A Story of Super Stupidity

July 13, 2009

What’s your greatest story of stupidity?

Every once in a while, you encounter an event so insane, so ridiculous, you can’t even figure out what really happened. Was it a coincidence? God’s providence? A close call?

I was recently thinking about my all time most ridiculous incident. This is a story that has no message, no moral, no life lesson because I still haven’t figured out what in God’s name really happened. I have no idea what this hour of my life meant, just that the stupidity of three strangers mingled in an absurd display of ineptitude. I invite you to help me figure out whether I had a close call, or I broke a date with destiny.

I was a college student living in the middle of Kansas City. I had no money, just my boyish good looks going for me. One afternoon, I was out for some errands. I had my laundry sitting behind the driver’s seat of my car to go to a laundromat, but I had some other places I had to go first. So the car was parked, and I was just getting out for my first stop.

In the city, there are lots of interesting things that get dropped on the ground. I had gotten in the habit of looking for things. I found notes, shopping lists, empty wallets, photographs. This is a story of something that three people found at one time.

As I was just walking away from my car, about 10 feet in front of me, a woman about 15-20 years older than I bent down to pick up a woman’s billfold from the sidewalk. She saw me and looked around, trying to figure out if it had just been dropped. A man about the same age approached us at the same time.

The woman opened the billfold. It was stuffed with a stack at least an inch thick of clean hundred dollar bills. I’m not kidding. This wallet had at least ten grand in it. The three of us had seemingly, at the same time, discovered at least ten thousand dollars.

Ten thousand dollars between three strangers makes things awkward, and stupid. We looked for any ID, driver’s licenses, photos. There was nothing. It was a wad of cash with no name. The billfold was quickly zipped up, to prevent any other passers-by from seeing anything. For a moment, none of us knew what to do. In my first stupid move, I motioned toward my car, and we walked behind it, in relative privacy from the busy sidewalk.

It was suggested by one of the two “responsible adults” that the money be divided between all of us, and we go our separate ways. It was reasoned that with no ID with the money, the police would not be helpful. If anything, they would just keep the money for themselves. This logic, and lack of trust for the police seemed adequate to a college student with only his boyish good looks. So I went along with the decision. Not my proudest moment. But what was I to do? Steal the billfold and righteously turn it in? I had not touched the money yet. The two of them decided we needed a more private area to count and divide the cash.

And this is one my stupidest moments. Really, embarrassingly stupid.

I let the two strangers get in my car. Fail.

This was stupid for everyone, really. It was stupid for the woman to get in a car with two strange men. It was stupid for the man who didn’t know if I’d drive to the police, and it was stupid for me who didn’t know if either of them was packing heat.

The woman with the billfold got in the back, next to my laundry. The gentleman took the front passenger seat. I was in the driver’s seat. The woman unzipped the wallet and removed half the stack, rubber banded together. She slowly began to sort through the bills while we talked.

Among the two of them, there was some kind of paranoia about getting caught with money that wasn’t theirs. I saw no problem, as cash is cash. They felt if any of us spent or deposited our share all in one place, it would be suspicious, and the other two would be at risk of being found out. As I write this, it sounds absurdly stupid, since we didn’t even know each others’ names.

Nevertheless, a pact was formed, that the money would not be spent right away in one lump sum. The woman was taking entirely too long to count the cash. It seemed she couldn’t count and talk at the same time.

But some proof was needed that none of us were derelicts who would need to spend the cash right away on crack or new ‘dubs,’ that we did indeed have cash of our own.

The man had his proof in his sock. A small clip of money was tucked away. Brilliant. The woman pulled out her own purse and showed her cash and credit cards. It was my turn.

I didn’t have any cash. I showed them my empty wallet, and told them I kept my money in the bank because I hadn’t planned on showing it off that day. Doesn’t everyone keep their money in a bank?

Apparently not. People who don’t trust cops also don’t trust banks. And the show of a debit card was not enough. The woman had stopped counting the cash. As I tried to reason with them, things got tense. I pointed out that they were sitting in my car, paid for with my own money, and that I had so much money, that it would not fit in my sock. They remained dubious. They wanted proof of my bank account balance. That would require me to drive two strangers to a bank several blocks away, and access my bank account.

This is where my half-wit brain kicked in.

I told them to get out of the car. They weren’t eager to leave. I insisted that they were under no obligation to me. I hadn’t found the money. They didn’t know my name. They could divide the money between the two of them, and I’d be on my way, never to be seen again. They reluctantly left. The entire stupid exchange had lasted half an hour.

I went to the laundromat, no richer and no poorer than I had started my day.

What happened? My then-girlfriend, now wife insisted that I had tempted fate and had two con-artists in my car. I was acquainted with cons. I had before (unknowingly, though stupidly) overdrawn my account to help a con pretending to be a neighbor in trouble. But I wasn’t convinced. But I was also too embarrassed to tell my family. To this day I haven’t decided whether it was serendipity or something sinister that brought three seeming strangers together that day. Was I about to get conned, or did I pass up my share of a huge wad of cash.

What do you think happened that day? What’s your most ridiculous story?