When most New Yorkers find money on the street, they thank their lucky stars and pocket it without a second thought. But when 28-year-old grad student John Larsen found a wad of cash on an early-morning walk near his home in Clinton Hill, he decided he should give it back. Or at least try. "The top bill was a 50, and when I started to flip through it, I realized there must be at least a few hundred dollars there," says Larsen, a West Virgina native. "If I found twenty bucks I wouldn't really worry about it, but with this amount of money, I felt like I had to do something."
Larsen figured the loot must have been somebody’s rent or car payment. He couldn’t live with himself, he says, if his greed had led to someone being evicted — or worse.
Adding to his concern, he says a bit awkwardly, was that the wad — folded in quarters, a bit like a fortune cookie — smelled of perfume.
“I guess that made me worry more — like maybe it belonged to a single mom who really needed it,” he says.
So he waited, hoping the owner would rush back and claim the cash. When no one showed, he went home and put an ad on Craigslist.
Then he went back to the corner in question and waited some more. Finally, Larsen went home again, printed out some flyers, and canvassed the neighborhood, taping his message, with a contact e-mail, to utility poles.
"My wife was like, "Do what you have to do, but get it done and stop stressing so much," Larsen says. "So I did, and I felt better. I mean, the ad, the flyer, waiting around on the corner, what else could I do?”
Both (yes, he only got two!) responses he received were from the ad on Craigslist. The first came Monday afternoon, from a guy who claimed he’d lost about $400 on the way to the C train that morning. When Larsen asked him to be more specific — like giving him the exact amount — he got very specific about lots of things, like how he had just bought a pack of cigarettes and the design of his key chain — but failed to offer any proof he dropped the cash. The second respondent said he’d lost $310 in $20s (“except the last bill was a $10”) as he left a local bar at 5:30 Monday morning. Before Larsen could reply, the guy e-mailed him back saying he’d discovered his friend stole his money.
“That is a lesson in life to learn,” said the e-mail. “Especially when you’ve had too much to drink.”
More than 48 hours after the find, no one with a legit story has surfaced and Larsen says he’s thinking about what to do next.
“I really hope somebody does claim it, because I don’t want to have to make the decision about whether to keep it or not,” he says. “Being honest with myself, though, I think maybe I did what I did so that, in a month’s time, I could feel justified in keeping it. It’s not like I’m really that good.”