Buddy, I Can Spare You a Dime

Just let me know how you spent it

| May-June 1999

This money was left here intentionally, and is specifically for your use. I know it ’s not much—perhaps just enough to treat yourself to a cookie, coffee, a lottery ticket, donation to the homeless, a new pair of socks …. In any case, I hope it changes your day for the better. All I ask in return is that you let me know how you spend it. You don’t have to sign your name, and a prepaid postcard is included. Enjoy. 

Every week, for close to a year, I left an envelope containing this note, some loose change, and a stamped postcard addressed to my P.O. box for a random stranger to discover. I’d like to say that I set out to do this for purely altruistic reasons. But, more accurately, I did it because I’m easily bored and I concoct experiments such as this as a means of injecting a morsel of suspense into the week. That, and because I really like getting mail.

It was always fun to plan where to leave the envelopes. I sent a few with friends traveling out of town. I left them in phone booths, taxis, and newspaper boxes. I left them on sidewalks, airplanes, and restaurant tables. I left them at a bookstore, a doctor’s office, and a bar mitzvah. Once, at a jazz bar, I watched a bride go into the bathroom, so I followed her and strategically left the envelope for her by the sink. She ran out, waving the envelope and screaming “Look at this!” to her bridal party. That was a highlight. (Though I never did hear from her.)

I got 10 postcards back. I was always amazed when I got a response. And I was always amazed when I didn’t. Responding was nearly effortless, yet most people apparently couldn’t be bothered. I couldn’t help but obsess over this: Did the postcard just get lost in a pile somewhere? Do they vow daily: “I’m definitely going to mail this today” but somehow never get around to it? Did they think it was creepythat they were being followed, or that by mailing the postcard they could be traced? Did theythose slimespeel the stamp off the postcard for their own use? Ah, forget them.

I’d like to think that how the 10 people who returned their cards chose to spend their change said something (profound?) about them, in the same way that whatever poster you hung over your bed in college offered visitors an instant assessment of Who You Really Are. (Although I’m still at a loss for what that ballet-slipper-standing on-the-egg poster was supposed to mean.)

The responses ranged from the American Dream: Florida Lottery Ticket for $55,000,000 to Zen-like simplicity: 68¢ Bought a piece of fresh fruit.