[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.