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You Can't Take It With You

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My bank is filling up fast, and what am I going to do then?

I pass it throughout the day and night, every time I stumble through my kitchen. A kitchen is not such a strange place to have a bank if you really think about it, which you probably won't. Consider the close affiliation between treasure and things destined for the digestive track: clams, bananas, taters, cabbage, bread, cake, etc., all things which slang has assigned to items sustaining body and soul.

Anyhow, my bank sits leadenly in my kitchen, slowly but steadily filling up. A foundation bed of pennies, layered with state-specific quarters with a solid sprinkling of nickels and dimes. All consigned at the end of the day (or at least the pants-wearing part of the day) to a large plastic container better suited for storing a winter's worth of split-pea soup. All together, a mixture of metal and Tupperware. My savings bank.

The last time it filled up, I emptied it into an oyster sack and lugged it to a licensed bank, the kind with tellers and guards and awful savings rates. They gave me an electronic counting machine, and it was fairly easy to come to a full accounting, all $423 and change.

Now the Late Unpleasantness has washed away that branch of the licensed bank, leaving me only a bedraggled branch without such pleasantries as electronic counting machines. Maybe I'll have to revert to the old way, counting coins by hand and putting 10 bucks worth in an envelope. It was a process that seemed to cry out for an abacus. ...

Why take the trouble? I saved no appreciable capital, cash or coin, during the opening decades of my work life -- or the ones that followed, either. "They don't make shrouds with pockets" goes the old saying, and I completely agreed. My disdain for the hoarding of lucre even extended to coinage. If I dropped a penny, I would refuse to bend over to pick it up, superstition dictating that to do so would inform the gods that I was desperate for cash. Later, the superstition spread to nickels and dimes, and I was working my way up to quarters.

But somewhere along the way, I started to save pocket change in my Tupperware branch. Maybe chronology had something to do with it. My grandfather had been a devotee of cigarettes and whiskey and wild, wild horses in his younger days, but as the fires flickered, he morphed into some Dickensian skinflint. When my grandma came back from the grocery, he'd check the price of every item against the receipt. He had a Depression-era distrust of putting all his savings in one place, so on paydays he'd strap a money belt under his shirt and ride buses all over town, depositing a little bit here, a little bit there.

So maybe I was becoming more like him. God wouldn't take a man who was still saving, would he?

But this new passion would not come easy, even in a kitchen. I got a piggy bank when I was a kid. It wasn't actually a pig; it was a tin cowboy riding a tin bronco and between his tin shoulders was a slot, available always for any coin smaller than a half-dollar.

The arrival of a piggy bank marked a demarcation line between the two sides of a divided self. What two sides? Just these: the side of instant gratification; the side of spend for now versus the side of save for later.

Deferment took an early lead. I slipped a few pennies into my tin bank. Then I held it, I shook it, I tried to estimate how much money it would take to fill, how long it would take to fill. What I would one day buy with its fill. ...

I can't quite recall how long it took for instant gratification to take over. I only recall holding the tin bronc-rider upside down and trying very, very heard to shake some real American money OUT of the bank. In case you've forgotten, it is not easy to get money out of a bank -- but how could anyone possibly forget that? You shake and shake, but the bullion never quite lines up with the slot, not even after painstaking maneuvering with the blade of a penknife. No, it requires juggling, prying, gashing and widening with the help of a hefty screwdriver. Then, and only then, do you know the exquisite pleasure of a bank withdrawal, aka stealing from yourself.

After that deflowering, never again would the little tin bank hold the promise of steadily escalating wealth. From now on, it would be a juggle of deposits and withdrawals until finally the slot in the cowboy's back became so enlarged it almost swallowed the hefty screwdriver. ...

Was it not ever so? Did a kid ever truly fill up a piggy bank? Did not today's licorice always win out over tomorrow's fishing rod?

And nowadays do kids even bother with piggy banks? When their coveting leans towards Hovercraft or some telephonic gadget that takes your pet's pulse and retails for high three digits? When it costs the Mint six cents to make a nickel? When Congress is threatening to pull the plug on pennies?

Besides, what kind of child prospers under piggy-bank rule? Next thing you know, the piggy banker has stopped buying cigarettes and started bumming them, drops promissory notes in the church collection plate, forecloses on single mothers, builds up a huge fortune and never quite learns to enjoy it. ...

And why not?

I told you before. They don't make shrouds with pockets.

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