Tuesday, October 9, 2007

My Good Deed for the Day

Last night, I was driving home from work, when I spotted what looked like a black shoulder bag or briefcase lying in the middle of the road, in the oncoming traffic lane. I decided to pull my car over to the shoulder and see what it was. I imagined several different possibilities:

1) It was an IED (In which case, stopping to check it out would be stupid).
2) It was a briefcase full of cash.
3) It was a briefcase full of blues.
4) It contained a laptop and perhaps some other electronic devices

Before I could cross the road to get the bag, some traffic started coming in both directions. A black SUV ran right over the bag, and I heard a loud crunch. Whatever was in the bag, I thought, was toast. The SUV stopped for a second, but seeing me crossing the road, the driver quickly took off.

I picked up the bag and took it back to my car. Upon opening the bag, I discovered it, indeed, contained a laptop, and to my surprise, the laptop was still working. In fact, it seemed that the impact with the car must have triggered the power switch, because the machine was booting up. I stuffed the laptop back in the bag and went home.

I knew right away that I wanted to find a way to return the computer to its rightful owner, as I knew how I would feel if it were my laptop that were lost. But in the meantime, my curiosity was piqued about the contents of the computer.

Upon getting home, I showed the bag to the other Dr. K, and we both proceeded to try and discover the name of the owner of the computer. I searched through the bag and found a business card for a pastor at a nearby church. The other Dr. K found some church related documents on the computer, including PowerPoint presentations with hymn lyrics. She also found the same name on a Word document in the computer, so we concluded our investigation.

At this point, the imagination of a person who has read too many stories--especially stories with ironic twists and didactic morals--kicked in. That imaginative voice told me that all the signs, especially all the religious stuff, were pointing to one conclusion: this was a test of my moral integrity. Though I had not entertained the idea of keeping the computer, the circumstances were telling me, in no uncertain terms, that it had to be returned to its rightful owner. If I failed to do so, some ironic twist of fate would surely befall me.

I then called the number on the business card.

A woman answered the phone, and I asked for the man whose name was on the card.

"He's not home," she responded.

"Do you happen to know if he lost a laptop today?" I asked.

"No, I don't think so. Why do you ask?"

"Because I found a laptop in a shoulder bag lying in the middle of the road, and the bag contained a business card with that name on it."

I explained where I found the bag, and she responded that they live near that intersection. This led me to imagine what must have happened: the computer's owner had put the bag on top of his car and forgot about it, driving a couple of blocks before it fell off.

"Does the computer have a bunch of hymns and church sermons on it?" she asked.

"Yes, it does," I replied.

"Then it must be his."

We then exchanged information and agreed to meet at a location nearby, as we both lived in the same area.

The other Dr. K decided to come with me to drop off the computer, mainly to see the story to its conclusion, but also to watch my back in case something went down, like the woman accusing me of stealing the laptop. We soon left together for the drop off.

When we got to the location, we found the woman sitting in her car in the parking lot. I pulled out the bag and handed it to her, and she then waved to another car on the other side of the lot.

"That's my daughter," she explained. "She wanted to make sure everything was okay." It seems that we both shared the same paranoia about the situation.

I then explained that I watched the bag get run over by an SUV, but the computer still seemed to work.

"I should do an ad for Dell," she joked.

We then chatted for a little bit before she asked, "Do you want anything for this?"

Now, I didn't want any reward, but I thought this was a funny way of offering one. How is someone supposed to respond to such a question? "Yes--I figure this laptop cost around $1500, so I figure 10% is in order." Instead, I responded, "No, thank you. That's okay. I just know that if I lost my laptop, I would hope that someone would return it in the same way."

"Well, my husband will be glad to get it back. He's a music director at the church, and all of his work is saved on this computer."

We then exchanged information and said goodbye. However, I haven't heard from the laptop's owner since then.

Today, in one of my Freshman Composition classes, I told the story to my students, but before giving all the details about the computer's owner, I asked them, "How many of you would have kept the computer?"

All of them raised their hands.

When I asked "Why?" most responded that there would be no way of finding out the owner's name, and others commented that it would be easy to keep because no one would know they had someone else's computer. Then I told them that the owner was a pastor at a local church.

"Ooooohhh," they all reacted.

"Does that change your response to my earlier question?" I asked.

Most did acknowledge that it changed their minds, or at least made them superstitious. I found, though, the students' responses to this moral question to be very interesting, especially living in a part of the country where the church has such a strong influence over almost all aspects of people's lives.


snell said...

(m)ost responded that there would be no way of finding out the owner's name...

OK, so is this, like, the class for dopey freshman?? I imagine they're all sitting there with lap-tops jam-packed with personal info themselves, and they think there'd be no way of finding the owner? Did they ever hear of serial numbers?

Or maybe they were just rationalizing keeping the laptop...

Dr. K said...

Snell--it's interesting that you raise this point, because I had written a long conclusion to this post that discussed that very issue, but I deleted it because it came across as too negative and snarky.

I think that the primary answer is that they were coming up with a rationalization. However, the teacher in me worries that it is also an indication of a lack of critical thinking skills. Or it could be a sign of the epistemological uncertainty that accompanies their relativistic view of the universe: How do we know anything for certain?

But I think they just wanted to keep the laptop.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there would be anyway I could have kept the laptop... then again, I'd have gotten a thrill out of the detective work you put into tracking down the owner...

That said, its very weird the pastor hasn't thanked you for returning the laptop. Not in a reward, but a simple phone call. For some reason this is a glaring oversight that shows lack of moral integrity on his part.

Castle of Stink said...

I think it's clear that you are God's right-hand-man. Unfortunately, the right hand is the one he uses to masturbate.