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The $100 question

When I found a Franklin on the sidewalk, did I lose my integrity?

October 16, 2009|Paul Whitefield | Paul Whitefield is the editorial pages' copy desk chief.

I recently found a $100 bill on the sidewalk.

It was there, outside a store entrance. No one else in sight. Just me and the money.

I kept it.

Did I consider trying to find who lost it? Yes.

But I didn't try.

Do I feel guilty? Yes.

What was I thinking?

That you can't just walk into a store and say, "Hey, anybody lose a $100 bill?"

Then again, maybe you can. Is not trusting my fellow man just an excuse?

I called my buddy, Chris. He said: "Go into the store, tell the manager you found something valuable on the sidewalk and that, if anyone comes looking for it, to call you, and if they can describe it, you'll give it back."

Which actually sounded pretty reasonable. Except, by that time, I was across town.

"How about I use the money to take you to lunch?" I asked.

"That works too," he said.

Later, I asked three other friends, all lawyers, what I should do. They didn't hesitate. You should keep it, they said. One of them even gave me the legal justification: "It's finders keepers."

My wife said I should give it to charity.

I've found money before. In fact, years ago, as a starving student in Hawaii, I happened on $13 in cash on the sidewalk. It was like a miracle. My wife and I went and had pizza, our first restaurant meal in weeks. I didn't feel bad at all.

But this is real money. One hundred bucks.

Was the $100 a child's birthday gift from Grandpa and Grandma? Was it someone's last $100? Did it fall from a rich person's pocket, and he wouldn't miss it?

If it had been a wallet, I wouldn't have hesitated. I've found wallets before. I've always returned them.

And I didn't steal the $100. There was an item in my local paper about a man who left his wallet on a store counter. When he returned for it, it was gone. Surveillance video showed a man looking at the wallet, then placing a bag of chips over it, paying and then walking out -- with the chips and the wallet.

I'm not like that guy, am I?

In some ways, I've gotten $100 worth of enjoyment from my find -- from telling the story, from fielding suggestions on what do with it, from debating the ethical and moral issues.

But I still have the bill.

And I still don't know what to do with it.

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