Dead presidents and a trillion dollar coin
Wine Country through rosé-colored glasses
Monday, Feb. 18, is Presidents Day, a federal holiday that’s traditionally relevant only to those in need of banking, school kids and Macy’s. It is that magical time of year when a deposit made after 3 p.m. the previous Friday isn’t available until Tuesday, latchkey kids run rampant and department store sales managers try to redeem themselves after a holiday slump.
When I was a kid, however, I was in the karmic crosshairs of this Presidents Day trifecta: My mother was a banker and, having the day off, would trundle me to the nearest department store sale to put a new blazer on my back. I was the best-dressed street urchin in Petaluma.
I could’ve run for president myself were it not for the minimum age requirement of 35 years. It’s too bad, really, since kids are full of optimism and big schemes, all wrapped up in the kind of innocence and naiveté it takes to do the impossible. By the time most of us are 35, we’ve accrued enough skeletons in our closets to stock a mausoleum.
When I was a kid, we celebrated Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays separately, meaning the shortest month got two days shorter, at least in terms of school attendance. Now, we lump them and all the presidents together into a single holiday – though I suspect not all of them deserve it. To wit, out of the 44 presidencies, we should divide the day up and selectively sit out celebrating those we think aren’t worthy.
Also, we have to amend our math slightly because Grover Cleveland was president twice but not in consecutive terms, to wit, we only have 43 people with whom to work. Twenty-four hours divided by 43 is about 34 minutes per president.
Now, we have to calibrate the times of day with the president in order of appearance, beginning with George Washington at midnight, Feb. 15 and ending with President Obama around 11:26 p.m. the same day.
So, if you opt not to celebrate the presidency of George W. Bush, for example, then you should forbid yourself leisure and do something useful starting at 10:52 p.m. (In the ensuing 34 minutes, you will likely accomplish more good than W. did during eight years in office).
Conversely, if you were a fan of President Clinton’s, 10:18 p.m. is about the time you should send your intern home. If you want to play Deep Throat a la Nixon, start at 6:54 p.m. and then resign in disgrace at 7:28 p.m.
Back during the most recent budgetary crisis, the notion of minting a trillion dollar coin as a means of bypassing the need for Congress to raise the debt ceiling gained some notoriety. While the relative absurdity or genius of the coin was debated, no one bothered to ask which president’s face would be on it. This is a shame, as it would have made for a more interesting debate. Clearly, no single person could rank a trillion dollar coin, though the alternative, a “group shot” I suppose, might seem a little ambitious. Unless it showcased the greatest personalities of American culture, most of whom are not politicians. Anyway, the coin would end up looking like the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – but shinier. A LOT shinier. And it would end up being the McGuffin in the greatest heist movie ever.
It used to be that the only way to get your face on a unit of U.S. currency was to be a dead president. With only those two requirements, most of us can easily fulfill at least one. Then in 1979, the rules changed. I was 7 when the first Susan B. Anthony dollar coins were minted and then decried by the media for their design and the fact that everyone mistook them for quarters. At the time, it seemed the only people who applauded the coins were those who serviced vending machines. I was 27 when the coin was reissued and recovering from a post-Paris breakup. Fortunately Hemingway had beat me to writing about women and Paris so I didn’t have to bother. Dig this:
“A girl came in the café and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair was black as a crow’s wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek.”
If they reissue the Susan B. again when I’m 47, my kid will be 10 and I’ll be dragging him to Macy’s Presidents Day sale to put a new blazer on his back, bemoaning inflation and wondering if the cashier can break the trillion dollar coin burning a hole in my pocket.
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Daedalus Howell mints money at DHowell.com.