What is Drastic + Dramatic

Monday, April 01, 2013

April's Fool: The Hundred-Dollar Penny

Somehow I've been 24 years old my entire college career. Guys always guess 24/25 to be my age. And I still feel 24. I'm afraid as soon as I graduate, 28 will catch up to me all too swiftly.

Because I started college at 24, already the average age for dateable boys on campus was a bit on the low side. But the real problem was how as time went by, the boys kept getting younger, and I aged without really getting any older. They would always think I was 23–25, but those numbers didn't always stay. So because it happened so often that guys sort of reeled away and grimaced once they heard the number of years I'd been on Earth, I just made a habit of separating school and dating. Like church and state, dating and schooling just didn't seem able to co-govern in my mind. I expected the church setting to be my reliable dating source (ha), and the school to be my skills and education source.

This final semester, as a last-ditch effort, I decided I'd make an attempt at repentance and take the Dating and Courtship class. Might as well get some good prophetic advice before I leave the university environment and its ripe breeding ground for dates and marriages, which environment I neglect as often as I trudge straight through it. I've been learning a lot of good things in this class, and putting them into practice in life. Such learn+apply behavior has been making my dating life less pathetic, though my date quota hasn't increased one bit. So that's a nice side effect already.

Today, though, the dating class offered a lesson I never would have expected and still may not fully understand. We were talking about tips for selecting a good mate. At one point the teacher settled down in a chair and said he would need a female volunteer. No immediate hand rose. He said, a girl who likes money. I kicked my hand to the sky, joking about enthusiasm for the money part, but ready to climb on stage for the magic trick.

As I approached, he briefly told me that if I wanted more than I was given, I would need to give up what I had to get it. Those were the rules, that was the system. I sat down in the sideways-facing chair he pulled out for me. I faced him, the class faced us. When he reached into his pocket, we heard chattering coins. He lifted out a quarter and placed it on the table between us.

"Do you like that?"
"A nice quarter."
"What could you get with that?"
"I could use it at one of those bubble gum machines."
"Would you like something better?"
"What's the system?"
He holds out his hand.
"Have to give it up if I want something better," I say, placing quarter-George face-up in his palm.
He whips out a dollar.

"How's that?"
"How much better?"
"Uh...four times?" I doubt my math. Four times or three times better than a quarter? Four quarters, one dollar. . .
"Oooh FOUR TIMES! Who told you that that bill is worth more than this coin?"
I reach way back into the memory of elementary school days searching for a name. Was I really supposed to remember who told me—ohhh wait:
"Society says this paper is valued at four times that coin. It has the value we say it has."
"There you have it, class, it's the value we GIVE the money." He turns again to me. "Would you like something better?"
Hand out, bill in.
Then from his other hand, Jackson's wavy hair and suave grin slide across the table.
"What do you think of that? Is that green paper better than this green paper?" He sets the $1 and $20 side by side.
"But why?"
"Same answer."
"Not because this face is better than that face?"
"Jackson's got better hair." No offense, George.
"Would you like something better?"
"If you've got something better than a twenty, yeah."
"Oh, so now there are stipulations to this agreement?"
"I'm just saying, so far you've been pretty reliable."
"Ah, you're beginning to trust me. So would you like something better?"
"Uh, sure."
Hand out, bill in.
He slaps a penny on the table.

actual penny :)

"Oh," I say.
"Tell me how you feel right now?"
"Shortchanged." I smile. Class laughs.
"How else, other words."
"Cheated. Betrayed."
"Good. Why?"
"Because you said—" No he didn't say he would give me something better. He asked if I wanted something better. "Because it's not worth more than the $20," I finish.

As I repeatedly flip the penny and catch it, he explains to the class how he believes a lot of us are dating loose change, not expecting more for ourselves; or how we're dating $20 bills, but always looking for the possible better, greater mate. (It's not a wholly lucid analogy, but we get what he's getting at, right?)

"Do you want to keep the penny?"
"No, actually, I don't." It's dirty and pennies are practically useless.
"Aren't you worried that you'll get something worse than a penny? Is there something less than a penny?"
"Yeah, nothing," someone in the class says.
"Has anyone been to the Philippines? I've been to the Philippines. They have what are called centavos/sentimos (something like that). One penny is worth one hundred centavos."
I just stare at him. So he might hand me a centavo.
Hand out, penny in.
A $100 dollar bill slips onto the table.
"Here you go. Have a seat."
Wait, huh?
"What? Seriously?"
"What, would you like something more?"
I'm just thinking, no way I'm going to actually take my religion teacher's money.
"It's yours if you want it," he says.
I stand up and take a couple steps.
"Are you for real? I mean—" I feel quite awkward.
"You can trade it in, but what's the system? If you want something more, you're going to sacrifice what you have."
"I'm good." I go to sit in my seat. I'm not sure if he was hoping I would keep playing.
I'm almost back to my seat and he says again, "You sure you wouldn't want something more?"
"I'm just—I don't know. Confused. You said take a seat. I thought the game was over."
"It's up to you. You can keep it, or you can wait for something more."
"What do you mean, wait for more? This sounds like gambling, Brother Sackett; we aren't supposed to gamble." The class laughs.

