I miss a lot of things about working. I miss the energy of being downtown and the smell of coffee in the lobby of the Sears Tower in the mornings. I miss micromanaging my staff, riding around on my big white horse telling everybody what to do. I miss being a part of a team, being part of something bigger and better than what I am able to create on my own. I miss having a pen.
My grandmother always said my grandfather was the only man she ever knew who took pens to work. For my grandfather, decisions were concrete. He was a warrior. No gray area when it comes to good guys vs. bad guys. No gray area when it comes to taking pens home from the office.
Yesterday at the gym I was filling in a training card and I looked at the pen, thought about the pen, how much I needed it, the moral decision in front of me. Do I take the pen? What’s the big deal? It’s just a pen.
Somehow, I managed to put it back. Like the shopping carts in the supermarket parking lot, there is always this nagging voice that makes me put them in the cart corral, even when it’s 10 degrees outside and I don’t want to. So I always put the carts back, and I never seem to have a pen.
I think maybe my grandfather was right. If I start taking the pens from the gym, will I then start cheating on my income tax, leaving grocery carts in the parking lot or lying about my weight on my driver’s license (which I already do)? When are the little moral indiscretions okay? Probably never?
Last night, after my moral victory at the gym, the vet called to give me the instructions for taking my 123-pound dog’s temperature, which is kind of like taking an infant’s temperature, but not really. I had to write the results down with a Sharpie marker on the back of a Target receipt. When my husband came home and asked for the dog’s temperature, I handed him the receipt.
He just looked at me and asked, “Don’t you have a pen?” No, no I don’t.
So that was yesterday. Today, again at the gym, as I’m walking out, I find a 20-dollar bill in the parking lot. Twenty bucks. Groan. What do I do now? If it were a dollar or a quarter, I stick it in my pocket. But this is a 20. Real money.
Do I tell the desk that if anyone asks about a missing 20 in the parking lot I have it? Do I just turn it in? Sounds dumb and awkward to me. I’d be the dork who found a 20 and didn’t take it.
It fell out of someone’s pocket and by the time they realize it’s gone, if they ever do, they won’t even know where to start. They will never get back to the reception desk at the fitness club. But then I’m making decisions for other people and that’s not right. I do not want this responsibility.
So now the 20 is in my pocket and its nagging at me. It’s not mine. I don’t even want it. I should have left it for the next person to find, let them deal with this moral challenge.
I decide I’ll just give it away. And I know just the place for taking as much money as I’ll give them. I wonder if the next time I’m on campus, it’ll be okay if I take a pen.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.