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My two cents- Give no quarter

August 28, 2000

My two cents- Give no quarter



When I'm king, I don't know what I'm going to do about Medicare reform, but I do know this: The United States of America is going to stop jacking around with its currency.

If there is one thing that's become clear over the past year, it is that the folks over at the U.S. Mint have way too much time on their hands.

I've been quietly grinding my teeth over this state-quarter fiasco, but some people seem to be entertained by it, so I've kept my mouth shut. But now, building on the great success that was the Susan B. Anthony one dollar coin, the U.S. Mint is introducing Sacagawea L. Shoshone one-dollar wampum.

If they thought a Native American touch would make things satisfactory, they could have just called it the Siouxsan B. Anthony dollar.

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I hated the dollar coins. I got a handful of them one time as change from the stamp machine at the Post Office and it took me three months to get rid of them all, trying to convince Kletus down at the bait shop that they weren't some sort of Las Vegas parking meter tokens.

How much more American productivity is going to be lost as people wait in supermarket lines while people argue with the cashier over whether this Sacagawea thing is real legal tender.

To counter that, there will no doubt be the $400 million ad campaign to get folks to accept the new coin with mottos like, "Be an Indian giver." Banks will have signs with a big cartoon squaw pointing and saying, "We want to see ya with a Sacagawea."

Seems to me, it opens the door for counterfeiters, too. Who knows anymore what money is supposed to look like? "Yes ma'am, I'll be paying for that six pack with my Minihaha $5 coin and my Northwest Territory 83-cent-piece."

The state quarters really leave me cold. Are we that bored with our society that we have to play around with our change?

The Romans didn't do this. They had Marias, Sulla and Caesar. End of story. They had more important things to worry about than minting an Italian Gaul quarter with a bunch of grapes on the back, or a Sicilian quarter with a picture of a suckerfish.

What does it say about a nation where a person learns less about geography in a public school than he does at a neighborhood bar playing quarterbounce?

Since it encourages coin collecting, I suppose it's all part of the government's ongoing Entertain the Nerds Program, that includes public radio computer shows and Area 51.

If the Mint wants to do something really productive though, instead of introducing dollars, it ought to be phasing out pennies - an item of coinage so insignificant that convenience stores give them away. I would happily round up the price of everything I buy to the nearest nickel not to have to fuss with this copper clutter.

Honest Abe would get over it; after all, he'd still be on the five-dollar bill, and with a makeover to boot. If you've checked out the new fives and tens, you've noticed that Hamilton and Lincoln have gone from dowdy old bookworms to superstud presidents of the WWF.

Heavier on the hair and cheekbones, lighter on the beak and wrinkles, they look positively dreamy. I wish the Mint were in charge of the Lincoln Memorial. The old boy could use some biceps and an ab chisel.

But what about us ugly folk, for whom Honest Abe has stood as a beacon of hope that gorgeously challenged people can look up to and dream to emulate?

Perhaps all societies have beautified their heroes in art. Alexander the Great may have had a hair lip and a big old goiter for all we know. When was the last time anyone drew an ugly Copernicus? With the possible exception of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, societies don't cotton to homely heroes.

Sacagawea, for her part, looks pretty good, too. If one of those coins falls into my hands, I'm going to hoard it. It's easier than spending it.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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