A $1 bill, a plugged nickel and the steps in between
This is how it starts.
You get up from your desk at dinner time, head down the stairs (so many stairs in this place) and follow the hallway (so many halls) to the break room, grab your dinner from the fridge (leftovers of your wife’s jambalaya) and bring it to the microwave.
That’s when you see it.
A $1 bill, just sitting there — if paper could sit (actually, you’re just avoiding choosing incorrectly between “lying” and “laying”). It’s next to the microwave, face-side up.
No name attached. No note saying “Do not take this $1 bill.” No one else around — just you, staring down, as Donald Trump stares up at you.
Wait, that’s not Donald Trump. That’s George Washington. You realize you’re not Devin Nunes, so you actually know how to tell the difference.
The leftover jambalaya is reheated, the microwave is beeping. You take you lunch to a table, eat, and head back along the hallway and up the stairs back to your desk.
The next night, the scenario repeats.
You get up from your desk at the same time, take the same stairs and hallway, open the same fridge to grab your dinner (another helping of the same jambalaya) and bring it to the same microwave.
The $1 bill is still there.
It has been 24 hours. No one has moved it. No one has claimed it. You go through the progressions of your journalistic training.
Who left it there? What is it there for? When did it get put there? Where is the person to whom it rightfully belongs?
You eat, make the same return trek back to your desk and finish your work shift. Only now, there are unanswered questions. You start thinking about the dollar.
Your mind starts to wander.
You’re back in your childhood, opening the door to Smitty’s Variety, headed to the glass case filled with candy and baseball cards. There are toys on the shelf behind you, so you turn to look ... and there it is.
A nickel, sitting (lying? laying?) on the floor. No one is around, just you staring down at Donald Trump staring back at you.
Wait, that’s not Donald Trump. That’s Thomas Jefferson. You realize you’re not Ivanka Kushner, so you actually know how to tell the difference.
You’re a kid, so you bend down to pick up the nickel. It doesn’t budge. You try harder. Nothing. You kick at it; the nickel stands its ground.
Behind the glass cases, Smitty is chuckling. It’s a prank coin, he says. Like a big thumbtack, only with the face of Donald Jefferson ... George Jefferson ... Thomas Jefferson. He (Smitty, not Jefferson) just likes to see how many customers will try to pick up the nickel.
You’ve never really considered that Smitty is the type who would conduct psychological experiments ... but before you give it much thought, your mind has wandered off again.
You are in college, walking on campus toward a dual staircase (so many stairs) between two science buildings. You head down the staircase on your right, because at the bottom of the stairs on the left is what appears to be a construction projects including pipes and wires and one of those warning signs with an amber reflector alerting you to avoid the pipes and wires.
Ever school day, you make this trip. Same stairs, same pipes and wires, same amber reflector. It doesn’t register that you rarely see a work crew (you must just make this familiar trek during their lunch break).
The next semester, the pipes and wires and reflector are gone. Still, you find yourself going down the right stairs. You’ve been trained. A friend says he heard it all had been an experiment by the psychology department to see if this learned behavior would have a lasting effect.
Who knows if he’s telling the truth. He’s a philosophy major, so it’s really hard to tell how much he knows about anything.
Your mind has stopped its wandering, and you’re back it work. It’s dinner time. You get up from your desk and change your routine. You go down a different set of stairs (you just said “so many stairs” to yourself, didn’t you?). You go outside and move your car closer to the building.
You park near a door closer to the break room and avoid the hallway. Inside the fridge is your dinner (the jambalaya has been replaced by broiled chicken). You grab the dish and turn to the microwave.
The $1 bill is still there.
Different questions start coming to the forefront. The who, the when, the why no longer matter. Now, you consider words like “trust” and “honesty” and “courtesy.” A building-full of co-workers have come into proximity to the dollar and no one has taken it.
This isn’t the same as when you would head to the corner with your brother before church on Sunday mornings, and scoured the parking lot behind the Oar & Anchor for any beer money the Saturday night crowd might have left behind.
This is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma — sitting, laying, lying in plain sight on the counter in a common area.
It is a metaphysical construct. A sliver of light. A glimmer, a glint. It is a little thing. It is a big thing. It is nothing at all.
(You wish you had been a philosophy major so that you’d know whether you’d used “metaphysical construct” correctly.)
Day four: Stairs. Hallway. Fridge. Chicken. Microwave.
The dollar is gone. You wonder if it is where it belongs. You wonder whether it was ever really there.
This is how it ends.
Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin has a nickel stuck into the floor boards at email@example.com