SHORTSTORY: The Catholic Boy and the Five Dollar Bill

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SHORTSTORY photo | october 2014

By DOUGLAS IMBROGNO | An afternoon shower had left the streets and sidewalks of Charleston, West Virginia wet. The rain had passed on by. The now-blue sky above Leon Sullivan Drive was flecked with powdery clouds. It was 3 p.m. and I’d just come from a session with a friend I see weekly, sorting through some flotsam and jetsam in my life.

I was pondering my fate, the future, his take on things as I headed toward the corner of Leon Sullivan and Virginia Street. That’s where Charleston Catholic High School sits. School had just let out. Scores of Catholic students in white shirts and navy blue pants and skirts clumped in knots on the corner, chatting or waiting for the light to change to cross the street.

A pudgy Catholic boy with pale skin and blonde-red hair stood alone beside the wall of the school. He peered into his cellphone, the land where 50 percent of his generation’s attention now lives.

Maybe more.

Absorbed in my ratiocination — likely a hopeless attempt to reason through things better left to intuition if not meditation — my attention was downward-trained, not upward. So it was that I espied sitting there on the sidewalk beside the Catholic school what one does not often see sitting on the ground.

A half-folded five-dollar bill.

The pudgy Catholic boy plumbed his own depths, the ones inside of his phone. I strolled up to him. I slowed as a I passed. Pointed to the ground.

“There’s a five-dollar bill,” I said.

He looked up out of the phone . At me. Looked at my finger. Then down to the bill. Five dollars, after all, is still an amount of money worth noticing if it’s on the ground. You might not stop and pay attention to a penny or a nickel. Maybe even a dime. But a randomly dropped five dollar bill laying on the pavement is something of an event.

The boy hardly missed a beat, before his eyes returned to his phone.

“It’s not mine,” he said.

In a moment’s notice, I am flooded with a weird, but pleasing rush of pheromes. I think of  Diogenes of Sinope,  and his  search for an honest man finally  complete (although I lacked his philosophical stunt prop of seeking an honest man by carrying a lamp in daytime.)

Without a flicker of hesitation, the boy declares that the five dollar bill is not only not his, but never will be his.

I find myself not only admiring the boy, but for some odd reason I love him. For his five-dollars-worth of genuine instant honesty.

He could just as easily have said, “Cool!” And scooped it up.

It’s the little things that make a day better or best.

I bend over, take out my own phone. I snap a close-up of Abraham Lincoln laying there beside the Catholic kid’s beat-up leather shoes.

The president’s bearded, impassive face stares upward. Ready to confront another passerby with the philosophical conundrum posed by a lost five-dollar bill.

‘CLICK!’ says my iPhone 5. I pass on by the bill and the boy. He has taught me a lesson.

It’s not mine, either.

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NOTE: WestVirginiaVille used to be a blog. This is a reprint of a 2014 blogpost from the site’s previous incarnation.

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