Monday, July 20, 2009
A Very Lucky Place To Live
A few years ago I came into a little money, a few hundred dollars that dropped unexpectedly in my lap at a time when all bills were paid, there was nothing I either needed or wanted, and the cars and motorcycles in the garage had new tires and idled smoothly.
I went to my credit union, deposited the check and withdrew the exact same amount in single and five-dollar bills. The cashier wanted to give me tens and twenties but I was adamant. I slipped all the bills in a manila envelope and considered my options.
I'm European, and the safest bank for folks of my generation remains under the mattress or buried in the back yard, but I thought that really, considering the money's sudden appearance, I should somehow better my karma with it, do something worthwhile and charitable. So that same night, around 2 a.m., I traveled my neighborhood putting singles and fives into mailboxes.
The Vietnamese lady three doors down with two kids got a five. The neighbor on the other side and across the street, who once came to my house with my cat in a cardboard box complaining that he had dug up her tulips, got a single--an old tattered bill dating from before the Federal Reserve and, for all I know, still carrying influenza microbes from the Great Epidemic of 1919. The very aged lady with the three cocker spaniels got a five, as did the guy with the rusted out 240Z Datsun. A few people got nothing at all. I didn't like their house, their car, the way the boxwood were cut with military precision.
All in all, I think I distributed about $120. A week later I did it again. I didn't hit all the same houses, but I wanted to be catholic about this, so a family that got a one earlier got a five this time, and vice versa. Again, I spent about $100.
A few days later, I noticed a blurb in the local weekly paper about the mysterious appearance of money in mailboxes along the Idylwood corridor. A couple of recipients had alerted the media! I waited for the TV trucks and Katy Couric, debated spilling the beans and opted against. When I realized there would be no follow-up, I spoke with my neighbors on the right, three ladies from a former Soviet Republic. They told me they'd gotten $10 in two separate installments but would not spend it, as certainly it must have been a trick to fool newly-arrived immigrants, some sort of test, perhaps, to ascertain their honesty. But, they said, the Korean family next door to them only got a dollar and was pretty angry about it. Discrimination and racism, muttered the father. And the cat-in-the-box lady was fairly upset because she had gotten nothing at all the second time around.
The media never did appear. In time, I came to consider this much as I would a piece of anonymous performance art, something I surely would not repeat considering the state of my funds, a good piece of dinner conversation. For reasons still unclear, I have never mentioned it to anyone until now. But a couple of weeks ago new people moved in across the street. I went there to introduce myself and offered to lend them any gardening tools they might not yet have. The young Asian woman who answered the door somewhat warily, it turned out, was a Laotian who had spent some time in Paris. We spoke about the city, compared notes, and she agreed to send her husband over if they needed to borrow my lawnmower. As I left, she touched my shoulder and said, "The real estate person who sold us the house said sometimes money appears in people's mailboxes here. This must be a very lucky place to live."