Advisory to fellow columnists: if you can't stand disagreement, never write in the public prints that pennies are useless.
Many are the letters I've received since making that assertion a few days ago. Many were the adjectives that readers attached to my pennyphobia -- unimaginative, un-American and inflexible, to name but a few.
But more important, many were the constructive uses for pennies that my readers suggested. I figure I'd better report the best ideas of the bunch before the adjectives get even harsher.
Mary E. Moran of Northwest points out one of the oldest uses of all -- give your pennies to Higher Authority. "I know a woman who puts her week's accumulation into her church's poor box each Sunday," she writes.
I still say that's the beginning of the story rather than the end, Mary. If you and I can't get a bank to accept a roll of pennies, can a cleric do better? Perhaps with the Lord's help . . . .
Stuart Binstock of Chevy Chase took one look at his infant daughter, Anna, and did what every 1984 parent does: He got a severe case of the Oh-My-Gosh-In- 18-Years-I've-Got-To-Send-This- Kid-To-College Heebie Jeebies.
But Stuart has taken some of the heebies out of his jeebies with pennies. He is careful to save the older kind, which have a stalk of wheat on the back and which may be worth two cents apiece, Stuart figures.
At last count, Stuart's collection is worth $40 and climbing. Says Dad: "That will probably buy my daughter at least a cup of coffee on her first day at college."
Speaking of college, Leslie Dumas is a senior at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. She reports a purpose for pennies that those of us in the Big City (and the Big Suburbs) might well copy.
"Once a quarter," writes Leslie, "B-burg puts these gadgets on the parking meters that lets them accept pennies instead of the usual dimes. One penny equals 10 minutes. They invite anyone with pennies to spare to put them in the nearest occupied meter. This gives everyone the chance to get rid of their extra pennies and help a neighbor at the same time." Clever!
A first cousin is the system Joan and Lou Tosti of Falls Church encountered last month in a Traverse City, Mich., restaurant.
Their check came to $12.63, so Lou began digging frantically in his pockets for the three pennies that would allow him to give the cashier exact change. But in mid-dig, the cashier said cheerfully, "Help yourself!" And she held a basket full of pennies toward him.
The basket was a penny "bank," the cashier explained. If you need a few, you take. If you've got a few to spare, you give. Clever again!
Val Choslowsky argued that a molehill of pennies can save you from a mountain of change.
"The clerk rings up your purchase," hypothesized Val. "It comes to $5.02, tax included. You reach for your billfold, and find that you have only two bills -- a five and a 10." If you have two pennies, you're out of the woods, notes Val. If you don't, you have to hand over the 10 -- and get back four ones, three quarters, two dimes and three pennies. Clutter!
Jeff House of Silver Spring had two ideas that were as bright as pennies usually aren't.
Idea One: "A roofer friend happily violates federal law by driving holes in pennies to use as washers, instead of paying three cents each at the hardware store." I'm not ordinarily in favor of breaking the law, but this sounds both harmless and economical -- a tough combo to beat.
Idea Two: "Once, when my wife and I had just moved to a new city, our new bank and our old bank failed to communicate. We lived through the weekend on the contents of our penny jar." How can you oppose survival?
Finally, there's The Barbell Idea.
It belongs to a man who begged for anonymity on grounds that people would mock him if they knew his name. I think patent lawyers would storm his door. But anyway . . . .
Mr. Bashful saves all his pennies. He now has about 50 pounds of them. He keeps them in large jars. He has attached handles to them, and he uses the jars as weights.
Every day, he does curls and bench presses with his collection. He could buy a set of barbells, Mr. Bashful said, "but this is so much more satisfying." Easy to see why.