WRITING SHORT: 14/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Three summers ago I stopped to inspect a vegetable display at a large supermarket where I don’t usually shop. It was mid-afternoon; the produce section was nearly deserted. Lying on top of the cucumbers was a worn black wallet.

Before bringing it to the customer desk, I looked to see who it belonged to. Nothing inside but paper money. No driver’s license, credit or insurance cards, identification of any kind. No way of knowing who had left it there. Finders keepers, losers weepers?

Without further thought, I thrust the wallet deep into my shoulder bag and pushed my shopping cart casually down the aisle while my heart pounded. Only after I had passed checkout with a few purchases, driven home and locked the door behind me did I open it again. It held $143 in fives, tens, twenties and singles. I was a thief!

But was I? Surely the money would eventually be missed. Yet would its absent-minded owner remember where she left it? If I’d turned it in, how could she claim it as hers? By identifying the exact amount of money inside? Would she remember that? After a day or so, wouldn’t one of the teenage summer staff develop itchy fingers?  I put the money away and dipped into it only for household cash. Then it was gone, and I could forget about it. Except I couldn’t.

A strict ethicist would tell me not to keep what isn’t mine. Another person might say it’s not my job to pick up after unknown careless people. When is stealing stealing? I still don’t know.

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18 thoughts on “WRITING SHORT: 14/50

  1. I don’t have the answer for you. You could have told customer service that you found it but would keep it. Anyone coming to the desk to ask would have to contact you. Since no one would have a clue about the money in it (including maybe the owner — I usually don’t know exactly what’s in my wallet) you could have them describe the wallet (besides black). Then again you could have treated yourself to something. I can’t believe someone would have a wallet without ID of some sort.

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  2. It was a very worn and shabby wallet, without inner pockets, the corners beginning to fray. If I had thought as clearly as you, Kate, or been less mercenary of heart — how long should I have waited at home for someone to call before deciding to consider the money mine? I used to think the owner of the wallet was someone incredibly stupid or negligent. Now I suspect it was someone who’d been driven to the store by someone else, or by an institutional van — someone with Alzheimers or some other neurological problem. It wasn’t only the lack of I.D. Who else would take out money, put it on raw vegetables and then walk away? We have some quite well-to-do old folks around here who aren’t all there.

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  3. You present an interesting moral dilemma…with several possibilities. One could have given it to the store and “hoped” it wouldn’t be kept. Or one could have donated it to a charity….but once one has acted, there’s no turning back. We all do things in the past that we have agita about…so consider yourself forgiven. LOL

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    • Thanks, Rita. However, I’m not sure forgiveness is in order if there’s nothing to forgive. My feeling was the money would never get back to its forgetful, peculiar owner no matter what I did. As for donating to charity, yes I do, quite often, although not in this instance. Love the word “agita.” May I borrow it now and then?

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  4. Courtney Gaertner

    You clearly are behaving unethically and it is theft. But, you have to live with you and there are convoluted ways to justify keeping it. I ask you to consider 2 questions: 1. Is it something you’d tell your children to do? ; 2. Is it worth the money and self-esteem?

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    • And you, Courtney, are clearly an absolutist. I am not. I consider everything in context. Here, you have (if you think about it) insulted me without instruction as to how to comply with your principles. How is the situation about which I wrote different than my finding $143 in bills tucked among the cucumbers? Would you then also suggest I hand over the money to the kid at the customer desk and say, “Somebody lost this?” Do you think that would get the money back to the deluded soul who left it on a pile of raw vegetables and probably doesn’t even remember where she put it down? As for the answers to your questions: (1) I am an old lady and my children are grown, with children of their own; I don’t tell them to do anything. However, I believe they would act rationally in such a situation, although not necessarily as you would have them act. (2) Yes, I accept found money, not taken out of anyone’s pocket, without loss of self esteem.

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      • Courtney Gaertner

        I didn’t mean to insult you, but didn’t want to tell you what to do. But, if you would like to know…here goes… I would tell the store owner/cucumber stand kid that I found a small amount of money and if someone comes in looking for it to give me a call. If someone did call and could identify details (amount, wallet, etc). I would return it. If no one called, I would keep it. I respect that things are not always straight forward and would have 100percent concurred with you, if you just found the money laying on the street, or in a park, etc. With no hopes of finding the rightful owner. Good luck with your blog, and never stop seeking.

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  5. Like some of the other comments, I too, would not know the ‘right’ thing to do, if there is such a thing. So much depends on the circumstances, the fact that there was no ID, how we’re feeling on that particular day, etc. The older I get, the more I realize life (and the decisions we make) is not always clear-cut, not a simple matter of what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ Sometimes, there’s no ‘right’ answer, and just like there is no ‘wrong’ one depending on the situation.

