Thursday, April 14, 2011

She Won't Go Down

There’s a young woman in my office who has been clumping around in an orthopedic boot for weeks. It’s the kind of thing a doctor makes you wear when you break an ankle. I asked her about it in the elevator the other day, and she told me that it was “the result of spending too much time in uncomfortable shoes.” No broken bones, no plantar fascitis, no hammer toes or bunions. Just painful and lingering nerve damage.

I started doing an informal research project, paying close attention to women’s shoes. I work in a very large company, and there are probably 350 people in my office alone, at least half of them women. The office requires “business casual” attire, and 90% of the women wear heels. Of those wearing heels, at least 75% wear high heels, often so high that the movements of the women wearing them appear stiff and graceless. The small minority who wear flats appear relaxed and comfortable.

The other day, I was on the elevator by myself as I was leaving the building. It stopped on the second floor, and two women got on.

“I feel so guilty taking the elevator,” one of them said. “But I hate using the stairs.”

“Yes,” the other woman agreed, “I know what you mean. I’ll go up, but I won’t go down.”

I asked them what they were talking about, and one of them said, “It’s the high heels. When you go down a flight of stairs, it really hurts to put your weight on that heel.”

“Many women have told me that the reason they wear high heels is because it’s attractive to men,” I said in a mock-serious tone. “But as a man, I feel obligated to tell you that we genuinely don’t care what kind of shoes you wear.”

They chuckled, and one of them said, “Yes, but sometimes we like to look a little taller.”

The doors of the elevator opened, and we stepped into the lobby.

“But don’t women all claim that they want men who are taller than they are?” I asked. “Why make yourself taller and limit your options?”

They minced painfully towards one building exit, and I headed for another. But as they left, one of them said to the other, “He’s right. Why do we do this?”

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In Praise of the Penny

People who collect coins are called “numismatists.” I’m not one of them, because I realized early on that the coins we get in change aren’t very valuable, due to their condition. If you take collecting seriously, you have to pay big bucks for mint-quality coins and hold them for a very, very long time.

Nevertheless, I often examine my pocket change just out of casual curiosity. I check out any new designs and read the dates. Today, I was stunned by a penny.

I vividly remember, as a kid, finding the occasional Indian Head penny, which ceased production in 1909. I don’t ever recall finding one older than 1900, so most of the ones I found were around 40 – 50 years old.

The coin that replaced it is commonly known as the “wheat back” penny. In 1959, the back of the penny was changed to a depiction of the Lincoln Memorial. “Wheat back” pennies started to get scarce. Sometime in the mid-70’s, I started separating them from my change, tossing them into a drawer. 25 years later, they had doubled in value, so I sold them for a whopping 2 cents apiece.

Today I dumped a handful of change on a counter and spotted this “wheat back:”


When I turned it over, I was shocked to see that it was minted in 1930:


This coin, still in circulation, is 81 years old. And yet, it’s less worn than pennies half that age. It’s been around since Herbert Hoover was President. Assuming it hasn’t spent a major part of its life languishing under a sofa cushion or soaking in a wishing well, this penny has probably been handled by nearly 10,000 people.

It’s easily the oldest coin I’ve ever found. I only hope I look that good when I’m 81.

There is a movement (I prefer the term "conspiracy") dedicated to the elimination of the penny from U.S. coinage. The arguments are that it's costly and that pennies have almost no buying power. Personally, I feel that the elimination of the penny will cause an almost instantaneous form of inflation that would be tiny in scope, but make a few very wealthy people much wealthier without having to lift a finger.

I have faith that at some point, the dollar will rebound, becoming a strong currency once again. When that happens, pennies will regain value as currency. I say wait it out. I have a penny in my pocket that has been waiting for 81 years.