Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cold Case -- The Dollar I Found

Here's another entry from my file, "Cold Case -- The Trivial Stuff." This one is so cold it might be called "The Case of the Cold Cash," but to me that doesn't really describe what happened. I want to keep it closer to a descriptive title, if for no other reason than to distinguish it from other cold cases that may come up involving money. So I'll call it "The Case of the Found Dollar."

This one goes way back. Still, I think of it maybe once a year, sometimes more. This week I started thinking about it again because someone told me she found $5 in one of the self-serve checkout stands at the grocery store. In fact, she said, she's always finding money, which tempts me to stalk her. Because I could always use some "found money," if for no other reason than to spend it on things I want.

That's what I did with the original dollar at the center of this case. I probably should set the scene. If you can picture me as around 12 years old, estimating, walking through a variety store, you'll have the scene. The year was sometime in the '60s, the place at particular store at the town's shopping center that isn't there anymore. For some reason I can't remember, they went out of business. In the same space since then has been other stores.

One day, as I was shopping without any money, looking at the toys and things in that area, I looked down, my eye was drawn down, and I saw a dollar bill in the aisle. My immediate impulse, which I acted on, was to reach down and pick it up and keep it for myself. Well, I didn't keep it long, because I bought some things right then and there that I suddenly couldn't live without, I believe including one or more of the old balsam wood airplanes we used to play with. Remember, this was back with a dollar was worth something. If you're not old enough to remember that a dollar used to be worth something, ask an older person. People were paid a dollar an hour back then.

Was I happy with this find? Yes, I seem to recall I was very happy. But looking back on it now, I wonder, should I have done the right thing and sought out the original owner? Could I even now make restitution to the person? I could, but this is obviously a cold case; there's no telling who the owner could be, whether he or she missed it, and whether it's really made any difference all these years that it was lost. Probably not.

After all, how many dollars have every one of us wasted over the years, and we haven't been exactly sunk, or financially embarrassed in any way? I see people always dropping several dollars on lottery tickets and it doesn't seem to bother them. Or families taking their little hellions into the convenience store and coming out with $30 worth of junk food, pork rinds, licorice packs, 64 oz. drinks, king size candy bars, $3 ice cream bars, etc. They don't seem to care. But if I'm the dad, I take them all to the grocery store and get them one thing, and one thing only, the little brats.

OK, it's a case in the cold case file, meaning I need to sketch out some theories about what could be done if someone wanted to solve the case and find the original owner. The store itself wouldn't be any help, since it's not there anymore. And this was back before there were video cameras everywhere, so to find a tape of the incident, and back it up to see the original person drop it, would be impossible. Plus, even if there were a tape, have you ever seen surveillance tapes on current TV shows? You have a guy robbing a liquor store, the camera's right in his face, and you can't make out a single feature. Try to imagine what the cameras of the '60s would have been like! A sketch artist sitting up in the store's security booth would do a better job, even if he wasn't able to capture all the action.

I could probably put an ad in the paper, asking for anyone who might remember losing a dollar at the time in that particular store, to get ahold of me. Then, if they wanted, I could reimburse them and everyone would be happy. But I'm doubtful, very doubtful, that the person would even be alive after all these years. On the other hand, I'm still alive, so it can't be excluded entirely. It might have been another kid, since, as I said, the dollar was found in the general area of the toy section.

I could contact the police and see if they have any records from that time frame, and see if they'd mind it very much going through them to see if anyone reported a missing dollar. Their mission being to protect and serve, I'd guess they'd be happy to look through the archives, even if it took days or weeks, to see if there was any way of getting this resolved.

My counsel to anyone reading this would be, If you find money, make notes about the circumstances, check everything, get down every angle. Because you never know, someday you might feel like making restitution. And if so, it will go much better for you if you have this kind of information. Without it, you'll be in the same straits I'm in right now, wanting to do the right thing but just not knowing how.

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