I was prepared to pay ten dollars in order to have this story to tell.
Here’s what started it. The Free Press is one of several weekly papers in my area. It consists of mostly coupons, ads, local notices, and various other postings derived primarily from press releases. And then there’s the want ads. They form a certain portrait of the comings and goings of the citizens of this and neighboring counties.
Under “Lost & Found” were two entries. One for a lost dog. Not to diminish the anguish that particular family is going through, but it’s a fairly common ad. The other, however, was another story. “Lost $10 at the Hartford IGA on Monday 4/28, around 6pm.” And then there was a number to call.
I clipped the ad out, because of all the questions it raised, and the profile of the advertiser it seemed to present. I didn’t know if it was filled with faith, hope or something else. The rate listed in the paper for placing such a three-line ad was eight dollars and ten cents. Maybe they got to run the ad for free somehow. Maybe they worked for the paper. I just didn’t know.
A day went by and I had to know more. I called the number and a woman answered. I told her I saw her ad, and though I didn’t find the money, I’d give her the ten dollars. This seemed to make her uncomfortable. She asked and I told her again my name and where I live. I told her I’ve probably found at least a total of ten dollars on the ground over the years and I’d gladly give it to her for taking the initiative that she did. She was still uncomfortable with this, but went on to tell me how she believed she was actually shortchanged by the grocery store. I was getting the sense that this ad represented a sort of mini-crusade on her part, a David and Goliath story – it was about having those words in print in the newspaper more than it was about the money. She said she’d have to think about accepting my ten dollars. I left my phone number with her, but she never called back.
– David Greenberger
(aired on NPR’s All Things Considered, 11 November 1997)