Look Out for the Man With the Lucky Coins on LBI

By DENISE PETTI | May 29, 2019

A silver-haired gentleman wearing a yellow raincoat approached me recently at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, where I work part-time a couple of hours a week.

“Excuse me,” he inquired. “Do you know the names of the people who work here?”

I wondered what he might like to know, figuring he was probably an artist looking to exhibit his work or maybe a visitor with a personal acquaintance.

“Well, my name is Denise,” I responded. “Are you looking for anyone in particular?”

“No,” he replied. “I just don’t remember people’s names.”

I couldn’t quite tell if he looked puzzled or disappointed. I wondered what might have prompted him to come in.

“We do have some new faces that were brought on recently. What is the nature of your question? I’ll try and help.”

“I don’t need any help,” he replied, standing at the counter, peering past me, around me and behind me, perhaps searching for a more familiar face. It was a Saturday, pre-season, so the majority of the staff had the day off.

I took it upon myself to tell him everything I knew was going on at the Foundation that month: a wedding, ceramics class. Weekend fitness would start soon and our program catalog would be arriving within the next couple weeks, I babbled on.

He listened politely with a far-off look on his face. Was it disinterest? Why, I wondered, was he there?

“Can I tell you a story?” he asked. “Do you have time?”

Now ordinarily there are at least four dozen things happening concurrently at the Foundation, each thing seeming to have equal weight and priority. Time is a fairly precious and fleeting thing when you work for a nonprofit. But a story, especially for a writer like myself, is pretty much everything.

“Please,” I said. “I’m all ears.”

First, he asked me if I had any kids. I said that yes, I had two: a girl and a boy, both teenagers. He then asked me if they liked to fish. I said, well, I’m sorry to say they’ve never actually gone fishing, but I think they would enjoy it – although my son would probably feel sad about the hook.

“Why? Are you a fisherman?” I asked.

A soft smile broke out across his face as he straightened up, his hand fidgeting with loose change in his pants pocket.

“I go to the inlet up in Barnegat Light every now and again,” he said. “I watch fathers fish with their sons. I’ll sometimes pick a father I think is doing a pretty good job and ask him how the fish are biting. Then I ask him if his son is a good boy.”

This silver-haired gentleman in the yellow raincoat was in his element now. He just wanted to tell a story. He had an audience in me, and a rapt one at that.

“Now what father do you know who wouldn’t say his son is a good boy? Every good father is proud of his son.”

I liked this man. It felt like a Tuesday with Morrie.

“I usually ask the son if he thinks he’s a good boy, too,” the gentleman continued. “Most boys just shrug, you know, so I’ll ask him if he’s feeling lucky with the fish. Then I take my hand out of my pocket and I hand him this.”

My silver-haired friend in the yellow raincoat proceeded to slide a large coin across the counter at the front window of the Foundation. I couldn’t recall ever having seen such a coin before. It was quite larger than a Susan B. Anthony coin but had the face of John F. Kennedy on it and ample weight to it.

“This is a lucky coin. You mustn’t spend it. You mustn’t lose it and you mustn’t give it away. You must keep it … and good things will happen.”

I thought to myself, yeah, well, JFK wasn’t so lucky now, was he? Cynicism and superstition aside, this man with the silver hair in the yellow raincoat told me he had given away 161 lucky coins since he first started on Aug. 6, 2018. He writes down and enumerates each and every interaction as best he can recall, and even documents the names if he gets them.

The first 10 coins were Susan B. Anthony dollars. He claims he transitioned to half dollars, not because it cost less but because they are actually larger and shinier, making them more memorable. They also are much more difficult to find, so most children have never seen one and many older recipients can’t recall the last time they saw one.

There was the fisherman who was fishing for triggerfish as our silver-haired gentleman with the yellow raincoat walked onto the inlet walkway. Triggerfish are few and far between and are excellent table fare. When asked what bait he was using, the fisherman gestured to a small fresh-caught fish he was using for bait. He offered some of the bait at no charge and was thanked with a lucky coin. Later, the fisherman walked over with a triggerfish. He proceeded to gift it to the silver-haired gentleman in the yellow raincoat as his way of thanking him for the luck.

There was the couple with a young son who had stopped to converse with him one Sunday while fishing at a freshwater lake. It was a pleasant exchange and with the parents’ permission, he gave the son a lucky coin. The father looked at his son and said, “You need to write up this experience and share it with your classmates on Monday.” The parents were very thankful.

How about the local couple with two young sons, trying their hands at ice fishing for the first time? They struck up a conversation with our silver-haired friend in the yellow raincoat, who had extra rods. He let the young boys try “jigging” through the ice. They were very happy with the experience and all four of them ended up with lucky coins. Everyone left the ice all smiles.

Although he rarely, if ever, sees the people he gives them to again, one man drove back to the inlet to find him one day.

“Are you the guy who gives away the lucky coins?” he asked him. He had driven down to the Island searching for the silver-haired gentleman in the yellow raincoat just to tell him that after receiving one of his lucky coins, the same lottery number he had played for years and years finally hit.

Then there was the man he met who had told him, with tears in his eyes, that he would need a heart transplant to survive. Having an extremely rare blood type made his odds for a match slim to none. After receiving his lucky coin, he miraculously received the news that a compatible match had been found. He underwent surgery and is alive and well today.

I am lucky coin recipient No. 162. Not ever having met this man up until that day at the LBIF, there was no way he could have possibly known what I had just come through in my life, how a little bit of luck was warmly welcomed. I was more than ready for the tides to change. I tucked the coin in my wallet and within days of meeting him, I received a substantial financial windfall.

I spoke to him again a few weeks later and asked him if he would mind if I wrote a story about him. While grateful that I would be willing to present him and his good will to the public, he has chosen to remain anonymous. By taking delight in these small, random acts, his hope is that others might feel inspired to do the same, thereby making the world a better, luckier place. If nothing else, it allows him to relish in the making of simple, beautiful memories.

So if you see a man with silver hair walking along the inlet at Barnegat Light wearing a yellow raincoat, here’s my advice. Shake his hand, introduce yourself and let him know how the fish are biting.

Denise Petti lives in Surf City.



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