The quarter is the most valuable coin issued by the U.S. Mint. More valuable than the penny, nickel and dime, certainly. More valuable than the half-dollar, which cannot be used on most vending machines or pay phones. (Though upon reflection, I haven't used a pay phone in seven or eight years, probably. I sure do miss sticking my finger in the coin slot in hopes that I'd find some change. Where else am I going to find a loose nickel?) More valuable than the dollar coin, which the subway vending machines like to dispense. I don't care for the dollar coin, because there are a lot of merchants who refuse to believe that a dollar coin exists. Oftentimes when I hand a dollar coin to a cashier, he or she stares at it and squeezes it, expecting chocolate to squirt out.
I first saw the value in the quarter when I was six or seven. I'd keep a collection of quarters that I'd spend on my two favorite hobbies: playing video games at the arcade (25 cents per play) and buying baseball cards (50 cents per pack). If you're under the age of 18, allow me to explain: an "arcade" was a place of business where kids could play video games displayed on TV screens inside cabinets; "baseball cards" were pictures printed on cardboard of Major League Baseball players. Whenever I had an extra quarter to spare, I'd use it at the mall on this electronic machine featuring the voice of a fortune teller who would say, "Give me a quarter, I'll tell you your fortune. Give me a quarter, I love quarters." So of course I gave her a quarter, knowing full well my fortune: I just wasted a quarter. And now it's part of her fortune.
Quarters are even more valuable to me now, because I rely on them to do laundry. I conserve them much like Elaine conserved the sponge. I feel a wave of excitement whenever I buy something and I know I'll receive quarters with my change. There's no greater thrill than buying a few items at the supermarket and finding out the tab is $7.13. You get back three quarters, and you've basically hit the jackpot. Conversely, if the tab is, say, $7.78, it's a letdown. Or, if you're expecting quarters for change and instead receive dimes and nickels, well, that's just one big tease, isn't it?
If only I were a magician, this wouldn't be an issue. I'd have a never-ending supply of quarters. I'd just keeping pulling them out of other people's ears.
I wonder how I'll use my quarters 20, 30, 40 years from now. All I know is that I hope I spend them all. I don't want to be showing my grandchildren my "quarter collection." Maybe the fortune teller at the mall will have a clue.