I’ve had pennies on my mind recently.  That old rhyme about picking up pennies for good luck always appealed to me, probably because I need all the luck I can get.  These days, that’s about the only use for that coin.  I have a character in the back of my mind that I may dust off someday in a story.  You’re free to borrow him for a while, if you wish.  I call him the Penny Man.  An older gentlemen, he goes to the bank each morning and gets a few rolls of pennies.  He’s particular about the coins, sorting them by brightness and stuffing only the shiniest ones in his pockets before heading out.  He travels all about town, discreetly dropping pennies for others to find, a one-man fount of good luck.

Another version of the Penny Man is the Nail Man.  He travels about picking up nails, screws and assorted items that could get embedded in your tires.  I’ve lived in a number of neighborhoods with active construction and its associated debris strewn in the road.  I’ve often been the Nail Man, returning from my walks with my pockets full of flat tires.  You can borrow the Nail Man, as well, if you wish.  A word of warning, though.  I get my characters confused sometimes.  Some days I’m convinced the Nail Man is throwing nails out on the road rather than picking them up.  I’m having flats on a regular basis now, enough to hate all idiots with air wrenches.  (My tire service center doesn’t understand the concept of proper torque for my car’s lug nuts, nor do they know how to use a tire gauge.  And they’re professionals.)

Would you pick up a penny if you saw it on the ground?  I remember a practical joke from my childhood.  You would glue a quarter to the sidewalk and then take up a hidden vantage point to watch suckers try to pick up the coin.  (Even back then a penny wasn’t large enough bait.)  They would usually take two or three stabs at it before they knew they’d been had.  They’d glance about, like you do when you trip over your feet except this time there was no doubt they were being laughed at.  Then they’d either stamp off or slink off, depending on their personality.

I have a mental game that I play sometimes, called the Money Game, that starts with a penny on the ground.  I look at that mental penny and ask if it would change my life.  Other than trying to harvest luck, it’s not going to do much for me as I most likely won’t bother to pick it up.  Okay, let’s raise the stakes.  Instead of a penny on the ground, let’s make it ten times more valuable.  That’s right… it’s a dime!  Any difference in your attitude?  Not for me.  For all practical purposes, a dime and a penny are the same.

What about a dollar (another ten-fold increase in ante)?  I think most of us would pick a dollar we found (assuming it is not in an exceptionally disgusting condition).  Any life change involved here?  For your sake, I hope not.  You have to pretty low for a dollar to be a major life event.

What about ten dollars?  (You know how the game is played by now.)  We’re all going to pick it up, perhaps even look around for the owner, have a Woohoo! moment and perhaps lunch.  Otherwise, we’re still stuck where we are.

A hundred dollars?  At this point, we’re probably not picking things off the ground anymore.  Assume you won a drawing, or something equally convenient for our purposes.  Also, from this point on, we can safely assume we’re going to accept our windfall.  The question now focuses on life change.  Anything from a hundred dollars?  Unless you’re a ten-year-old, that Ben Franklin is probably going to sit in your wallet or get spent quickly.  At the end, we’re still stuck where we are.

A thousand dollars?  We’re getting into the realm of real purchasing power now.  A thousand dollars can be a laptop, a camera, a couple of hot air balloon rides during Albuquerque’s annual International Balloon Fiesta.  Maybe we can pay off some bills, or save for a rainy day.  As for us, we’re still stuck where we are.

Ten thousand dollars?  Almost a car.  A kickass vacation.  And still stuck where we are.

A hundred thousand?  A house in some neighborhoods.  A car in others.  A good chunk of college and a shot in the arm for a rainy day fund.  And us?  Still stuck.

Okay, how about a million?  Surely that is life changing.  I’ve noted before that accumulating a million dollars is roughly the equivalent of a lifetime of work.  Put a million dollars in my pocket and you have, at last, offered me a life changing event.  I could conceivably quit work or, more importantly, pursue work I enjoy without regard to pay.

Let’s keep going.  What about ten million?  Even better, right?  Definitely set for life for most of us commoners.

A hundred million?  Suddenly, our bright skies are becoming dark and cloudy.  Think of the sheer effort of managing that much money.  It becomes a job in itself.  Of course, you could hire someone to manage it for you, but you have to find someone you can trust.  You see, for the rest of your life every time someone smiles at you, you will think they are after your money.  As I heard in a security briefing once, “If she’s pretty and you’re ugly then she’s a spy.  And you are dog-butt ugly!”

So be careful what you wish for.  In most things, not just money, there is a sweet spot where things work out well.  Too little is not enough and too much is… too much.  Even in the sweet spot of the money game, our circumstances change but we do not.  For the most part, we’re still stuck where we are through thick and thin… and flats.  It’s been almost twenty four hours since my last flat.  Time to break out the jack.

And if I see that Nail Guy, I’m going to run him down.

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