Money is kind of disgusting if you think about it too much. It’s like keeping tiny little hotel bedspreads in your wallet. God only knows where those banknotes have been. If this were a movie, this would be the point where we insert a montage sequence of Wall Streeters snorting coke, lazy tuberculosis victims using twenties as Kleenex, and crack den habitués finding a tenner in the back crevice of a sofa, albeit glued on to a thong and a hypodermic needle by God only knows what cementing agent.
Money is fun. I remember being in the rooftop lounge of Sydney’s Hotel Intercontinental and drinking with some Americans and looking at Australia’s paper currency, at the time, a decade ago, being in the world’s vanguard of banknote design: a transparent window; holograms; a special chip that activated a smartphone son et lumière of Nicole Kidman’s career trajectory. I told my new American friends I was from Canada and that Canada actually had the world’s first banknote portraying somebody smoking a cigarette, Camilla.
Me: Oh yes. It was part of a deal Charles struck with the Queen to get her blessing on their marriage.
They: That’s so free and open-minded!
Me: *silence* + *amazed at humanity’s gullibility*
Canada got rid of pennies last year. They vanished without a sound and, the moment they were gone, nobody missed them. Nobody even thought about them, and if they did it was along the lines of, “Thank Christ those effing pennies are gone.” Then last month I was in the US and bought something and got pennies back in my change and it was like . . . time travel. Why are you people still using these things? Why would anybody want them? They are ghastly, useless horrible things that exist solely to propagate their own existence. A big post-penny trend in Canada is people making floors out of pennies and resin, except the pennies vary in sheen from one to another, and when you put them all down they just look not only like useless pennies that you hate, but they also have that soiled hotel bedspread look of paper money. Worst of all worlds. Poor penny floors.
Women don’t know this but guys inherit their father’s wallet. This is to say, if your father had a huge overfilled black leather swathe packed with receipts and business cards and filthy banknotes, then chances are you, as a grown-up son, are going to channel the exact same wallet, sometimes held closed by thick rubber bands and looking, in your front pants pocket, like you’re shoplifting a clubhouse sandwich. The only way out of this curse is to adopt extreme measures: the Euro Wallet . . . a sleek rectangle made from the finest leather capable of handling, at most, one business card, one Amex card and one-and-a-half hotel bedspreads. Add a family photo or a lottery ticket, and the whole thing blows up.
Canada stopped making its $1 bill in 1987, replacing it with an 11-sided brass-coloured coin bearing the image of a loon, hence its commonly used name, “the loonie”. I can’t think of a stupider name for something monetary but, once you get used to it, it’s like saying Google, and no longer feels so dumb. And then in 1996 Canada stopped making its $2 bill, replacing it with a bimetal coin called, yes, the toonie. And yet, somehow life manages to go on in the face of the onslaught of all of these ignominies. I miss the $2 bill. It was handy and somehow far easier to work with than the toonie, which is like a dense, unnecessarily large Norwegian coin used for yuletide shenanigans involving striped stockings, gingerbread and fiords.
In modern times the Americans tried introducing a $1 coin, the dismal failure known as the Susan B Anthony dollar, named after a suffrage campaigner who, when you see her face on the coin, looks as if she wants nothing more than to administer you an enema. What was the mint thinking?
I mean, if you’re trying to wean your citizens off expensive-to-replace paper currency, give them something they might prefer having in their pockets: Marilyn Monroe, Joan Jett, Wilma Flintstone. I’m not a marketer but I can tell you those three would have been infinitely more successful out in the world.
And after the Susan B Anthony fiasco, the mint was left with a populace scarred and wary of further tampering with their day-to-day currencies. To get a $1 coin off the ground in the US today would require nothing less than a full reunion of Fleetwood Mac (circa Rumours) with a real-time holographic depiction of the band’s reunion tour. Let’s not forget that people are demanding more from their currency these days. The new Canadian 20 is a high-tech marvel: one-quarter transparent, containing no culturally offensive references of any kind, and featuring a stern photo of the Queen contemplating having to eat Christmas dinner at the Middletons.
And then there’s bitcoin. I’m exhausted already. Should it ever get fully off the ground in a material way, all I ask is that they do a bit of research, focus group a little bit, and then, after having gone through the motions, just put Elvis on the damn thing.
Douglas Coupland’s most recent book is a non-fiction title, ‘The Age of Earthquakes’, published by Penguin. Twitter: @dougcoupland
Photograph: Ken Mayer Studios ©Douglas Coupland