All the pennies fit into a one-gallon sandwich that was roughly a 6″ x 6″ x 6″ cube. I hauled that in a blue FoodMaxx canvas bag. The plastic grocery bags that I had all had holes in them. Even if I doubled up on the plastic bags, I didn’t want to risk the pennies from falling through and spilling out on the hot pavement outside of the store. Knowing my luck, that would’ve happened. No sense in crying over spilt pennies.
I lugged the heavy canvas bag into the store, ignoring the strange glances that people gave me. No one walks into a grocery store with a loaded canvas bag. With my beard modestly trimmed, no one assumed that I was a terrorist planning to bomb the meat department and called the cops. I’ve been shopping at this FoodMart since my college days in the early 1990s. All the clerks know me as the guy who usually comes in with a gym bag after working out at the 24 Hour Fitness next door. They didn’t give me a second glance when I made a beeline to the Coinstar machine.
This was my first time “recycling” pennies through a vending machine. Whenever I had a surplus of pennies in the past, I rolled them up in paper rolls and took them down to the bank to deposit. If you go into a bank today with rolls of coin, they may very well call the cops on you. No one likes coins in the age of debit cards. I followed the directions on the screen and started dumping the pennies into the tray. I spent ten minutes listening to the rattle of pennies falling down into bucket inside the machine.
I’m a short story writer. While waiting for the pennies to be counted, I imagined writing a scene with an old man, probably short and bald, hunched over the tray of pennies he hauled in on his hand cart like a paranoid gambler at a slot machine, watching people come and go through the nearby entrance, and then something weird happens. I like to write about old people since I understand them better and they tell me interesting stories that no one else wants to hear. I’m not sure what the weirdness would be if I wrote that into a story. When I got home and took the elevator upstairs, I found a brown lizard blending in with the brown floor tile that hissed at me as I tapped my shoe next to it. I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff inside that elevator over the years but that was the weirdest yet. Maybe they’re connected somehow and someday I’ll write that story.
The Coinstar machine took everything except a Canadian penny that I put back in my pocket. I had a grand total of 3,711 pennies, seven dimes and one nickel. After a 9.8% service fee, I had $34.15 USD. I thought I had like twenty bucks at the most. That was more than enough for groceries. I handed the print out to the clerk to pay for my groceries and received the remaining change. I still have a smaller jar with bigger coins at home that I might bring in if I need the money for groceries next month. As for the Canadian penny, I tossed that back into the empty penny jar. I’ll see it again in another five years.