Contrary to popular notions the streets of America were never paved with gold. Still, one could always discover items of value there, just lying around. We’re talking about coins of various denominations that somehow found their way to the pavement, inviting those with keen eyesight and a willingness to stoop to collect them. After all, it was, we understood, “finders keepers”.
As kids we were always on the prowl because there was no predicting when an errant coin might appear. We commonly walked about, head bent over, eyes scanning city pavements. And when we’d least expect it we’d spot a penny, nickel , dime or sometimes even a quarter. There was no hesitating; in an instant we swooped down and scooped it up. Any such “find” then caused us to move into high alert, based upon the common assumption that others might be in the vicinity. And sometimes they were. What a great feeling: clearly our lucky day. Remember, back then, even pennies counted for something. Occasionally parents would put a damper on things. “Put it back”, they’d say. “Let a poor person find it”. I didn’t quite appreciate the reasoning here since I hardly classified myself as particularly well off. Still, more often than not, I’d place it back on the ground. Less charitably, my mother might also say, “It’s dirty. You don’t know where its’ been.” The fact that I’d already handled it didn’t seem to matter. Health trumped “wealth”.
As kids, we’d sometimes capitalized on this popular penchant for “found money”. What we’d do is attach a thin, not easily detectable string to a dollar bill, place it on the sidewalk or other public passageway and then position ourselves a short distance off, out of the way. Someone would be chosen to hold the other end of the string. Then we waited for our prey to pass by. Some, upon spotting the dollar bill, were suspicious, stared at it, but made no effort to retrieve it. They obviously recognized the prank or had detected the string. They would look our way, smile and move on, relieved that they had not fallen for it. But on occasion someone did, and that made it all worthwhile. The moment they bent down to pick it up we yanked the string and pulled the currency away from them. You can never tell with prank victims. Many were embarrassed. Some, at times, became angry. But as you can imagine, we were thrilled at having managed to pull it off. We talked about it for days.
I’m much older now, but I haven’t given up looking down; not at all uncomfortable with picking up coins. I obviously don’t need the money – but that doesn’t stop me. The excitement remains. Finding coins is, I’m told, considered a good omen. I’ve also been informed to avoid picking up pennies if they’re showing “tails”. That’s bad luck, so I leave them behind. No reason to challenge superstition here – not for a penny. Otherwise I expect I will remain a coin hunter for years to come. At least so long as my eyes don’t fail and the knees don’t buckle.