What was that, there on the sidewalk?
I was finishing my daily constitutional when I spotted a heap of oddities mounded on the cement in front of our house. Bending close for a good peer, I realized it was a wadded-up pair of latex gloves and a couple crumpled bills. Had a neighborhood kid dropped his stash of pandemic protection and long-hoarded money? Had it fallen out of someone’s pocket or bag during a dog walk?
Gingerly, I stepped over the jumble. No way did I want to touch someone’s used gloves. And is there anything dirtier than money? Nah, sis, I told the items’ pleading eyes, using the unspoken language that exists between humans and random crap. Hang tight and handle yourself. Someone will be back for you.
A few days later, movement on our front steps caught my eye through the window. Huh? A human being coming to our front door? What sort of madman not (grudgingly) employed by the federal government goes around opening people’s doors and leaning into their front porches during quarantine?
It was our neighbor, Ben, being helpful. Eyeing the pile of latex-and-currency stranger germs he’d placed inside our confines, I shook my head. Damn if you can’t protect yourself from good people.
Eventually, Ben emailed:
Ever stroll onto your front porch and find a pile of wadded up gloves and some cash? I bet you have recently. Here’s the rest of that story…
We were walking down the sidewalk on Sunday and found the gloves and cash on the sidewalk in front of your house. We figured that maybe they were in your pocket when you last went for a run and they fell out when you pulled something out of your pocket.
Or, it was someone else completely and you’ve spent the last 24 hours utterly confused as to how money & gloves ended up on your porch.
If it wasn’t yours, just put in in the potluck competition prize fund.
For more than a week, maybe two, maybe seven – who even knows anymore – Byron and I left the gloves and bills on the porch, tacitly challenging each other in the age-old waiting game of “You touch it/No you touch it/No YOU touch it.”
Eventually, weaker willed than a man who bike commutes and never eats multiple pieces of hot, buttery toast at midnight, I caved. My face screwed as the blue gloves dangled from the tips of two fingers, our meeting brief but meaningful before they met their fate in the garbage can. The five- and one-dollar bills went straight into the kitchen sink, where I, someone who’s never taken any care at all with her spendy delicates, hand washed Washington and Lincoln, scrubbing their smug slave-owning, mass-Dakota-Sioux-executing faces raw with Dawn dish soap.
Later, as they dried on the kitchen counter, I looked at their rumpled forms occupying prime real estate and considered the many intersections of filth and good intentions. No better symbol for that than battered cash unwittingly gained.
As I put a few things into the trunk of the car, a man came up – close, too close – an untied mask dangling around his neck. Launching into familiar lines, he explained he was homeless. He wondered if I had any money.
Normally, without thought, I’d have issued a quick “Sorry, I don’t.” Unless the homeless have Venmo, I make for a poor panhandle.
But. Hey. Wait a sec. I bit off the usual response just as it reached tongue tip.
“Yeah, sure,” I told him, the ease of that response throwing off his patter; he was already explaining how he and his girlfriend had hit a rough pa – before he realized the masked lady with the red car was unzipping her wallet.
I pulled out all my cash, an exceedingly clean $6, and appreciated Ben’s neighborliness anew as I handed his kind gesture to a better recipient.
Shifting from foot to foot, the anxious mask-dangler in the parking lot looked at the bills in his hand, then back at me.
“Is that all?”
Yes, friend, you are a bit breathtaking, and that is all.
I shrugged. Nodded.
“All right,” he agreed, his attention already elsewhere.
The urgency of his hustle across the parking lot toward a blowsy blonde intimated that $6 might not have been all he hoped for, but it was enough to get them nearer to a score.
As he hotfooted away, I half-wished they’d use the money for something more lasting than a hit, but, really, it was none of my business. The money was never mine to begin with.
Pushing bags of bread and cookies deeper into the trunk, I thought back to the years when I lived off $25 a week for groceries. One week, I came up a dollar short at the checkout, and as I embarrassedly pulled a couple oranges off the conveyor belt, the cashier told me with a smile, “Give me those oranges, and don’t worry about it. Maybe you’ll pay me back sometime.”
What he wanted me to know was the simplest of truths: if I had a need, and he had the ability to give, then we both were set.
Near the sliding doors to the grocery store, the blowsy blonde reached for $6 someone had dropped a month before onto a sidewalk, tucking it into her bra so she could light a cigarette.
Fifty feet away, I slammed the trunk, got into the little red car, and lowered my mask, pulling a full inhale of unrestricted air.
Past the far side of the lot, diamonds of sunlight danced across the water of the big lake. It was a beautiful day.
That was all, and it was enough.