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I was wandering down Third Street with no particular purpose, trying to recall all of the lyrics to a particularly catchy Police song, when a small glimmer caught the corner of my eye. I crouched and examined the pavement closely, gladly discarding my previous mission since I'm not even really a fan of Police. I tried to find that glimmer again amid a sea of chewed gum, ticket stubs, abandoned fliers and used contraceptives, the exact type of which I won't divulge seeing as some may consider such information unnecessary and even rude. Squinting my eyes, I crouched a little closer to the ground until that familiar glint once again came into vision, beckoning me with its small-yet-seductive glow.

An ordinary nickel
And to my great pleasure and surprise, the glint was more than a mere flash: it was treasure. For there on the sidewalk, resting between a glob of Juicy Fruit and a twenty dollar bill, was a shiny new nickel.

I snatched the nickel from its spot with my thumb and forefinger, bringing it up to my face as I arose from my exploratory crouch. This was the most money I had come across in some time, partly because I've never been particularly lucky when it comes to windfall, and also partly because I am quite lazy and do not like to work very much. To be certain, this chance nickel was a moment to be cherished, because unless I planned on getting a job (which I didn't), this was going to be the most money in my possession for some time.

I further inspected the coin, basking in every detail as though it was going to be the topic for a test that would determine my fate. (Luckily, this wasn't the case; I had already taken the SATs several years earlier.) Emblazoned on one side was the face of what I would assume to be some sort of President of the United States, although I couldn't be certain. After all, they had put Sacajawea on the dollar coin some years ago, and my rather embarrassing bet that this meant she must have been President at some point made me forever wary of the reliability of currency as it relates to our former Commanders-in-Chief. I briefly considered increasing the value of the nickel by seeking out this President and requesting an autograph, but soon came to the realization that the man was in all likelihood dead (most Presidents are) or, at the very least, profoundly old, which in combination with his undoubtedly senile state would make his signature appear to be nothing more than the Sharpie scribblings of a madman.

The nickel had all of the usual markings: “In God We Trust”, “E Plurubus Unum”, “Liberty.” One peculiar phrase stood out to me, however: “USA ROCKS!” I had never noticed this on any sort of money, American or otherwise, and while the sentiment was certainly one I could get behind, it seemed out-of-place on a medium usually reserved for stoic phrases and lorem ipsum. I figured it was a new design issued by the government to prevent terrorists from utilizing their funds, in the hopes that such overt patriotism would cause the jihadists to not spend money out of principle. Any self-respecting terrorist couldn't possibly condone the use of anything bearing such a non-anti-American phrase.

At this point, I had stood in front of Starbucks for approximately five minutes, closely examining a largely ordinary nickel and drawing more than one puzzled look from latte-carrying patrons. But I did not care, for a multitude of possibilities sprung forth from this small disc of legal tender. I could open a savings account and deposit the nickel, waiting for interest to accrue until I became a millionaire. However, according to my basic knowledge of banking it would take upwards of five years for this to happen, and I didn't have that sort of time. I also considered using the money to jump start a long and illustrious career in philanthropy, but the Salvation Army Santa was no longer stationed outside of the nearby Wal-Mart, and even if he was, the exchange would be exceedingly awkward since neither of us had yet quite gotten over the infamous paper towel incident from two Christmases prior.

Yes, it seemed as though the only viable option at this point in time was to spend it.

I crossed the street and entered Sutton's Pharmacy, a small pharmacy run by a man named Sutton. He was a stern, businesslike fellow who entrusted the counter to very few, and on this day he was manning the station himself. I strolled up to him with confidence and put on an air of seriousness, matching his own attitude. I had to play the game his way if I wanted to succeed.

I firmly placed my hand on the counter, cleared my throat, and began.

“Hello, good sir. This is a rather fine establishment you have here. Now, I'm sure you're curious as to my business. Well. I have recently come into quite the sum of money – five American cents, to be exact – and have since been seeking a proper way to invest it. I heartell you have much to offer the monied man and have thus come hoping to procure a reasonable transaction. I'm sure we can reach some sort of agreement that will benefit us both.”

Sutton looked at me like I was Upton Sinclair.

“We have pieces of Laffy Taffy for five cents each,” he said flatly.

I stared back at him, examining his face, searching for a weakness that I could exploit to tilt the exchange in my favor. But I couldn't find it. The man drove a hard bargain. I grinned knowingly.

“My man, I believe we have a deal.” I extended my hand. He didn't shake it.

So many delicious flavors to choose from...

With my other hand, I placed the nickel on the counter. I then stepped to the side and perused the Laffy Taffy selection, which was split into four baskets according to flavor. I had to choose just one without breaking a sweat, because Sutton was an opportunistic businessman who literally would rip your heart out at the slightest misstep. This would be a difficult task. Strawberry, green apple, grape and banana. Each had its perks and each had its downfalls. I eventually eliminated green apple and banana, as they just didn't seem festive enough for such an occasion. At that point it was between strawberry, which has a zing that's distinctive without being overpowering, and grape, which is more mellow and appropriate for a relaxing evening.

