dirty money

dirty money

Find a penny,
Pick it up,
And all day long
You’ll have good luck.

Anyone who knows anything knows that this is not just a children’s rhyme.  It is irrefutable truth.  Moreover, there are rules to it — rules which must be followed exactly, in order to both reap the reward and avoid dire consequences:

1.  You may only pick up a penny which you find, not one you yourself drop or which was dropped for you by someone you are with.

2.  If you see the person who dropped the penny, you must return the penny to the owner if possible.  Otherwise, you risk bad luck.

3.  Only pennies which are heads-up when found are lucky.  Pennies found on tails are unlucky.  Trying to kick a heads-down penny in hopes of its landing heads-up is cheating and most certainly brings bad luck (though I myself have never been daring enough to tempt Fate in this way!) – unless, after achieving heads-up, you leave the penny for someone else to find, in which case there is no luck added to you either way, only the satisfaction of having been a kind soul.

4.  I believe it was decided by the reigning Penny Luck Council that finding a penny heads-up and not picking it up brings bad luck equal to picking up a heads-down penny.  As for me, I wouldn’t risk it.

It’s amazing how often I find lucky pennies.  This is partly because I am magical.  But I’m sure it is also due to the fact that I am always on the lookout for them.  And while this has its own inherent life lessons, I’ll leave those deductions to you for the sake of getting to the point at hand.

My luck is not limited to pennies (though other denominations do not carry with them the luck nor the strict rules).  Why, just last Sunday, as I got out of my car at a convenience store, I found $1.74 in various coinage, strewn across the lot like littered cigarette ashes.  There was more than this, of course; but due to the aforementioned rules, I had to leave all heads-down pennies where they lay.

The most money I have ever found was $300 – three, crisp one-hundred-dollar bills, blowing across the lawn near the back walkway to my apartment.  You may find it hard to believe (I find it somewhat hard to believe myself), but I actually went door to door in four buildings, trying to find the owner.  I knocked at each door, and if someone answered, I asked if they had perhaps lost some money recently.  I did not say how much.  After twenty-some-odd doors had not turned up the owner, I began to imagine how I’d spend my windfall.  Just then, a young woman with a baby on her hip answered.  And when I asked my filter question, her face instantly contorted to the most perfect blend of desperation and hope I’ve seen: “Oh! Was it three hundred dollars? Please say it was!”  And it was.  I produced the bills and she took them with wonderment.  “Thank you! Thank you so much! This is rent money and I didn’t know what I was going to do!”

To me, that exchange was worth more than the $300.

As it happens, just last night, I found more money.  I was driving back from Dib’s house close to midnight, and was suddenly overcome with the need for serious protein.  I stopped at an all-night convenience store, plunking down $7.00 for two protein shakes.  Yes, two.  Don’t judge.  I tucked my change into my pocket with the other twenty that was in there.  On my way out the door to my car, I looked down to my left and there it was, with the orange glow of a street lamp shining down on it like a spotlight on a stage: a dollar bill.

Now, I know I shouldn’t get as excited as I do.  After all, it was only a dollar.  And it doesn’t even come with the good luck of a penny.  But I do get excited.  I did.  I marched right over to that dollar bill like a kid on holiday, bent down and scooped it right up into my hot little hand, tucking it into my pocket.

I am not going to lie.  There were two more things I did just then.  First, I glanced around to see if anyone might be looking for the dollar – someone who may have just now dropped it.  Finding no one who fit the description, and keenly aware of the frigid breeze blowing, I also traced the direction of the wind and made a short trek along that line, back and forth, in case any other cousins to the bill had also been set free and might now be waiting for me against the brick wall of the store or the newspaper rack.

No more was to be found, but it did not dampen my spirits.  I had found a dollar.  And this, I told myself, was the same as getting a discount on my protein shakes.  And that felt good.

Once home, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the disheveled wad of money, plunking it down on the low table by my front door.  I smiled again as I saw the additional earnings, sitting atop the other bills.

This morning, as I prepared to leave for an early haircut, I began to collect the money from off the table where I’d left it.  Now, a crumple of bills is all well and good at the end of a day; but it must be straightened and aligned into a neat stack in order of value (largest toward the bottom) to start a day.  So I turned and flattened the twenty in my palm.  Then the five.  Three ones.  And lastly – the dirty dollar bill I’d found.

I opened the folded bill to flatten it – and found the flip side of it completely smeared with dog doo.  A long, wet streak starting at one side and ending in a sizable mass at the other.  I am not kidding you.  I wish I were.

I faced a choice.  The easiest – and perhaps most reasonable – choice was to simply adopt an “easy-come-easy-go” attitude and toss that puppy right into the trash.  In that moment, still holding the offending object in disbelief, I had to wonder how it had happened.  Had someone, at a loss for other paper, actually used money to remove the unwanted substance from their shoe?  Or had there been a car full of chuckling teens parked somewhere nearby last night, watching their planted prank for an hour before the final perverse pay-off of seeing a schmuck like me pick it up?

But do you know what I did instead?  (Mom, you will be so proud.)  I took that soiled and stinking bill over to the kitchen sink, cranked on some hot water, and used paper towels and dish soap to clean that dollar.  And I mean I cleaned it up good: scrubbing, sniffing, scraping, sniffing again.  Once the bill no longer registered to my nostrils, I propped it up against some books to dry.  I was keeping that dollar, come hell or high water.

Well, this is all very amusing, I’m sure.  But in keeping with the purpose of this blog, I actually do have a point.

There’s an old adage: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”  But this does not have to be interpreted as a caution to suspect the worst and be cynical at every turn.  It’s simply a reminder to the wise that anything worth keeping is worth putting in the effort to make it work, to redeem it.  Few things in life are as uncomplicated and care-free as they seem at first.  There is no perfect job.  There is no perfect person and no perfect relationship.  Despite the stars in your eyes and itty-bitty butterflies in your stomach, you will begin to see the cracks and wrinkles and rough edges.  But this shouldn’t be your cue to toss blessings to the curb in search of the next sparkly thing to catch your eye.  That is a search that will never end, because there is just no such thing as “perfect” in this world.

Last night, the perceived value of the bill I’d found was exactly one dollar.  This morning, I found that it was marred.  Spoiled to some degree.  It smelled awful.  If I’d thrown it in the garbage, what would its value have been to me?  Exactly zero dollars.  But, after investing the time and care to clean off George’s face and good name, what was the value of that bill to me?  Exactly one dollar – all the value it had had the night before when I had first smiled at my good fortune in finding it.

Don’t throw away the worthwhile things in your own life.  Make the choice to put in the work to redeem their value and enjoy them to the fullest.

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