Fond Childhood Memories – Setting My Brother On Fire

OK, the title is a little misleading – I didn’t really set my brother on fire, well, not entirely.  Nor did I enjoy it – at least, not the burning part.

Let me start it this way…

This happened when I was younger, probably around ten years old, which would make my brother around eight.  If I recall correctly, this was in the late summer or early fall – September or October.  I remember it being fairly warm out, but not hot, and my brother was wearing pants.  This will become important to the story later.

The sun was up.  It was afternoon, probably around 3:00 or 4:00 PM.  Throughout the day, my brother and I had been playing with a magnifying glass.  We’re not alone in this, it would seem, as I’ve swapped many stories with friends about using a magnifying glass to burn things – ants, grass, plastic action figures, Matchbox cars, you know – typical boy shenanigans.  Anyway, my brother and I thought it would be a really cool idea to burn some newspaper.  So, we grabbed a newspaper out of the trash that our parents had thrown out, went outside the garage to the driveway, and started focusing the sun’s light.

At first, we only got a smoldering spot that caught an orange glowing ring.  Well, darn!  We wanted to see flame!  We wanted to see fire!  No problem, we said, let’s keep trying.  So, since the sun was off to the side of the sky, my brother picked up the newspaper and held it at an angle so I could focus the light more directly.  We expected more smoldering and smoke.  What we didn’t expect was –

WHOOSH!  The entire surface of the paper caught fire!  Not just a little spot of flame, but an inferno!  Well, to eight- and ten-year-old boys, it was.

My brother yelled out in surprise and a little fear, “AAAUUUGGHH!”  He threw the paper down onto the driveway and picked up his foot.

Stomp!  Stomp!  Stomp!  He tried to stomp out the flame.  For those who have seen paper burn, you know what happens after a few seconds – it curls up on itself.  This paper was no different.  It curled up, and around my brother’s foot.  I saw the flames licking the hem of his pants leg.  I thought I saw his pants catching fire.

“AAAUUUGGGHHH!”  He started to panic a little more.  I could see the flames touching his pant leg, and I got scared too.  I lifted my foot, in the same way as my brother, and –

Stomp!  Stomp!  On the flame I came down, hard.  The flame, however, was on my brother’s foot.

Stomp! went my foot.

“OUCH!” yelled my brother, who promptly fell back on his rear end.  He shook his foot, trying to throw off the burning paper.  I kept on stomping.

Stomp! “OUCH!” Stomp! “OUCH!” Stomp! “OUCH!”

“Stop hurting my foot!”  “Stop moving your foot!”

Finally, the paper came loose.  My brother and I stomped out the remainder of the flame.  As we calmed down, out of breath, we heard an angry voice behind us.

“What the hell is going on?!”  My father scared the bejeezus out of us, moreso than the fire.  “Um, we were using the magnifying glass-”  “And the paper caught fire-”  “And we tried to put it out-” “And it stuck-”  “And my foot hurts-”  We blurted out like a couple of scared kids, which is what we were actually.

“You mean you were starting fires… with this?”  He grabbed the magnifying glass from us.  “And you tried to stomp it out, when the whole time you could have used that!”  He pointed angrily at the coiled up garden hose, not five feet from us.

My brother and I, in unison, replied, “Uhhhh…”

My father yelled a little more about not playing with fire, and getting hurt and all that, and sent us to our rooms, both of us feeling rather stupid.

I never forgot that lesson – use a hose on a fire when one is nearby, and take the magnifying glass farther away from home.

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Death To The Penny!

OK, let’s get serious here, folks.  I want to propose something that’s been on my mind for at least 20 years now.

I want the United States mint to stop making pennies.  I am dead serious about this, too.

Impractical And Inconvenient

When you go to the store and pay with cash, your change almost always includes those coins that are 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper with a value of one one-hundredth dollar – the penny, the cent, the Lincoln head.  Now, what do you do with those pennies?  Do they even make it out of the store, or do you throw them into the little “Need One, Leave One” tray at the counter?  If the former, once you get them home, do you put them somewhere where you use them again in a future transaction, or do they just go into some container where they’ll stay until they get too numerous forcing you to bring them to a change counter somewhere?  I took a scientific survey* which shows that 91.3%* of people don’t ever use pennies for a purchase unless they happen to have the right amount on their person to avoid receiving more pennies.

So, pennies are a nuisance, for the most part.  They have no value for purchasing.  Go to a store – any store.  Look around for a product you can purchase that costs one penny.  Go ahead – I’ll wait here until you return…

So, what do you have?  What’s that?  “Nothing?”  Thought so.  There’s even no more “penny candy,” at least not for as long as I can remember.

Now, how about another experiment?  Go to a city.  Walk around until a person asks you for some spare change.  Hand them a penny.  How did they react?  I’d bet you a nickel that they were angry to some degree.  Once you wiped the spit off your face, did they seem grateful at all?  Probably not.

Here’s the thing – inflation has rendered the penny all but useless.  People not only can do without them, but also don’t really want them.  They’re used simply because they’re here.

The Penny

One US Cent

Cost More Than Their Value

So, aside from their impracticality, why else get rid of the penny?  How about cost?

According to the United States Mint, in 2010, the cost to mint one penny was 1.79¢ (Click the link and look at the first table on page 29).  Think about that for a minute… to make a penny, the US government spends almost 2 pennies.  In 2010, the US Mint shipped 3,487,000,000 pennies (Page 28 in the last link).  That’s three billion, four hundred eighty-seven million of them!  So, US taxpayers (of which I am one) spent $62,417,300 to make pennies worth a market value of $34,870,000!  I know that’s a lot of zeroes, folks, but stay with me for another minute.  We wasted $27,547,300, over 27.5 million dollars!  That’s right, we just threw it away, for a coin that is impractical and, really, unwanted.  We can add “unnecessary” and “wasteful” to the list.

So, if we get rid of the penny, what changes with our spending?  Well, not a whole heck of a lot, really.  If we can’t slice the dollar down to its hundredth portion anymore, we merely have to round those pennies to the nearest twentieth dollar.  That’s the nickel, my friends.

Rounding Numbers

Every time I discuss this with people, I get a funny look, and the question, “How can you do that?”  Simple, really.  You know how to round to the nearest ten, hundred, thousand, etc., yes?  Well, it’s the same thing, only in divisions of five.  To make it easier, I’ve made this table:

If The Cent Is: Round:
0 Nothing; keep the same
1 Down to the nearest dime
2 Down to the nearest dime
3 Up to the nearest nickel
4 Up to the nearest nickel
5 Nothing; keep the same
6 Down to the nearest nickel
7 Down to the nearest nickel
8 Up to the nearest dime
9 Up to the nearest dime

This is simple, really.  If a sale comes to $27.32, it rounds down to the nearest dime, or $27.30.  If a sale comes to $2.77, it rounds down to the nearest nickel, or $2.75, and so on and so forth.

Learning From History

This wouldn’t be the first time the US has changed its currency in this manner.  You may have heard of the hay penny, also spelled ha’penny.  It was the half-cent.  The US minted them from 1793 to 1857.  Why did they stop making them?  Because the value of a half cent became worth less and less, and its continued use became impractical.  In other words, for pretty much the same reasons I am using to make my case to kill the penny.

Penny For Your Thoughts?

What do you say, folks?  Do you think the time has come to kill the penny once and for all?  Let me know in the comments below.

* – By “scientific survey,” I do not mean scientific in any way at all, nor a survey by any stretch of the imagination.  I’m really just stating my own personal opinion, agreed upon by a few of my friends.

** – Uncertainty of -91.3%/+8.7%