Such is the sorry state of affairs all over that maybe they'll accept the Susan B. Anthony dollar as real money in Salt Lake City, but they wouldn't have in my day. If you tried to tell anyone that that shoddy two-bit-sized copper-nickel piece was worth a dollar, you'd be shipped off to the state insane asylum at Provo.
There were real dollars then in the Rocky Mountain States, which produced the silver for them. Real silver, almost 90 percent, alloyed only to the degree needed for durability, almost an inch and a half in diameter and weighing close to an ounce. Such a satisfying and solid clink as one of them made when you dropped it on the marble-topped counter of the Brigham Street Pharmacy for a milkshake so thick you ate it with a spoon-and got six bits back in change!
Sure, there were paper dollars then too, but only for women's purses. Men viewed them with distaste, feeling their possession made you a sissy-boy.
I had cause to dislike the cartwheels only for half an hour at a time once or twice a week. That was when I worked summers for the Deseret National Bank as what was called a runner, which I suppose today would be designated a financial expediting aide, or some such euphemism for a messenger boy. One of my chores was to deliver a bag a 1,000 of those dollars from the bank to the Bamberger Interurban Station, several long Salt Lake blocks away. The bag weighed close to 60 pounds and gouged a bruise into a kid's shoulders.
On other days I would carry a satchel full of larger denomination bills, weighing less but worth more, from the bank on East First South up Main Street, where the gutters ran merrily with water from the canyons and drinking fountains on every corner, to the intersection with East South Temple-once Brigham Street. One turned right at the big statue of Brigham Young, up South Temple to State Street where stood the newly built branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. It was and presumably still is-I haven't been back in a long time-a handsome building.
On those journeys, a private cop walked six feet behind me, his revolver giving him a great deal of self-importance. At times, when no immediate threat was evident, he would walkalongside to relieve his awesome loneliness, but with his holster unlatched for quick action, and open a conversation. It always began the same way:
"One of these day," he would say, "the gangsters will come to Salt Lake. And when they do, they can shoot you just as well as they can shoot anybody else."
That was not particularly reassuring to a 16-year-old, but what the hell! I was being paid $16 a week, a dollar-a good silver dollar-more than I got a Depression-decade later as copyboy on The Washington Daily News. In any event, I left Salt Lake before the gangsters got there and went East, where gangsters were old hat and to be taken into one's stride.
But back to the Anthony dollar. There's nothing wrong, I suppose, with putting a real woman's profile on a coin, and that of a fine and worthy woman at that. But, it seems to me, she stands in relation to other persons portrayed on our small change-Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and JFK-about as Jeb Stuart compares with Wellington or Billy Graham with Thomas Aquinas.
Also, since the designer of the Anthony dollar saw fit to inscribe an 11-sided border within a circle, why did he not make the coin itself 11-sided or, if that was excessive, a pentagon, hexagon, septagon (if there is such a word) or octagon? The British 50-pence piece has seven sides and is unambiguous; its pointy angles are somehow pleasant to the finger tips. But Hazy Susan will let fury be unconfined as long as it circulates and is forever mistaken for a quarter.
So, it's a lousy coin, dross in content, disappointing in heft, mischievous in identity, depressing in its loss of Miss Liberty, but perhaps appropriate to the present state of American finances and the value of its money. All too accurately, a piece of current currency. But why proclaim national melancholia and distress in public? Masochism, if engaged in at all, should be confined to consenting adults in private. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption