I believe in lucky pennies. I’ll pick them up anywhere. I don’t care if they’re covered with month-old lint, transmission fluid, suds from last night’s teenage beer bash. I do this, not furtively or apologetically, but with bravado.
I didn’t used to look for lucky pennies when I was a kid. Certainly not in my 20s as I briskly paced lower Manhattan in my dress-for-success suits: I would never consider stooping so low to pick up something so lowly. Who needs a penny, when the world is your oyster? Who needs to look down when the air around you swirls with rumors of art and fame, whiffs of fortune and the heady perfume of sex?
You don’t stay young forever, of course. You do ridiculous, commonplace things like getting married, having children, moving to a house in the suburbs. Where you once were a portrait made from vivid brushstrokes, you are now a collage – a patchwork of scattered fragments — some glittering, some torn. You try to keep your head up toward the sky, where you point out the stars to the little creatures you are trying to civilize into human beings. You look toward the lights of the distant city, wishing someone could beam you up to Houston Street, just for one dance, one spliff, one moment of eye contact with the 7-foot Rastaman rocking back and forth by the back wall.
And, like it or not, you also spend time looking at the ground. Here’s what you see: vomit (human and cat), spilled milk (which you try not to cry over), dust bunnies (not as cute as they sound). Upon further excavation, you unearth non-childproof remnants of an earlier life: nail polish, safety pins, mascara wands. What’s that beneath those splinters of uncooked pasta and shredded bits of newspaper — could it be your missing diaphragm?
Eventually your body refuses to get out of bed. You try meds — new ones, old ones. You change therapists. You see a couples counselor, a tarot card reader, a Chinese herbalist. And then one morning, for no reason at all, you get up and walk all the way to the mailbox and back. It’s a warm fall day and the driveway is covered with yellow leaves and there, gleaming among them is a perfect copper circle, and it seems to be winking at you. You pick it up. You have to.
There isn’t a lot you can count on these days. Some days you wake up energized, some days the dog has to drag you out. You still look toward the heavens whence cometh some help, maybe, but you also scour the earth for signs of life, hope, love. You learn to take solace in ever-predictable cycles, but you also yearn to encounter delight in unexpected places. You know you need all the luck you can get. And so, when you find a penny, you pick it up. You put it in your pocket. And you say a kind of prayer.
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