Monday, July 05, 2010

Degrees of Integrity

Upon the occasion of driving the Cherokee Turnpike, at 75 mph, on the way to Tulsa the other day, I got to thinking about a wallet I found a few weeks ago. We were going to the smoke shop over in Siloam Springs to find some cigars for James to celebrate the birth of the twins. There on the road I opened the door and scooped up a long leather billfold and instantly thought “biker”. It just fit the profile, you see.

You have to open them to see who they belong to, so don’t hold it against me that I counted the money. Thirty one bucks. We went into the smoke shop and asked if anybody there knew the dude whose name appeared on the drivers’ license, along with a scary photo. Nobody did. So just as we were walking out to go check it with the casino next door, the clerk said “Hold on a minute.” She disappeared for a moment and then came back and said there was a biker at the drive-thru window asking if anybody had turned in his lost wallet. I walked outside and gave it to the guy. He was thrilled, and said if he had more money he’d give me a reward. Of course, I told him that wasn’t necessary. He thanked me again, cranked the hog, and roared out of the parking lot – back to the campground at the river where he told me he lived. I felt good about being the one who found it, assuming that many other people who did would not have returned it to the rightful owner. Karma, I thought, would surely be smiling on me, so we went on into the casino to test that theory. And Karma gave us both big swift kicks in the butt.

Until making the long, straight drive to Tulsa, I had forgotten about it. But, boredom, you know…

I wondered if the same wallet had contained, say, $3100, would we have been so quick to seek out the owner. Or, what if it was $31,000? I mean, are there degrees of integrity, or is it an absolute? Not knowing the answers to these questions myself, I was quick to pat myself on the back for this minor act of decency. But, maybe Karma did know the answers and was treating me accordingly.

What if there had been a whole bunch of money in that thing and I knew the owner, and it was somebody I didn’t like? What if it belonged to some rich jerk who likes to go around rubbing his wealth in the faces of the have-nots? What if it belonged to Ann Coulter or Osama bin Laden? What would I have done then? Sure, if it was Ann Coulter’s and it had, say, twelve bucks in it, I would have surely returned it, just so she’d know I knew she only had twelve bucks. But, twelve hundred?

If it had been Osama’s, how would I find him? Would he answer a “Lost & Found” ad in the paper? Then, I thought of a way to catch bin Laden. Remind me to tell you about that sometime.

I got to wondering, if biker dude had found my wallet, would he have returned it? That, in itself, didn’t seem to matter. And I didn’t know the guy, so I couldn’t make that judgment. But then I wondered, if I was the guy living at a campground down by the river, would I have the luxury of returning any amount of money I found? If he was to keep it, I wouldn’t hold it against him. But would I hold it against me under the same circumstances?

The miles clicked away, and my mind continued to wander. Karma, it seems, has never really smiled upon me for doing the “right thing”. I mean, not that I noticed. I’ve given rides to stranded strangers, only to go so far out of my way that I ran out of gas before getting home, and had to walk, myself. I’ve given my last five dollars to panhandlers beside the highway and had to skip lunch. I’ve been attacked by vicious turtles after stopping and risking my life to drag them out of the road so they wouldn’t get smashed by a truck. Matter of fact, I can’t think of a single time I’ve ever done anything selfless or generous and been “rewarded” for it, in any recognizable way. And yet, like a dummy, I continue to do stuff like that.

Once, about two in the morning, we picked up a female hitchhiker on Hwy. 412, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. She started telling us stories about working for the drug task force and being taken prisoner by meth dealers and them cutting her breasts off. Really more information than I needed, there on that dark highway with her practically invisible in the back seat. She informed us that her truck had broken down, and her three kids were several miles back, waiting for her to return. I offered to go back and get them, but she said, “They’ll be OK. They have a gun.” I wondered if the youngins had the only firearm the family owned, or if the other one was pointed at the back of my head, and it did tend to make the rest of the trip a tad uncomfortable. But we made it to the house where she said she could “borrow” another car to go back and pick the kids up. The payoff for that one was not sleeping at all that night.

By Saturday I had thought about it all long enough to start mentally composing this column, while driving to Bella Vista to take a photo of a friend. Just about the time I concluded that the self-satisfaction I get from doing “nice things” is worth whatever price I pay, my right rear tire blew out.

© 2010, Rick Baber

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