I look at my window, the cream blinds in their dusty garb, the sun peaking through the equally dusty glasses which the summer months bring generously.
Sometimes the rains come and wipe away all that which block my view of the morning sun. But the rains only come once in a while now.
In the meantime, I have the glass jar on the window sill, the vessel an accessory to the first and the last crime I have ever done as an exile: penny picking.
I could elaborate: I picked pennies on the streets, on the floors of buses and trains, on waiting sheds doubling as bus and train stops, on church entranceways, on cheap restos where you take your cheap lunch hidden on a cheap brown bag, on airports where I wait for hours and hours for my connecting flight to nowhere, on the tables of Starbucks where I nurse my pain as an exile, on the feet of santos and santas in mission churches, the old ones and in ruins, where I like going. Like the San Gabriel Mission, the congregation speaking in Spanish the way it is spoken in the borders and in Los Angeles.
I picked pennies everywhere.
And I do not give a whit whether they had yucky germs or biological warfares or virulent viruses in them.
For one, I do not know the difference.
For another, the dollar money has the counter mantra to any spell, ill or good: In God We Trust.
So what would I be afraid?
I am more afraid of becoming penniless than anything else. Which is why I have easily connected this penny picking habit to a solution to starvation.
To mask off the poverty of the pocket and the bank book and the ATM card and the checkbook that has not been written on for quite a while.
To remain believing that somehow there is still that money left in the coin purse.
To remain in full trust of the power of the spirit of life that somehow, somewhere, you will pick up a blessing more than a penny. And sooner than I least expected it.
So I picked up pennies starting on my Day One as an official and formal exile in the U.S. of A.
My first loot was a bit of a robbery in broad daylight: I had some quarters, some dimes, some nickels, and the famous pennies.
That should have been more than two dollars and I picked them up, all of them, while on my way to taking my Metro bus for my Wilshire appointment with the employment agency that promised me all the powers of heaven and El Shaddai, that movement that is run via satellite by the guy who, he claims, talks to his god and who gives up paniolitos with all the mantras of reverence and reward on them, in Latin, in Greek, as well as in Hebrew, pidginized and badly phrased.
This piece is not about the agency, though, but it is about the pennies that I have gathered, picked up, collected, washed, and dropped on that glass jar that I bought from a yard sale somewhere in Hawthorne a couple of weeks after setting foot in Los Angeles as an official voluntary exile.
When the tsunami that hit Indonesia and many other countries in the Pacific Rim of Fire struck, I decided to open my glass jar so I could donate the money to the victims.
I brought the whole Ziploc of assorted coins, but most of them pennies, to the coin counter in Albertson's down in Carson and Main, in Carson City.
The machine laughed the laughter of a joyous apparatus, perhaps thinking the machine thought that finally it had a soul because it now began counting pennies and other coins for the stupid and foolish penny picker.
For each day that I picked up a penny, I considered--I still do--myself lucky.
Like today, I picked up two pennies while on the street leading to the liquor store in Redondo Beach where we buy our lucky lotto ticket many times.
The pennies and the other coins counted more than thirty dollars.
Now the glass on my window sill is almost empty.
But it is getting filled up again.
Almost everyday, I put some penny and other coins on it, all of them picked, literally, one by one, dirty or clean.
I watch the coins get to the brim of the glass jar before I move to Honolulu and say goodbye to the penury that I have known in Los Angeles.
But I will not stop picking up pennies even in Honolulu.
I know I will still have the chance to pick them up.
To fill up the glass jar again.
To find some relevance in having it filled up and counting how much promise it had after all those months of ritual and ceremonial picking.
To remember forever the meaning of poverty and want, penury and the promise for prosperity.
Or to hope for better times to come.
A. S. Agcaoili
Redondo Beach, CA
May 28, 2006