.

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  3. Great piece about the penny! I luv it!

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  4. Great essay on numismatics, V! What I love about your posts is I never know where you’re going to lead us, but I do know it will be somewhere interesting.

    I own a small coin collection that I started when I was about 10 that my grandfather fostered. He worked as the book keeper for a chain of gas stations and handled lots of money in those days. When he found out that I was interested in coins, he would pull out the older ones and save them for me (replacing them with appropriate equivalency, of course). I have an almost complete set of Mercury Dimes, a set of these wheat pennies and one of buffalo nickels. I think I’ll spend a little time this week and take a look at them again…

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    • I assure you Cathy that this makes two of us not knowing where this post was going, but I knew I wanted to write about both spring and that penny. Hence, a mash-up.

      Thanks for sharing that story about your grandfather and your coin collecting. Back in the day, my father appreciated coin collecting; he got me into it, but we’re amateurs. FYI: I took that shot of the 1918 penny with the macro lens on an Olloclip. I learned about the Olloclip from you!

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  5. Unless my math fails me, isn’t a penny one one-hundredth of a dollar? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Redbud tree is study in change. It starts with those beautiful buds, then to green leaves, then to a red gloss on the leaves. We have one in our back yard, and it is magical. Hang on to that penny. It is, as you say, a study in history. Entertaining walk. Thank you.

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    • Thanks for that feedback about the Redbud tree, English Professor. That’s great that you have one in your back yard! I would love to see a tree like that daily in all the seasons.I made sure not to return that penny to my coin purse.

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  7. I can’t spend a penny from the year I was born. That’s not as old as a 1918 penny but if I see a 1971, it’s mine. Sooooo mine.

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  8. Coco’s tree looks kinda cancerous. I hope it’s okay. From context (semen, shit, et al.), I gather the tree’s in a less-than-desirable part of town. I looked it up on Googlemaps and see that it’s near the Holland Tunnel. Is that kind of a crummy area? I figured everything close to the water would be upscale.

    Fuck that clerk–I would have kept the penny too. I’m not surprised at it’s value (actually, I’m surprised it’s worth as much as it is), but I think it’s awfully cool.

    I like your ticket stub thing. I pick up pennies when I see them, ’cause they’re lucky, but ONLY if they’re face up. If they’re face down, I turn them face up for the next person.

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    • Thanks for sharing your quirks here, Smak! Coco was in an area that’s welcoming during daylight but in the midnight hour, when she is far, far away, it probably has its share of interludes worthy of an Abel Ferrara film. I’m confident that you get my drift. The populated parts of that are are upscale.

      I suspect that my penny is worth closer to 4 cents than 45. It’s been subject to a lot of lovin’ and hatin’.

      That’s great about you turning pennies face up for the next person — something else to add to your legend.

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  9. Good for you! No way I would have spent that penny. And I had no idea what they were actually that old. That’s a really long time for a coin to be in existence. I know, I know nothing about the life-time of small change, but it sounded good. Right?

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

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    • Aren’t you glad that you’re a regular reader of LA, Kathy? Now you know that there are nearly century old coins still in circulation over here. Keep us posted on the dates you see on the change you come across in Ecuador. Maybe you’ll find something left behind by the Incas in the garden.

      Hugs from the Big Apple,
      V

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  10. We have a Redbud tree in our back yard too. There are a lot of them growing wild out in the country here in Texas. They really stand out in the Spring with those beautiful blossoms.

    Hey, that penny was minted the same year my mother-in-law was born. She’ll be 96 in August (shares Bill Clinton’s birthday) and she stays up-to-date with her large extended family by email, although she’s afraid to go beyond that and surf the internet because she might blow up her computer.

    I’m glad the weather is finally allowing you to get out and about again! I love your “hikes in the hood.”

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    • Wow, two LA readers with Redbud trees in their back yards! What are the odds of that? This tree sure gets around.

      96 in August and still has her marbles. That’s e-blast worthy.

      The weather looks good for this coming weekend, too, but I’ll be spending both days indoors ushering plays: why my complexion is vampire meets albino pasty white.

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  11. Thanks for a stroll down the streets, V. As far as that tobacco fantasy you had as a child, we have something in common. When I was a little girl, my Grandaddy would carry tobacco in his pocket. It was shaped like a candy bar. I found it and bit into thinking as you do it might be flavorful. A BIG FAT NOOOOOO.

    I cannot believe a store clerk would give you a hard time about a penny! I’d keep it too. I love finding lucky pennies. I think finding any coinage is good luck.

    Nice tree btw. And your new gravatar looks lovely.

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    • I did taste tobacco, when I was a kid, too, Brig. That great American intellectual, Curly from the Three Stooges, planted the idea of eating cigars in my head. It tasted far more yuck, yuck, yuck than nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

      Thanks for the gravatar love. It was a good time to refresh it, a good hair day.

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  12. I think a bag of free groceries is really all anyone can expect for retirement nowadays.

