Wednesday, January 23, 2008

...Like a Bad Penny - by HFC Member, Gary Denton

“See a penny, pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck.”

I left my clinic to get some lunch Monday afternoon. It was one of those unusually cool days here in Houston, and I had neglected to bring a jacket. I shoved my hands into the deep pockets on the front of my smock/scrubs and stepped into the spittle of rain. A flash of amber light caught my eye and I looked down to see a scared and battered penny on the ground. It only flashed the dim light back at me because the scratches across the face of it were deep enough to reveal thin coppery lines of clean metal. There was a sudden urge to pick it up and that old familiar rhyme echoed in my head. Instead, I shoved my hands deeper in my pockets and quickly ran to my car, but, as soon as I got inside and closed the door, I felt a pang of guilt and sadness.
The poor neglected penny lay on the smooth blacktop, and I could almost hear its shocked cry for attention:

“Hey! Here I am! You forgot to pick me up! Don’t you want to have good luck today? Well, okay then, but wouldn’t you like to be a penny richer? No? Why not? I mean, I have value, don’t I? Yeah, not as much as I used to, but hey, I still count! At least- I think I do. Uhm, then how about an engraving of our 16th president? Come on! Abe Lincoln! He still matters to you, right? Hey, aren’t you coming back?”

The truth is I didn’t pick up the penny because it was lying on a dirty parking lot, and certainly had seen its better days. With the gloomy weather, and my occupational exposure to people who are coughing and sneezing, I can’t take the chance of getting sick, especially from whatever germs were still clinging to that penny. And, as far as luck goes, I guess I stopped believing in luck a long time ago. After all, it was just a penny. If it had been a quarter, then sure, I would have picked it up. That at least had some practical use on the toll way.

I pulled out of the parking space, and as I passed the spot where it lay, I couldn’t help but glance in the general direction. I didn’t see it. Had someone else picked it up, or was the shine that made it stand out the first time, now gone in a puddle of dirty oil-streaked water?

So much has changed since I was a young boy, but I do remember stopping to pick up a penny as I came out of a grocery store with my mom. “See a penny, pick it up…” I began.
“And all the day you’ll have good luck!” she finished.
I kept the penny in a box where I squirled away other boyhood treasures: rocks, string, a broken guitar pick. I don’t know if that penny ever brought me luck, but I do know that, at the time, I was much more willing to believe in a simple rhyme, a simple truth, and a simpler way of living.

After lunch, I paid for my meal with a debit card, but then I saw a box of mints on the counter.
“How much for the mints?” I asked.
“Ten cents,” replied the cashier.
I searched my pockets. Nope, no change at all. So, I gave her a dollar and bought five mints. She gave me two quarters in change, and I left. On my way back to the car, in the parking lot, I dropped one of the quarters. I quickly turned to pick it up, saw its silver surface shining up at me, and then drew my hand back.
Maybe there is a new rhyme I don’t know about. Maybe a mother and her young son or daughter will leave the restaurant in a few minutes and he or she will look on the ground and say “Hey mom! See a quarter, pick it up…”
“Put that nasty thing down!” She’ll say. “Do you want to get sick?”

Gary Denton

No comments: