Change of life

By Steve Galea

“Aren’t you going to pick that up?” the kid asked.

It was a good question. But, the answer wasn’t simple. That’s why I looked at the coin I had just accidentally dropped and did the required mental calculations performed by anyone over 55.

First, I assessed the vertical elevation between myself and the coin. This was followed by an honest assessment of the bodily contortions and effort required to recover said coin. Then, I determined, how many people would be forced to avert their eyes during the recovery operation? And, was it cost effective? I also evaluated cell phone reception in case I needed to call a paramedic. And, finally, I determined if the coin was needed for a parking meter or a coffee.

The answers were as follows. I had dropped a quarter. It landed at my feet. Reaching for it would require serious physical effort, roughly the equivalent of touching my toes or kneeling. There were three people within line of sight that might see the plumber’s crack that might accompany either maneuver. I also estimated that the whole operation would likely take three minutes, which translated to a rate of $5 an hour Canadian – hardly worth the effort. On the plus side, cell phone reception was adequate, should things go sideways. And lastly, I had enough coins to pay for a coffee and 30 minutes at any parking meter in town.

“I’ll pass,” I said smugly. “Go for it kid.”

The kid did just that. Which was something I did not begrudge him, although the fact that he and his friends followed me around for the rest of the afternoon was a little off-putting.

Even so, I had to smile. 

For, if I recall correctly, picking up money you found on the ground was one of the true joys and perhaps even the only lucrative employment opportunity enjoyed by kids of my era. Some kids were better at it than others, of course. And, not to brag, but I was one.

Maybe it was my closer proximity to the ground, but no one could snatch up a quarter, nickel, dime or copper, quicker than me. Also, I was a true innovator – being among the first to utilize the separated sole on the bottom of my sneakers to scoop up coinage. 

Once, I found a five-dollar bill, which frankly was the highlight of my youth.

Back in those days, this was enough to buy a small bungalow in Scarborough with enough money left over for a modest-sized yacht.

Oh sure, there were rumors of kids who lived in even more affluent neighbourhoods who had found twenty-dollar bills. But, of course, they were rich to begin with, so they actually had their butler’s pick up cash or polish the coins, which, if you ask me, detracted greatly from the achievement. 

It was with this level of experience that I watched the kid work. 

His pick-up was OK, although hardly quick enough. Worse still, he had completely neglected the cardinal rule. That’s right. As soon as he retrieved the quarter, he offered it to me. 

“What?” I said.

“It’s your quarter,” he replied. 

A quick interrogation revealed that, even though he was 10, he was completely oblivious of the “finders keepers” rule, which, if you ask me, is further proof that our educational system is failing. 

Also, he was so pleased to find the quarter that he never stopped to look to see if there was more, which is a rookie’s mistake.  

So, I set him straight, then pointed him to a nearby fountain.  He listened carefully. 

I just hope what I told him made cents.