Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Power Of The Quarter

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.