As I was choosing, Sutton stared at me with an arched eyebrow. He was probably impressed by my unflinching and methodical selection process. I felt like I had proved myself to be a worthy adversary.

I decided upon strawberry. I waved my hand over the basket, taking care not to peek at the jokes that are printed on every wrapper. I was saving those for home and didn't want to spoil them.

I snapped up a Taffy at random and held it up for Sutton to see.

“I do believe this will be my choice. Strawberry, you see, has a zing that's distinctive without being overpowering.”

“Alright,” said Sutton.

I pocketed the candy, turned from Sutton and deliberately marched to the door. As I opened it, triggering that familiar jingle, I paused, turned back towards Sutton and nodded in acknowledgement of the epic battle of wits that had just occurred. I continued outside, took in a breath of fresh air, and walked in the direction of my apartment.

When I arrived home, I sprinted into my kitchen, eagerly anticipating the deliciousness and hilarity that was bound to result from my newly earned piece of Laffy Taffy. It was nice, I thought, to be able to treat myself after a long day of finding a nickel. I would have saved it for after dinner, but I had already been patient enough to hold off until I got home and decided that the gratification was delayed enough by now. I quickly-yet-carefully ripped the wrapping off the Red 40-enriched prize, ensuring that the comedy remained legible, and after a brief moment of anticipation, popped it in my mouth. As I chewed and savored the zingy strawberry delight, I flipped to the back of the wrapper to read the two surefire gut-busters that lay upon its surface.

The first joke:

What do you call a feline hurricane?

I lifted the partition that obscured the punchline.

A cat-astrophe!

I do not know Reggie K of Duluth, Minnesota personally, but that joke was all it took for me to realize that he is an undeniable genius. I chuckled as I chewed, my brain overloaded by the synapses that were firing at full-speed in response to the incredible sensations that were currently being experienced by both my tongue and funny bone. I moved on to the second joke:

When do the cows go home?

I couldn't bear the suspense!

When the moo-sic stops!

To this day I wonder if Boise, Idaho native Amanda T is a paid assassin, because that one caused me to nearly choke on my (by this point) half-finished chunk of Laffy Taffy. Luckily, I recovered and lived long enough to thoroughly complete the dual act of Laffing and Taffing, swallowing the final bit of candy and clinging on to the last vestiges of realistic strawberry-type flavor that had so gloriously enveloped my taste buds. It was the finest use of five cents in recent history.

I could not imagine the day getting any better.

I proceeded to make my dinnertime sandwich and turn on the television. It was the evening news, and a wonderful human interest piece on a woman who collected oddly-shaped rocks had me immediately enthralled.

A quarter of the way through my second sandwich is when it happened.

The lady anchor moved on to the next story, and began with a most interesting lead:

“Think that nickels are meaningless?”

Why, no, I thought to myself, I just spent one quite fruitfully this very afternoon!

“Well, think again. The United States Mint announced today that a single nickel featuring the phrase 'USA ROCKS!' has accidentally made its way into circulation. The nickel, part of a quickly abandoned mint initiative to prevent terrorists from spending money out of principle, is the only of its kind in existence, and is currently valued at five million dollars.”

I had previously always thought that when folks in movies and TV froze in shock, dropping whatever they were holding, it was a silly and unrealistic happening. But upon hearing this news, my sandwich stopped abruptly as it approached my gaping mouth and fell from my hand, splitting apart and sending ham, provolone, tomatoes and mayo splattering everywhere.

Five million dollars. I had just bought a Laffy Taffy for five million dollars. Don't get me wrong, I love Laffy Taffy, but even the Laffiest, Taffiest Laffy Taffy is worth no more than two million.

I started to panic a little, pacing back and forth, my mind racing at a mile per second, trying to figure out how to rectify this situation. My thoughts started to blend together, mixing up into a nervous batter to be baked into an anxiety cake.

Five million dollars, five million dollars, mive fillion dollars, dive fillion mollars, die fillet molars, try valet motors, pie Monet Oldsmobile...

I slapped myself in an attempt to calm down, but I slapped a little too hard and fell to the living room floor. I sprung back up with a mission: I had to get back to Sutton's Pharmacy and somehow get that nickel back. Knowing Sutton's shrewd exchange policy, there was no way I'd be able to return the Laffy Taffy, even if I labeled it as “pre-owned” rather than “used” or the even less euphemistic “currently digesting.”

Not as tasty as you'd think.