    And in my humble opinion, I agree, you didn’t do anything wrong, so there’s no need to be ‘forgiven’ 😀 From a child’s perspective, I admire that you treat your grown children like adults, and not tell them to do anything. I wish more parents were like you 😀 ❤

    By the way, I love your 'short post' series very much. I may not always be commenting, but you can bet I'm enjoying each one 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for weighing in, Takami. It doesn’t matter than you don’t always comment; I can see by the tiger’s head that you’re there. (I think you’re TGOB’s very earliest follower; you came over with me from “Learning to Blog”!) About telling grown children what to do, maybe it’s a cultural thing in Asian countries. I hear the same story from my Chinese neighbor (also very much grown). In any event, if I even tried to tell either of my sons to do anything, the best outcome would be that they wouldn’t listen. The worst? That they’d get mad at me. What mother wants that?

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      • Oh yes, I consider myself your #1 fan 🙂 ❤
        I think parents telling grown children what to do is not a uniquely Asian cultural thing (I've had friends/pen-pals in Peru, Italy and even the U.S. (!) complain about parents not letting go even though their 'kids' are in their 30's and left the nest), but that's only from my limited experience.

        My mother is like you, she says she's done her job – raised 2 kids to become independent adults – and it's up to us to live our lives. And like your sons, I wouldn't listen to what my parents tried to tell me, or, I would get mad (if I was in a bad mood). Aren't kids a pain? 😀

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  6. It is interesting that once the money was spent, you didn’t forget this! It seems to be what one is most comfortable with… ? I remember my youngest brother finding a $20 or $50, it was quite a lot of money at the time. My mother took it to the police station, and he received it back after 3 months. That was a win/win for him!!

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  7. Your mother was certainly teaching your little brother by good example, Barbara! (“Don’t do as I say, do as I do.”) As for me, it’s not that “I didn’t forget this” because I was racked with guilt for three years. It became a moral dilemma worth writing about when I began searching my past for daily blog material!

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  8. Tricky one. I’d probably have handed it to the stall-holder, unopened – just to avoid responsibility. They would no doubt have investigated and waited for a few days, then helped themselves – if no one came rushing back to ask if they’d left a wallet there. I have often left precious things in stray places and they have mostly been returned to me, so I guess I’d be insuring future goodwill on my own behalf.

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    • I must have a black corner in my heart, Hilary. If someone had seen me pick up the wallet, I would have probably done exactly what you describe, knowing the unidentified money would very likely not reach the person who lost it. But no one saw. Mea culpa. Could it be I am atoning on the blog?

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  9. Certainly the matter would be simpler if one might trust the shopkeeper or staff (and thus leave the wallet with them). I believe there are at least two pieces in Surviving the Twenty-First that speak to this point. (Conclusion: no, can’t trust.) Certainly when I find cash — and there was a time my son and I found something like $140 lying in the street, and the next day $18 in a paper bag on the subway — I keep it.

    My ethical rumination for today (and perhaps heading towards future Montaigbakhtinian post) is this from a NY Post story about the restauratuer Daniel Boulud, who recently settled a class-action suit filed by his employees. I quote from a part of the story. It’s Boulud’s self defense that I found particularly telling. And it proposes a kind of ethics: It’s OK if everyone does it. (Btw: this is how I feel about cellphone users’ rudeness. I can’t object because most everyone is now acting rude in these ways. A good moment to recall an excellent observation of Adorno’s, from Minima Moralia: “Now fallen into irreparable ruin, [tact] lives on only in the parody of forms, an arbitrarily devised or recollected etiquette for the ignorant, . . . A certain kind of politeness, for example, gives [people] less the feeling of being addressed as human beings, than an inkling of their inhuman conditions, and the polite run the risk of seeming impolite by continuing to exercise politeness, as a superseded privilege.”)

    And now from the Post and Boulud:

    “The 1,050 employees involved in the suit claimed that in addition to their $5-an-hour jobs as tipped servers, they were required to do other menial work, such as cleaning bathrooms, that should have paid them $8 an hour.
    The workers also accused the acclaimed French chef of pocketing gratuities from private events, forcing waiters to pool their tips with kitchen staff, and not paying overtime.

    In defending the practices, Boulud snipped to The Wall Street Journal last year, “If I was the only one in New York being into these things, I will be upset. But I’m not the only one.”

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    • Ah, the old “I’m not the only one” defense! I used to hear that from offspring bringing home a paper marked B: “Most of the other kids got C!” Here, however, it would seem not to work: it appears most TGOB commenters would have handed in the wallet despite suspecting the money would never reach its rightful owner, and have therefore left us who disbelieve in the innate honesty of most humanity hanging out to dry.

      Two more observations: (1) I’m not sure what certain kind of “politeness” Adorno is talking about; and (2) you’ve made me feel better about never having been able to afford a dinner prepared by Boulud.

      Glad you came by to contribute, William.

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