Moral Dilemma of the Week: I Found a Wad of Cash

September 5, 2011
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Does it say something about the state of popular media that when I spotted a wad of bills on the sidewalk, my first instinct (which I obeyed) was to look around to see if anyone could be filming my reaction to the money?

I could clearly make out the Ben Franklin and a George Washington, and there were at least three other bills. So even though it was at least $104, I was so consternated over the thought that this was some kind of set-up that I just ignored it and walked into the supermarket. My main mission was to buy some vegetable stock to make my world-famous zucchini soup (I’d forgotten to buy it earlier that day). Of course, $104 or more could pay for a hell of a lot of vegetable stock. I used my gift for procrastination, determined to ignore it for now, and that if it was still there when I left, I’d do something about it.

Damned if when I left the store there it still was on the sidewalk, no longer somebody else’s problem.

This is one of those things that’s a matter of degrees. As a kid, I remember my buddy Randy and I finding like 18 bucks strewn across the bike path during an epic ride along the beach from Redondo to Manhattan. Lucky bastard found the fives and a one; I got like two bucks. While we had the excuse of youth in just taking it back then, even now I don’t think I’d hesitate to pocket a lonely five-spot fluttering on a bike path.

(Aside #1: of course, if any cash you find is accompanied by a wallet, you should definitely find the owner.)

(Aside #2: if you find a bunch of money in a bag, say, like a thousand or more, you better just leave it alone. The drug dealer will want it back, and you don’t want to be seen taking it).

But when you find say, $20, $50, $100 or more, the moral sensibilities kick in. This is a pretty fair amount of money, for some even more than others. To me, taking the cash would be barely a step above stealing it outright.

But it’s not like finding, say, a watch, where you can post a classified and say, “Hey, watch found near Piggly Wiggly, email me with a description and if it matches, it’s yours.” With cash, that’s a fool’s game. “Hey, found small stack of bills near Piggly Wiggly, tell me how much and it’s yours,” is just asking to be inundated with guesses or plausible excuses (“Oh, man, I didn’t count my money, but I know it was around $100 . . .” would totally work with a wide range of value”).

Calling the cops over anything less than several hundred seems like a waste of our officers’ time, especially when their budgets are stretched and public safety could be on the wane if distracted. (And, no, I am not suggesting that the cops would just pocket it any more than I would).

So what was the solution? In my case, I walked the dough back into the grocery store, which was the closest business to the scene of the crime, spoke to the manager–“Hey, man, someone lost a bunch of cash outside the store, at least $100 and change” (I still hadn’t counted it)–who said store policy was to hold it until someone came in and claimed it. He took my name and number as well, saying if unclaimed for a month, it’s all mine.

So . . . yay? What would you do?

(And if I get that money back, I’m sorely tempted to donate it to charity . . . but not 100% sure about that. One moral dilemma per week is my limit. I’ll deal with that should the time come).

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