SHORTSTORY: The Catholic Boy and the Five Dollar Bill

The actual five-dollar bill that noone was willing to claim. | Photo by DOUGLAS IMBROGNO

This piece first appeared years ago in my now-shuttered web journal. I think we all need reminders in today’s aggressive streetscapes and self-seeking political landscape that the offspring of Diogenes may be found on any street we walk down.


An afternoon shower had left the streets and sidewalks of Charleston, West Virginia wet. The rain had passed on by. The now-blue sky was flecked with powdery clouds. It was 3 p.m. and I’d just come from a session with a friend I see weekly, sorting through some of the long-floating flotsam and jetsam in my life.

I was pondering my fate. The future. My friend’s take on things. My reaction.

I headed toward the corner where the local Catholic high school sits. School had just let out.

Scores of Catholic students in white shirts and navy blue pants and skirts clumped in knots on the corner. They chatted or waited for the light to change to cross the street.

A pudgy Catholic boy with pale skin and blonde-red hair stood alone beside the wall of the school. He peered into his cellphone, the land where 50 percent of his generation’s attention now lives.

Maybe more and growing by the day.

Absorbed in my ratiocination — likely a hopeless attempt to reason through some flotsam better left to intuition, if not meditation — my attention was downward-trained, not upward.

So, it was that I espied sitting there on the sidewalk beside the Catholic school what one does not often see sitting on the ground.

A half-folded five-dollar bill.

The pudgy Catholic boy plumbed his own depths found inside his phone’s screen.

I strolled up to him. Slowed as I passed.

I pointed to the ground.

“There’s a five-dollar bill,” I said.

He looked up out of the phone. 

At me. Looked at my finger.

Then down to the bill.

Five dollars, after all, is still an amount of money worth noticing if it’s on the ground. You might not stop and pay attention to a penny or a nickel. Maybe even a dime. But a randomly dropped five-dollar bill laying on the pavement.

Now, that is something of an event.

The boy hardly missed a beat, before his eyes returned to his phone.

“It’s not mine,” he said.

In a moment’s notice, I am flooded with a weird, but pleasing rush of pheromes. I think of Diogenes of Sinope and his  search for an honest man.

I have found one. At random, though I lack Diogenes’ philosophical stunt prop of seeking an honest person by carrying a lamp in daytime.

Diogenes of Sinopes was a a Greek philosopher known for holding a lantern (or a candle) to the faces of the citizens of Athens, claiming he was searching for an honest man.

Without a flicker of hesitation, the boy has declared that the five-dollar bill is not only not his, but never will be his.

I find myself not only admiring the boy, but for some odd reason I love him.

For his five-dollars-worth of genuine instant honesty.

He could just as easily have said, “Cool!”

And scooped it up.

It’s the little things that make a day better. Or best.

I lean over. Take out my own phone. I snap a close-up of Abraham Lincoln laying there beside the Catholic kid’s beat-up leather shoes.

The president’s bearded, impassive face stares upward. Ready to confront another passerby with the philosophical conundrum posed by a lost five-dollar bill.

‘CLICK!’ says my iPhone.

I stroll on past the bill — and the boy.

He has taught me a lesson.

It’s not mine, either.

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Mary Artino says:

Doug, I love this story! It says a lot about what this child thinks he is entitled to, or not. He had no idea how this simple act would effect you, and your readers. It is my belief that grace is found all around us, but we often miss the cues, because of our preferred distractions. Thank you, for your reference to the Greek philosopher, I find their words to resonate more deeply, as I age.

Douglas Imbrogno says:

Thank you, Mary. We need Diogenes more than ever.

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