The One with All the Pennies

For my friend Monica, who apparently hasn’t heard this story…

My freshman year of college, I met a motley crew of folks.  They sometimes swore, listened to Depeche Mode, smoked, and all sorts of other things that were frowned upon at my very Catholic college.  They also had hearts of gold, and were always the first in line to help someone.  I am still friends with many of them, one very near and dear.

My freshman year was also the year of the overzealous resident assistants, or RA’s.  I was pretty certain a couple worked on commission, the way they doled out fines without warning.

Now, my friends and I, we were kinda on the poor side, but we managed.  And when it was time to celebrate two of our friends, we put together a small surprise party.  Twelve friends plus the two we were celebrating.  Fourteen people in a common room in the dorm, with cake and balloons.  We even spent our precious dimes on actual paper plates, instead of stealing paper towels from the bathroom and calling it good.  Because we cared that much.  There was no music, just us, chatting, stuffing cake into our mouths.

At one point, the girls in the room next to the common room popped in to say they were heading to bed.  We instantly apologized and asked if we were being too loud.  They said no, not at all, it was a just in case.  We offered them cake.  Cause we were nice like that.  The girls declined, and went on their way.

Not five minutes later, the door popped open.

“Hi guys!” the chipper RA said, smiling into the room.

“Oh, are we being too loud?  Because the girls next door said we weren’t.  Is this a warning?” one of the party goers asked.  See, per student handbook, offenders of Quiet Hours were to get a warning first.  If they kept offending, they were fined $5.

We were assuming this would be a warning.

“No, sorry, this is a fine.” she said, still smiling.  She walked over to the table and took one of our precious paper plates.  “Here, everyone write their names down on this.”

That irked us.  And we argued that we weren’t being loud (which was actually true – we knew when we were loud, and that time, we weren’t).  She didn’t budge, but did keep smiling.  We argued that one party member shouldn’t be fined because he was the quietest person on campus.  I’m not sure he was capable of loudness.  She knew the guy, and let him off the hook.  The other thirteen of us were up a certain creek though, and were each fined $5.

We moved the party to the student union, where we could discuss loudly about how unfair that was.  And how we should protest.  Someone said we should pay in quarters.  Someone else laughed and said we should pay in dimes, dimes are small.  Apparently some guy did pay his $5 fine in nickels and dimes – it was all he had.

I swear it was actually me who piped up with “Oh!  We should pay in pennies!”  (If I’m wrong, well, it’ll get me a little  off the hook…more about that later…)

And just like that, a revolution was started.

We gathered up the money, all $65 of it, and one of my Jennifer friends and I marched down to the bank.  “We’d like sixty-five dollars in pennies please.”

The teller looked at us oddly.  “In pennies?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Do you want them rolled?”

We looked at each other.  “No…leave the loose.”

The teller started the process and asked “What are you doing with all these pennies.”

“Paying an undeserved fine.”

Two upper classmen were in the bank and started laughing.  “Really?” they asked.


By the time we hefted all the pennies (half in a backpack, half in the tote bag the bank gave us…and for the record, pennies are heavy…) word was getting around campus about our stunt.  It was the day before Thanksgiving break.  My friend took a paper plate from the party, wrote that this was payment for the fine, our names, and “Have a Happy Thanksgiving!” on it, and tied it to the bag with a bow, before leaving it in front of the Resident Director’s door.

We laughed and all went to where we were going for Thanksgiving.

We got back to a very unamused RD, who stormed down and returned the bag of pennies with the ultimatum of “I want either bills, or these coins rolled.”

So we had a rolling party.  We counted out fifty pennies, rolled them in notebook paper, taped them up.  I even put smiley faces in each 0 in the 50.

The rolled coins were returned angrily with the new ultimatum of “Pay in bills or you’ll be fined again.”

Mind you, no where in the student handbook did it say how you were to pay fines.  Technically, we had paid it full, in valid US legal tender.  6,000 pieces of legal tender to be exact.  So we decided to take it to Student Life, choosing the most respectable and convincing spokespeople from the bunch.

They went to one person, who was not amused.  The second was also not amused.  The third laughed and said “I’m glad to see there’s some life left on this campus.”  and then said “however, to keep peace, you should pay the fine some other way.”

We sighed and returned the pennies and paid the RD in a less inflammatory fashion.

But the story of how we paid a fine in pennies had already made it through campus.  And this was only our first semester freshman year. We wore our status as instant legends with pride.  “Hey, did you hear about the people who paid their fine in pennies?”  “Yep, that was me actually!”  “NO WAY!”

However, this bit me in the arse after a couple years.  When I met my husband and we started dating…because they had changed the handbook over our stunt.  After that year, you could only pay fines by check.  My husband had to open a checking account to pay a fine.

Many years later, as my friend and I told this story to a mutual friend, he said “That was YOU?  Oh you’re in trouble!”


Oh yes, twenty years later, and the legend still lives on.  But I do think our voices were heard.

I also think my husband is still irked at me over it.  I know my friend hasn’t let us live it down.


Me, freshman year of college.  So young, so innocent, so ready to fight the system with a bag of pennies...
Me, freshman year of college. So young, so innocent, so ready to fight the system with a bag of pennies…