“Son, I’m going to teach you to be an idiot,” I said to my son Evan, in effect, as we came upon a ten-dollar bill in the grocery store parking lot last week.
We were lions that had just happened upon a wounded gazelle, but no, we would not pounce.
“Look, buddy, there’s money on the ground. It’s not ours, though. We’ll leave it there in case whoever dropped it comes back looking for it,” I said, a bluebird lighting on my shoulder.
“Leave it?” Evan asked.
“That’s right, we’ll leave it right there,” I said, picturing the sweet old lady who would drive back into the parking lot any moment now, so glad to find the money she needed for her prescriptions right where she hoped it would be. Then she’d pat us on the head, call us Sonny and give us each a Werther’s Original.
Evan watched from the cart as I loaded the groceries into the car. Somehow, I’d just spent $100, even though I’d only gone there to get toilet paper. Groceries seem to breed in the cart. You can’t leave Mr. Clean and Mrs. Butterworth alone for a minute.
As I worked my way through the unending bags, I glanced over at the ten spot on the pavement just a few feet behind me. I thought about walking over and snatching it up, but this seemed like a good opportunity to teach my son something. What exactly the lesson was, I hadn’t sorted out yet, but surely, he would learn something important.
A woman in her early twenties strolled past us, carrying a single bag of groceries. After about ten feet, she stopped, looking back toward the store. She seemed to be trying to read the denomination on the bill using only her peripheral vision, like how guys check out women when their date is sitting across the table.
She hesitated, then circled back toward the store, walking straight past the bill. Then she stopped again, and you could almost see a visible beam coming from the money, pulling her back. She was Gollum, and the ring was calling.
The woman looked in her grocery bag and pretended to remember that she didn’t need to go back into the store. When she was standing directly over the money, she dropped a package of marshmallows on the bill, knelt down and scooped everything up in one swift motion. Then she beelined back to her car, probably caressing the money and muttering, “My precious! My precioussss!” to herself.
Evan and I watched her from under our tailgate, a lion and his cub doing nothing while a hyena dragged their gazelle into the bushes.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. No head pat. No Werther’s Originals. The whole show with the marshmallows was only necessary because the woman must have assumed there was a decent chance that the money had fallen out of my pocket, and she was quite happy to take it anyway.
Hopefully, she’ll use that money to buy a case of Ramen noodles for the orphanage she runs.
As I closed the tailgate, I wondered: what did I just teach Evan, anyway? It would have been far better to have him deposit the money in a charity bucket in the store, a game plan I didn’t develop until about three hours too late. Anything would have been better than letting the marshmallow ninja run off with it.
While I latched Evan into his car seat, I thought about how the bill was folded in half, exactly the same way I stuff wads of cash into my pockets.
“You’re a moron,” said the bluebird on my shoulder.
You can drop a bag of marshmallows on Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.