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  13. Great post! And what was the fate of the penny? If I were that clerk I would have spotted you a penny. For crying out loud! That penny has been a lot of places. It deserves to sit under glass and finance your retirement. Wouldn’t that be cool! It needs a little rest and all.

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  14. You have a new Gravatar picture. You are darling, you have no lines on your face!!! Dang it.

    Sorry about the penny. I have a piggy bank that my mother got as a child and it’s full of old pennies and I went through all of them. SQUAT.

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    • Did you actually dig through your mother’s childhood piggy bank AFTER reading this post, Maggie?

      Thanks for the gravatar love, buddy. I did not inherit a piggy bank from my mom, but she screamed at me when I was 30, “Moisturize!” I have slathered my mug religiously ever since.

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  15. I hear a penny isn’t even worth a penny anymore. Sounds like you’ve got yourself quite a deal there. If you hold onto it for another hundred years maybe you’ll be able to double the value. That’s my two cents.

    :PPP{PP{ ”
    That was Reggie’s two cents! 🙂

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    • Since you brought it up, Jackie, as of May 14, 2014, the melt value of the 2014 penny is $0.0054563. Thank you for your two cents that the value of my penny will increase to eight cents (oh, the purchasing power!) in another hundred years. And thank Reggie for the two cents worth of slobber.

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  16. Wonderful use of the penny … that is to enhance the post as opposed to completing the transaction. I immediately recognized the Redbud … such a beautiful tree in the spring. Back to the penny, as with your ticket stubs, I don’t picked up pennys that are face down.

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    • Whenever I see a wheat penny in my change purse, Frank, an alarm rings in my head warning me to not spend it. I never noticed a Redbud quite like the one that Coco photographed. It is such a gorgeous tree in spring. Maybe I can get her to revisit it in the other seasons. Why do you not pick up pennies that are face down? Is it bad luck and you could find yourself in New York City on a jam packed subway train at rush hour?

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  17. The Redbud tree is delicious no matter what fertilizer is used to cause its beauty. I get the whole penny thing, no matter its market value, I would keep it, at least till it is 100 years old. How cool is that!

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  18. A real copper penny. They don’t make them like that any more.

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    • You are correct! In 1982 the penny went from 95 percent copper to what it is today: 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper (copper-plated zinc). I did not know those percentages off the top of my head. I checked them out on the U.S. Mint’s web site.

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      • The non-copper pennies don’t look nearly as nice when smashed in those machines at tourist places that elongate them and engrave a picture of wherever the place is. Not so good the old-fashioned penny-smashing way of leaving it on the rail of a train track and letting a train run over it either. (Used to do that as a kid. Some you find, some you don’t. Cuz of course you had to get out of the way of the train or a whole lot more than a penny would get smushed.)

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        • I didn’t know that about the non-copper pennies and those machines! Thanks for sharing that factoid here, but you leaving pennies on the train tracks and then darting out of the way in the nick of time in your youth to avoid being reduced to train track spread is my favorite factoid.

          Liked by 1 person

  19. I once overheard some finance guys discussing whether or not it was worth stopping to pick up a penny from the ground. They were factoring in inflation, time lost and such. Dude, just pick up the penny. But I wouldn’t have spent this one either.

    There was an actor named Elmo Lincoln. I really hope that was his real name and not the name the studio came up with.

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  20. Aren’t you going to offer me a penny for my thoughts? I realize most of my thoughts are only worth half a cent, but I have been known to offer my two cents every now an then. Today, I clicked “unflollow” then clicked “follow” again. For a brief nanosecond I was a non-fan, but I’m a sucker for your wit and worldly wisdom. There–now where’s my penny?

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    • Gee Russell, it’s taken me so long to respond to your comment, I feel like I should ask if you take American Express. I hope you once again get my posts whenever I get around to posting. Thanks for long time following, then unfollowing so you can follow again. That’s worth at least an entire vault of wooden nickels right there.

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  21. Another enjoyable trek around New York, LA! I like the Christmas Card scene that you started off with.
    I love old coins, and the physical link they have with history… I’m going to have to hunt out my old coins now to see if I can get some kind of mental link going with them for a tale or two!

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    • I like that Christmas card picture, too, but I am so glad that the snow is over! Do tell the tale of the old pence behind that jar of hair gel, Tom — preferably in verse. You give good verse, pal.

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  22. Duuuuuuuuuude that first and second pic of your neighborhood tripped me out. But I imagine you enjoy the spring a lot better. Makes for better hikes in the hook, I imagine. And I would have kept that penny too. I don’t have a coin collection of anything but I’m still trying to find one minted the year of my birth, my grandma’s and my dad’s … I know it’s lame, but I’m a nerd like that.

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    • I much preferred this spring to winter, Guat, but now the searing summer heat is starting to kick in. I so wish I could hit the pause button on spring until fall. I tend to save coins that were minted in the year of those near and dear to me were born, too, so your not alone in your nerdicity.

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