Saturday, January 23, 2010

Finders Keepers?

There they were, two folded dollar bills lying flat on the tile floor at McAlister's Deli. I was one table up the aisle from where they lay. And there was a party of four at the table next to the dropped dough, but none of them saw it lying there. There was a party of five at the table across the aisle and the man on the end was within arms length of it, but he didn't see it either.

My daugher, sitting at the booth with me and facing away from the money, noticed that people at other tables farther away from the cash had noticed, too. They were all eying it.

I kept wondering if anyone was going to get up and make a mad dash for the dough, but everyone showed restraint. It was, after all, only two bucks. But it was a FREE two bucks for anyone willing to bend over for it.

My daugher told me that she has taken a lot of personality quizzes, especially online, and one of the questions invariably is about what to do with found money. Would you keep it? Would you turn it in to the cashier or at lost and found, or maybe to the police? Or would you just ignore it, like everyone was doing at the restaurant?

It really depends on the circumstances, I think, and maybe on the amount. If you see a few bucks lying on the ground or on the floor and there is no one around, most people would pick it up and pocket it. I know I would.

If you found, say, $1,000 or even $100 lying around would you turn it in? That's some serious cash for most folks. Unless I knew, or at least suspected whom it belonged to I would pocket it without remorse. Sure it belonged to someone. And they lost it; I found it. So now it belongs to me.

It's the same thing as if a cashier accidentally gives me back too much money. The store can afford it; it was the cashier's mistake, I just benefited. It's nothing personal; it's business. Again, I would feel no remorse for keeping the booty.

But two bucks on the floor next to a table in a crowded restaurant, that called for a more subtle approach. I was considering standing up and walking toward it and then asking the man at the table next to it if he had dropped the money. After all, if I was going to be bending over right next to him, decorum would dictate that I give him a heads up.

But I was busy finishing my soup and I certainly didn't want to look greedy by making a dash for the money and then returning to my table to finish my meal. If I had already been on my way out and saw it, that would be different.

Still, there was free money lying on the floor no more than a dozen feet from me and I felt compelled to go pick it up. But I showed restraint. I figured if it was still there when I finished I would get it.

Seeing money on the floor and leaving it there, to me, is kind of like losing a sneeze or refraining from popping the bubble wrap. It doesn't really matter that it was only two bucks; it was begging to be picked up.

When I was about 10 years old, I found a dollar lying on the sidewalk near my home. I couldn't wait to spend it. I went down to our local toy store and spent half an hour trying to decide how to spend my new-found treasure. Back then, a dollar would buy some cool stuff.

That memory popped into my head at the restaurant. But two dollars today would have been like finding two bits back in those days. I would still have been happy to pick it up, but it would not have bought many thrills, even for a 10-year-old.

But, alas, I had no excuse for picking up the money off the restaurant floor without looking like a cheap miser. And after about two minutes, although it seemed like forever, one of the servers walked by, bent over and nonchalantly picked it up. Finders keepers.

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