I bolted out the front door of my building and noticed that the sun was starting to set. I didn't have much time. I oriented myself, made sure I was pointed towards Third Street, and sprinted the fastest I had sprunt since fifth grade, when in gym class I overcompensated for the previous year's sixteen-minute mile by tearing my hamstring. This time, though, the adrenaline of the situation powered me beyond the risk of all injury and towards the pharmacy where I had so carelessly spent the second most valuable thing I had ever touched. (The most valuable was the Mona Lisa when it came to town on tour; my curiosity as to the texture and taste of the piece got the best of me and to this day I'm banned from all accredited art galleries.) As the sun started to slip under the horizon, I finally reached Sutton's and dove for the door handle. I pulled three times, and all three times were to no avail. The door was locked. I peered down at the hours of operation: Closes at 6 PM on Mondays. Urgently, I pressed my face against the shop's glass window, peering hard to see if Sutton or anybody else was still in the process of closing shop. Sometimes the kid Sutton hired to sweep and restock was there late, but he must have had some drug use and skateboarding to attend to because he was nowhere to be found.

Dejected, I banged my head upon the door three times. I decided against breaking and entering, mostly because of my strong moral compass, but also because the police station was two doors down. I would have to wait until the next morning's 8 AM opening to have any hope at recovering that now-invaluable nickel, which had an estimated value of five million dollars.

The night was restless. I couldn't stop thinking about the money that could have been mine if I hadn't been so hasty to accept the phrase “USA ROCKS!” as normal currency fodder. Could anyone really blame me, though? American currency changes all the time! How could the same government that minted a different quarter for each of the fifty states so immediately disband a project as simple as printing the phrase “USA ROCKS!” on its nickels? “USA ROCKS!” is the next logical step, isn't it? Eventually our coins are going to double as playable Toby Keith records so as to give our money the multimedia patriotism treatment, with a tiny red-white-and-blue laser light show thrown in for good measure. Maybe if we didn't change what our money looks like every other month, I'd be a little more aware of weird coins that could make me a multi-freakin'-millionaire.

This is the blame game I played in my head for a good two hours before I gave up on sleep, got out of bed and watched a Law and Order marathon until morning.

I arrived back at Sutton's late. I really wanted to find out who had kidnapped the Mayor's nephew, and by the time Christopher Meloni fingered the perp it was already 8:30.

He always gets his man.

I was surprised to see that Sutton's wife, Mrs. Sutton, was manning (womanning?) the front counter, reading an issue of Good Housekeeping. No matter, though. All I needed to do was sweet-talk the lady enough, and she'd hand the nickel over straightaway.

“Why, hello there, miss,” I said suavely, “lovely morning we're having. And that dress looks stunning on you.”

“Thanks,” she said.

The strategy had failed. It was now time for Plan B. I needed to distract Mrs. Sutton long enough to rummage through the cash register myself.

“I would be most interested in purchasing something from a young gal like yourself. What are you, twenty?”


“Well you don't look a day over forty-nine!”

In the severe pause that followed, I tried to come up with something that would keep Mrs. Sutton busy.

“Ah, yes. Anyway, I think I'll have a... um... a Laffy Taffy. Yes, that's the ticket.”

“They're all in those baskets next to you,” she responded coolly. I worried that she was on to me.

“Oh. Wait, I changed my mind. I would liiiike...a Hershey's bar.”

“Those are right next to the Laffy Taffy.”

Mrs. Sutton must have taken lessons from her husband, because she was keeping up with me blow-for-blow, getting out of check every time I got close to winning. I needed to get her away from that register. I adjusted my strategy.

“Oh, are they? I don't really see them... could you show me where exactly they are?”

Remaining in one place, she pointed directly at the Hershey bars, which were indeed right next to the Laffy Taffy. Foiled again. This woman had the looks of a cougar and the wits of a fox. I fired up the last-ditch effort.

“I just remembered I have a prescription to fill. Name of Rembrandt, R-E-M-B-R-A-N-D-T, no relation to the painter or toothpaste, I'm afraid.”

“Okay,” responded Mrs. Sutton, “what's the prescription for?”

I hadn't anticipated this question. Mrs. Sutton was a step ahead of the game.

“The prescription is for... uh... al...der... ex... talin. Alderextalin.”

Mrs. Sutton arched her eyebrow in a similar fashion to her husband. We engaged in a stand-off for what must have been five seconds, before she finally said “Alright, I'll see if we have that in” and stepped into the back room that contained a library of medication.

I immediately sprung into action, diving over the desk in dramatic fashion and popping back up to open the register. It made a ka-ching noise that startled me, but when I peered into the back room it was evident Mrs. Sutton hadn't noticed. It would take her a while to find that cleverly invented prescription, so I had time. I located the nickels. There weren't many – nickels aren't nearly as popular as, say, dollar bills these days – so I scooped them up into my hand and scrutinized each one in pursuit of that precious irregularity. One nickel became five, five became ten and eventually I had been through the whole lot of them twice. Nary a one possessed that “USA ROCKS!” marking that would make me richer than the President guy on the nickel itself.

