My friend Humblebub - who always seems to elicit spirited debate on his blog, poses a question of scruples today. It reminded me of a time when I was faced with a moral dilemma. I still don't know if I did the right thing.
I was in the CBC building in downtown Toronto, which is this cavernous office complex built to house all the really important parts of the CBC, which the corporation defines as "any part of the CBC which is in Toronto". I was standing near Reception, talking to a friend, when I glanced over at a woman and a man passing through the security gates. As they went through, something fluttered to the ground.
Well, when my friend and I parted about thirty seconds later, I walked over to the security gate and looked at what had fluttered down. Four crisp twenty-dollar bills. I picked them up, of course, and when the security guard opened the gate for me, I pushed through and jogged to the elevators. No sign of the people. Couldn't even tell which of the bank of elevators they had taken.
Now, my first thought was "WooHoo! Ill-gotten booty. Or ill-booten gottie. Whatever, it's free money!" I resisted the urge to do the Happy Dance right there on the spot. (I waited till I was in the elevator, on my way to see my producer.) When I got upstairs, I told her about my lucky find.
She frowned at me. "Well, you're not going to just pocket the money, are you? I mean, without trying to figure out who it belongs to? How could you do that? It might be that woman's last eighty dollars for the week."
When I thought about that, I realized how rotten I've felt in the past when I've reached into my pocket and some loose money I knew was supposed to be there had disappeared. It's a sickening feeling, one I wouldn't wish on anybody. So I agreed with my producer - a rarity, but it's been known to happen - that I should try to find the woman and give her the money back.
Well, how do you do that, in a building that has approximately nine thousand offices for Vice-Presidents alone? The first step, I suppose, would be to describe the woman. Fortunately, as a trained journalist, I have a keen eye for detail. I knew, for example, that she was ... a woman. And she may or may not have been wearing a coat, in either a light or dark green, blue, brown, or black. Not a lot for the police sketch artist to go on.
I guess I could have gone down to the security desk and turned the money in, but really, that's just taking my good fortune and signing it over to Bob the Security Guy. And as nice as Bob the Security Guy is, I don't know that he's that much more deserving than, say, Nils the Guy Who Found The Damn Money In The First Place. I contemplated posters, but what would they say? "Found, eighty bucks. If this is yours, please call me." Line forms to the left.
So, to my producer's dismay, I decided to keep the money. Here's my rationale: I have, in the past, lost eighty bucks. And I expect in the future I'll pat my pockets on any number of occasions and come up empty. This was just karma - the endless cycle of good and bad fortune. This woman hit a down day, I was on the upswing. Yay for me, sucks to be her, but what goes around comes around.
If the woman who lost that eighty bucks happens to be reading this, please take heart. I know it hurt, but one day you'll find money and it will feel so good it will help you forget the pain of this time.
But if you still want to get your money back, I understand that, and I'll hold it for you for a couple more weeks. Just call me.
Oh ... and have the serial numbers ready. You know, just to check.