I'm approaching the front of the room again, so unsure what's expected of me. I'm a true from-the-crowd volunteer. I'm not "in" on any of what he's getting at, but I'm trying to play along as best as I'm grasping his analogy. I like analogies. I'm not about to spoil a good object lesson by being a lousy subject.

"You can keep the hundred dollars, or you can trade it for something more. How far would you be able to make that $100 go?"
I recognize that the larger the amount I have, the easier it is to consider investment to see results. I say, "Actually, I could save it, invest it maybe."
"Ah ha, I like this girl! Invest the money. But you could do that with all these amounts, right? The $20, the $1, the quarter—though that would take a long time. What matters is if you invest, you get more out of your money than just money."

He then goes on to explain how if we value relationships, we invest in them. If we constantly think something better will come along, we'll never invest, we'll never get anything. If we do choose a $100 but one day down the line see $1000 walk by, will we be committed to our investment?

I've been trying to understand this object lesson better, but I don't know if I'm wholly grasping it. But when I think about a quarter earning a bubble gum, $1 buying a Redbox movie, $20 securing some groceries, it took the $100 amount for me to finally realize I could invest and save that money, get more out of it than "things," and I realize, I've probably had a fair too many "thing" relationships, where I'm not looking at the possibility with quite the right intent. I know I'm a loyal person, a giving person, and I will invest fully in my husband. Am I willing to sacrifice what I have now to get something better? Will I be willing to sacrifice things to build investments and interest in the future, when I've already selected my mate? I think so. Do I see the value of a person as God sees it? Can I recognize the potential of investing together, helping each other polish up and become more valuable? These are the nuggets I take from this lesson, I guess.

So as I sit there, $100 bill face down on the table in front of me, the teacher wraps up his lesson. He mentions how, in the thirty years he's taught classes and used that object lesson, only three girls kept the $100 bill. Apparently these girls all eventually felt shallow and the other people who knew she kept the money perceived her as shallow too; either the guys didn't want to ask her out or she personally felt like none of the guys wanted to date her once word got around that she kept the $100. At this point I'm thinking there may have been something missing from our version of the object lesson. If you give a girl $100 and tell her to keep it or trade it for something better, is she stingy for not trading it for something better? How is she suddenly an undesirable because she volunteered and played along and got a sweet payout for it? She's the victim here! See, I'm confused.

Class ends, people pack up their stuff and leave. I already decided minutes ago that I wasn't keeping the money. Just not right. Why not right? I don't know. It's his money, I'm not leaving with it.

As I walk up to the front of the class he says, "So, Emily, are you still thinking about it?"
"No, I'm not keeping this," I say, smiling.
"You can keep it if you want, or you can take this penny as a reminder."
I don't remember if he said as a reminder for something specific, but he holds out the penny and I reach for it. He pinches it tightly; I had to pull it from his fingers. He says, "If you take this, as soon as you find your million dollar man, you have to come back and tell me."
"I will." I put it in my left front pants pocket and walk back to collect my things.
"Well, a penny isn't too much, it's too bad." He's saying something like this with a farewell tone, a goodbye lilt.
"I came to class without any money, so I can leave with a penny and be better off."

But this strange thing was happening in my throat and behind my eyes as I walked away toward my job on campus. Something inside me, something rational and greedy, said, "Wow, you just forfeited $100 for a penny." I replied silently, "No, I never had $100 to forfeit." But I felt a loss and tears threatened to go in search after it. (Sometimes I'm a real wimp against tears.) I felt sacrifice within me, felt a recognition that I'd done this before, but the parallel sacrifice of an actual relationship.

I'd had $100 boyfriend once. Really didn't want to give him up, thought I had what I wanted. When I felt it wasn't right anymore, that I couldn't invest in him and get an eternal return, I gave him up. And what did I get in return? Well, I'm not involved in a lousy investment for one. Beyond that, I don't know. I just felt like it's better to have a penny that can become something than $100 that'll run dry in no time.

So basically I traded $100 for a year-2000 penny today. Am I April's choicest fool? Meh. I'll keep that penny. And you know what? I think I'll start keeping pennies in general, as many as I find, as many as make up the change from paying with cash, and I'll collect them until I find that man. And my wedding day present to him will be a $100 bill.

In God I trust. I'm willing to see my investment climb penny by penny, because isn't that how life goes anyway? Some moments are $20-good; some are $100-amazing, but mostly it's pennies feeding that porcelain pig, keeping it fed day to day, and taking us safely through the rainy days.


lalo said...

Love love love this!! Such a great lesson and reminder of the worth of relationships and the worth of souls.

J. Coombs said...

I actually needed to read this. Thanks, Emily.

erin said...

You're a great writer Emily! I loved this!

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