Numismatist: The Collector
I walked out of the bank with a tightly bound roll of quarters fresh from the teller’s drawer. My teller, who was Australian, spoke softly making her accent barely audible along with her voice. I wanted to ask her so many questions about her journey from her homeland and how she ended up here, Sioux Falls of all places. But I held my tongue and said instead:
“Australia! Wow! I’ve always wanted to go there! I recently found a work visa program where you can live and work there for a year.”
“They’re really hard to get. Especially right now.” She said without enthusiasm
“I’m a clown. That makes everything easier right? Or at least I think so.”
I tossed my roll of quarters in the air and said goodbye in a funny french accent. She laughed and said goodbye.
As I strolled through the parking lot playing “Catch the Roll of Quarters”, I walked by two guys in a truck talking about something. I made eye contact as I threw the roll high into the air. I mouthed Oh No! as they lifted from sight. The guys in the truck looked like they had just seen a murder. They had no idea what to do or think: Who is this guy? What the hell is he doing? I caught the quarters without looking, bowed for my audience and marched a away like a Drum Major with my prize roll of quarters held high singing She’s a Grand Old Flag. I would like to think the “Truck Men” laughed. I don’t think they even smiled.
Naturally, whilst playing my game for the parking lot and a dead bird, I dropped my roll of quarters. I was not mad that I had to kneel in the slush to retrieve my lost coins, but more mad that I had failed the biggest stunt: The Behind-The-Back-Catch-a-Roo. As I went about picking up the, perhaps, three dollars in change from the ice, something caught my eye. What could it be? One of my favorite things…a bicentennial quarter. Marked: Liberty, 1776-1976 and E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, One). I became a greedy kid again, hiding candy from him mom, keeping secrets in his pockets for later. I picked up the treasure from the slush and stuffed it into my change pocket just under my belt line next to my typewriter key and Ammo Coin. I collected the rest of the silver walked briskly to the van. I had laundry to do.
My family has always collected money, not for the study of currency, but like pictures of places you’ve been and family photos. My Grandfather, August, collected money from all around the world. He was a bomber pilot in the South Pacific during WWII then became a career Aerospace Engineer and traveled the world. He kept a huge binder of both paper and coin money from all corners of the globe. Mostly Asia and Polynesia is where Grandpa and Grandma would go. I would flip through the pages and see a nations history. Leaders I never knew existed that had left their mark in inked fiber strands. The binders were like textbooks to me, maps and roads of places I could only read about and ponder where they were. The pages filled me with a sense of wonder that kept me turning each plastic sheet to find out more. They were the best books I ever read featuring pictures of Gorbachev, Mao Tse Tung and some guy in a coconut hat. He was my favorite.
As I stuffed the small, over priced, hotel washing machine full of dirty socks and embarrassing underwear, I kept thinking about my new prize resting in my pocket. This was not unusual to me because I maintained an old coffee can packed with trinkets: A note from my friend Jamie, several small gemstones, coinage from eastern Europe, an Egyptian dollar, one buffalo nickel, two Kennedy half-dollars, one Susan B. Anthony silver dollar, four Sacajawea dollars, one William Henry Harrison dollar, one 1950 Philadelphia or Denver mint dime (which I think is aluminum), a handful of wheat back pennies and five dollars worth of bicentennial quarters. I couldn’t wait to put the new George with the others and let them talk about their journeys and how they ended up in an espresso can:
“How did you find out about this spectacular place?”
“I was saved from a Washington machine!”
“Oh, George! You are insatiable. Another martini? Of course. Another round Abe, if you please.”
Maybe not, I thought, I don’t like martinis.
What I did want to hear was where they came from. When I was a waiter at the illustrious Cracker Barrel in Sioux Falls, I would receive dollar bills marked with “wheresgeorge.com” (a site to track where this bill has traveled and how it came into ones possession). Some of the bills had traveled thousands of mile from all across the states and Canada to be laid on jam slathered tables. I took each bill into my care and transferred their serial numbers and watched as the program slashed a line through a map of the states, the Heartland and right to me.
After my laundry was done, Kevin and I decided to make some food (we were staying in a nice hotel which had kitchens in the rooms). We ran about the 49th street Hyvee collecting what we needed for a nice meal. We went to check out. I’ve always had a hard time reading the screen on the card swipe thing because I’m tall enough the digital numbers turn grey and mesh with the screen. So, I did what my Dad always does. He’s really tall too and an old track star and he would awkwardly spread his legs super wide, not bending at the knees leaning into the key pad like one of those drinking dippy bird things. While doing this and taking up as much space as possible, I decided it was a good idea to make eye contact with the guy in line behind us:
“Uh…does the key pad work better like that?” -unsure what was going to happen
“It makes it magical.” -Crazy smile
I paid for my half of the groceries, picked up my bags and suggested to the guy that he should do the same stretch:
“It makes the experience so much better. Trust me.”
He smiled and did it. Boom.
After dinner, I cleaned my kitchen, put the dishes in the washer and stored the leftovers. I noticed my pile of quarters oozing out of the broken paper roll. I began to sift through them, making shapes and looked for messages in the coins. I became lost in my mind while my body made rudimentary shapes (I think one was a dolphin) with the silver. As my hands moved, artfully finger painting the table top, my eyes we filled with memories. Things in my past I had not thought about in years: bad decisions, people I had lost contact with, ex-lovers, expired coupons and the places all these things resided in my skull. Where did they come from? What was their journey into my life? What would they talk to each other about? How did I go about storing them?
As I travel the state, in some of the most remote locations (like Hoven or Allen) the kids ask where we are from. Kevin and I tell them about the states we were raised and explain that our company is based out of Sioux Falls:
“Wow! Sioux Falls! That’s so far away!” Like a map in a textbook
The kids collect our information as if we were rock stars or celebrities, carefully holding on to what they can hold and stash it away with their other trinkets. Keep them safe from the world as hidden treasures. What would we talk about in their lives? How did we influence them? How did they influence us?
As I collect my trinkets and gaze at them longingly, I will only put them into an old coffee can and let them talk and keep my secrets and memories. Let them remain with me to remember where I have been and what I have done. Let them renew the wonder of turning the plastic sheets with faces and cities I know, and a guy in a coconut hat.
That damned bird was the best audience. What a stiff.
With Love, All the Best, Travel Safe,
American Numismatist Association: http://www.money.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home
Where’s George?: http://www.wheresgeorge.com/