That bastard Sutton had taken it. I just knew it. He had seen the same report I had, looked through his nickels and grabbed the winner in a vicious display of unscrupulous greed.

I heard Mrs. Sutton's footsteps approaching from the other room, shut the register and dove back over the counter. I popped up just in time to hear her say “I'm afraid we don't have a drug of that brand under your name. Or anybody's name.”

“Really? How odd. Huh.” I was sweating, but Mrs. Sutton didn't seem to suspect a thing.

“Yes, I'm sorry about that. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I shook my head. Mrs. Sutton returned to her Good Housekeeping. I tried to ease my way into finding Sutton.

“Do you like Law & Order?” I inquired.

“What? Oh, ah, yes, sure.”

“It's a shame Christopher Meloni hasn't won an Emmy yet.

Mrs. Sutton murmured in what was either agreement or annoyance. I decided I had buttered her up enough to go in for the kill.

“So, ah, where's Mister Sutton on this glorious Tuesday morn?”

Without looking up from her magazine, she said “He said he had to run an errand. I don't know when he'll be back.”

An errand! Ha! An errand that would net him a gold mine. I squinted my eyes suspiciously at Mrs. Sutton and backed up to the door, where I abruptly turned around and burst outside.

I had to put myself in Sutton's shoes. Where would a man with a five million dollar nickel go? Based on personal experience, the answer would be Sutton's Pharmacy, but I was just there and he wasn't, so that was out of the picture. Then it came to me: the appraisal shop on Sixth Street! A smart man like Sutton wouldn't just sell that thing all willy-nilly. He'd make sure it was the real deal, get some old guy with a monocle to appraise its value and then ship if off to Sotheby's to be awarded to the highest bidder.

I darted to Sixth and searched for the sign that read “Orwell's Appraisals and Value-tellings”. It was easy to miss, as it blended in with such other storefronts as “Osmond's Foodstuffs and Fine Meals” and “Oscar's Artificial Sun Station for the Enbrownment of Skin.” But just as I finally zeroed in on Orwell's store, marching with conviction towards the nickel that was rightfully mine, I saw Sutton emerge from O'Donald's Coiffures and Mane-shortenings. I was agasp! Undoubtedly, Sutton had already sold the nickel and celebrated with a haircut! That sly, sneaky sonofagun! I walked up and confronted the man.

Not an appraisal shop.

“So what'd you tip him, huh? Five thousand? TEN thousand? Thirty-three thousand, four-hundred and twelve?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” he said.

“Don't play coy with me, Sutton.”

“I'm not – who are you, again?”

I smirked.

“You know who I am, Sutton. I purchased a strawberry Laffy Taffy from your store merely a day ago.”

After a moment, Sutton said “Oh, yeah. The weird guy.”

“Damn straight,” I fired back. “I accidentally spent a nickel worth five million dollars for that Laffy Taffy. I believe you have swindled me and feel I deserve the money from that nickel.”

“A five million dollar nickel?” Sutton appeared puzzled, but I knew his device. “Oh, you mean the 'USA ROCKS!' one?”

“That very one! Where is it?”

“Hell if I know,” said Sutton, “I only read about it in the paper just now, when I was getting my hair cut.”

I stared at him.


“Yeah, that nickel the government made to fight terrorists or something? Very interesting. You say you had it?”

“Well, uh, I had it, and... well, now you have it. Or sold it,” I stammered. “Right? I mean, it's not in your register...”

“Son, I hadn't the slightest clue that there was anything different about that nickel until this morning. A lady came in right after you and got some change back. Must have been mixed in with that... wait, how do you know it's not in my register?”

What I coulda had.

“That's not what matters right now, “ I sighed. “What matters is that we both let five million dollars slip through our grasps. And now I'm just as broke as I was yesterday.”

Sutton arched his eyebrow once more as I turned around to head home. After several steps I turned back towards him.

“Are you hiring?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

I turned back around and walked in the direction of home, utterly depressed. What began as a small, wonderful discovery was now akin to aliens building the pyramids only to have the Egyptians take all the credit.

Back on Third Street, slouching towards my lonely apartment, I saw another glimmer on the dirty sidewalk. Wary of the misadventures that could ensue by exploring further, I thought twice about picking up whatever the glimmer was. But figuring there was no point in not at least looking, I crouched down once again and looked for the all-too-familiar glint. It was a nickel. Again. I snatched it up and examined it. Nothing peculiar this time. That I knew of, anyway.

I took it into Sutton's Pharmacy and bought a grape Laffy Taffy. Grape, you see, is mellow and appropriate for relaxation. And if ever there was a time I needed to relax, it was now.

- by Alex Nichols

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