May 20, 2006

One penny luck

Somebody, somewhere, dropped a penny on its side. They dropped it on its side or bounced it on its side, somewhere up the parking lot hill and here it comes rolling. Copper coated zinc with Lincoln looking backwards, somehow rolling improbably past the black top cracks and the cigarette butts and pebbles and potholes and lost screws. It bounces and rolls, and jumps and rolls, wobbly but still upright, a little fleck of copper rounding down and making a whirling sound.

I was standing at the pump, leaning on the truck with the pump's latch letting gas gurgle into the tank and the radio played something Beatles and I heard it, nicking and knocking and whirring in the long filliping roll down, the sound of the flat edge against uneven asphalt. I heard it, somehow over the Cleveland St. cars and the Chevron fill-ups. I looked up and looked for it, finding the copper flash with the memorial mausoleum spinning like a hub cap, like spinners and spokes.

Joe used to give me the pennies he found, the face-down ones. He was the person I knew who prayed the rosary and had white hair growing out of his ears and every weekend he’d drive his big truck out to the casinos to play poker on the slots and at the tables. He always said he'd won, if not that day, then in the long run. The face-ups were good luck and the downs were bad, so he'd always check. He'd squat over abandoned pennies to see and pick them up and wipe them down to read the date and mint letter and to see if they said IN GOD WE TRUST or E PLURIBUS UNUM. The ones that were down, he said you had to give them away or they'd be bad luck, the bad luck down-facing pennies were good luck, if you gave them away.

The penny rolled past me, back of the pickup, and slowed down and did a loop, a large right hand circle turning into itself and into a wobble. It collapsed with a shake and a rattle and I put the pump away to see what it said. It's a 50-50 chance and even the bad luck 50 can be flipped. This is the only game of chance where there’s really no way to loose but still for some reason I wanted to see. I wanted to know what it said even though I know there’s nothing it could say. Somehow, I needed to see if my penny came up for good luck even though that was the only way it could come up.

A suited black man in a black Mercedes looked back over his shoulder at me, suspiciously. Up the hill, from where the penny came, two women in a telephone booth looked down to try and see what I was looking at. I was in the driveway by the street bending over to find it. I found it between a dead weed and a round rock, Lincoln silently staring out at the road.