Where Has All the Pocket Change Gone?

I’m not certain how I acquired the small zippered coin purse, its green leather lightly stained and worn smooth and soft as butter. Nor am I certain which of my kinfolks, all long gone now from this earth, was its original owner. I think it may have belonged to my maternal great-grandmother Jennie, for whom I was named. Or perhaps one of her sisters— Wilma, Laura or Mary–carried it when she shopped.

All I know is that the coin purse is mine now, though I don’t use it for its intended purpose. It’s tucked away in a box of keepsakes I take down from the closet shelf and look through from time to time, just because.

Which is not to say I don’t use coins. I do. I keep a handful of change in the zippered compartment of my wallet, which the generations ahead of me would have called a billfold. In the console of my car is a metal cup full of coins. I have two nickel-filled Snapple bottles that serve as bookends and a penny-filled Calfkiller Brewing Company growler I use as a doorstop. These days, I can’t help but wonder if hauling all those coins to the bank would be the patriotic thing to do.

Because it would seem that, in addition to all the other misery 2020 has wrought, we’re now in the midst of a coin shortage.

I first learned about in the drive-thru at Popeye’s a couple of weeks ago. I handed the girl at the window a five dollar bill to pay for my $4.38 spicy chicken sandwich. “Do you by chance have 38 cents in change?” she asked. “Or we can take plastic.” Pay for a sandwich with a credit card? I’m too old-school for that. I dug around in my wallet for some change, but all I came up with was 17 cents, a paper clip, two safety pins and a flattened “lucky penny” featuring the St. Simons Island lighthouse that my son James once gave me as a Mother’s Day present.

It was almost noon, and cars were lining up behind me. Nobody had honked yet but it was only a matter of time. “Can you just keep the change for a tip?” I asked. The girl shook her head no. So I opened the console and began digging around in the metal cup for 21 more cents to go with what I already had. I grabbed a quarter. Nope. That wouldn’t do. She’d owe me four pennies. Finally, I dumped all the coins onto the passenger seat where they rolled around and finally settled amidst the hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes and a package of disposable face masks.

I grabbed a dime, two nickels and a penny and handed them over. In exchange, I got a dollar bill and my spicy chicken sandwich, which I didn’t eat in the car even though my stomach was growling like crazy because heaven forbid that I touch food without washing my hands for 20 seconds with soap and water.

So why the coin shortage? Reputable news sources report that reduced retail sales during the spring Covid-19 shutdown took a lot of coins out of circulation. Production at the U.S. mint slowed in April and May because social distancing requirements reduced staffing. Not-so-reputable sources say the shortage is a hoax, part of a conspiracy to create a New World Order. A cashless society will allow “them” (whoever they are) to track not only our every purchase but also our every move.

I can only shake my head in amazement and long for simpler times, when little old ladies paid for their purchases with coins neatly kept in a zippered leather purse.

(July 19, 2020)