Pennies, Etch a Sketch, and a Nephew

The November after the birth of The Prodigal Nephew, The Curmudgeon made his first visit to Toys R Us. It was pretty overwhelming: that place has an awful lot of stuff. He also saw that it was a bit of scam. After all, what do you buy for a nine-month-old boy? The Curmudgeon suspected that whatever he bought, the baby would shake the box, maybe try to put it in his mouth, and then turn his attention to something else or go back to doing the three things nine-month-olds do: eat, sleep, and, well, you know.

While wandering the aisles in search of inspiration, two things caught The Curmudgeon’s eye, and he returned in January, after the holiday crush was over, to get them.

etch a sketch

If you owned one, there were two things you surely tried: to write your name and to etch the entire screen.

But those two things were for him, not for his nephew.

The first thing he bought for himself was an Etch A Sketch. (And if you think it doesn’t bother The Curmudgeon – a LOT – that there are no hyphens in that toy’s name you haven’t been paying attention.) He’d had one as a kid and always enjoyed it, and he pictured himself playing with one now as an adult, while watching television. It was a good purchase: while he no longer has it, The Curmudgeon got plenty of play-time pleasure from his Etch a Sketch.

The second thing he bought for himself was a huge plastic crayon that’s a piggy bank. See its picture here.

Crayola on steroids

Crayola on steroids

Like many people, The Curmudgeon had containers of coins, mostly but not entirely pennies, all over his house. While on vacation just a few years earlier, though, he had noticed a pile of loose change growing in the corner of a dresser in his summer shore rental and started picking up some of those coins every time he went out and expected to spend money in the hope that he would use some of those coins when he did.

Thus a new mission was born: stop accumulating coins and start spending them. The nickels, dimes, and quarters would take care of themselves but the pennies were a different story. With this new mission came a new strategy: any time he was going out to run errands and expected to spend money, The Curmudgeon would pop about a dozen pennies into his pocket. Then, when he made his purchases, he would use those pennies to complete those purchases in a manner that left him with fewer pennies, not more.

So yes, that means that when you’ve been waiting in a slow line somewhere for ten minutes and the guy in front of you makes a purchase for $9.48, holds out a ten-dollar bill, and tells the clerk “Hold on, I think I have three pennies” while diving into his pocket and annoying the hell out of everyone in line behind him – well, if that’s happened to you in the greater Philadelphia area, the guy who annoyed the hell out of you that day may very well have been The Curmudgeon.

If you ever went to Atlantic City when you were a kid, chances are you ended up with one of these to hold your pennies.

If you ever went to Atlantic City when you were a kid, chances are you ended up with one of these for your pennies.

(And a bonus benefit: watching clerks try to figure out the change after he’s belatedly handed them those three pennies. Try it: it’s a hoot.)

So when The Curmudgeon brought his new crayon piggy bank home, he dumped all of his coins into it, nearly filling it, and estimated that he could empty the bank completely if he followed his new strategy and if he lived to be about 104 years old.


Artsy-looking coffee mug, owned by a guy who doesn’t even drink coffee.

The Curmudgeon keeps his sub-batches of loose coins in an artsy-looking coffee mug on his dresser. As he depletes each mug-full he refills it from the crayon piggy bank. Recently he stopped to admire his work and evaluate his progress toward his anticipated completion date. Through diligent work, he believes he has hastened that anticipated completion date and that if he continues at his current rate the coins will be gone by the time he’s 96, not 104.

Progress. Eight years worth, baby.

As he made this last estimate he reflected on both his progress and how long he’s been engaging in this silly Mission: Improbable.

But that was no challenge to figure out because he easily recalled when he purchased the crayon piggy bank.

Which is a long and roundabout way of saying “Happy 21st birthday, Zach.”



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