Eating Christmas

As if little chunks of gingerbread scattered throughout creamy vanilla gelato weren't enough, my cappuccino tasted like it was shipped in from Italy! But there is nothing more arousing than a super-clean cafe bathroom! Except for what I found in that bathroom.

Amid the lotions and pomegranate pump-soaps, I found an envelope. A sandy, 5-by-7 envelope. Totally unremarkable. I opened it. There was a $20 bill, and another 20, and another, and another. A hundred dollars in wrinkly $20 bills, smoothed out and carefully grouped together!

So, I did what anyone who has been Chosen by God to receive this cash would have done: I thought about all the things I could buy with it, then I turned it in to Mr. Gelato Reagan. He thanked me, and I left the G Spot feeling morally stimulated.

This wasn't the first time God challenged me on my path to righteousness. When I was 9 years old, my twin brother and I were riding bikes through El Dorado Park, which would have been totally unremarkable except for the fact that on that day, instead of looking up, I looked down. That's when I saw a dollar bill on the ground. Then another, and another, and another, and after six $1 bills in a row, the money trail went cold. I grabbed the cash and told my brother to follow me to the rec center. When I emerged from the rec center with no money in my hands, he asked, "What happened?"

"I turned it in. It belongs to someone else," I said.

"Are you stupid?" my brother asked. "No one can prove it's their money. The rec center people are just gonna keep it, Tania."

His logic made sense, plus the rec center people were mean to kids and seemed undeserving of all that cash. I came up with a plan. "Okay," I said, "I'll give you two bucks if you go in and claim the money." He got the cash.

As a struggling writer, I was compelled by both the story and the money that sprang from the G Spot (pun intended). I called, almost daily, to inquire about it. Did someone claim it? What did they look like? Why did they leave it behind? Each time, Mr. Gelato Reagan told me that no one had claimed it. After months, my inquiries being dismissed by the manager who had no idea what I was talking about, and with Mr. Reagan getting more and more irritated by my calls, I stopped. The money seemed to have disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands, to do the righteous thing. I called my mother. "Mom, you have to call Gelato Spot and tell them that you left a 100 dollars, in an unmarked envelope, in their bathroom. I'll give you 50 bucks if you do it!"

My mother and I conducted rehearsals by phone.

"Okay, Tania, how's this: Hello, Gelato Spot. I am Joelle Katan. I think I left 100 dollars — that's five 20s — in your bathroom, at the Gelato Spot."

"It sounds stiff, Mom, like you're reading a script. What's your motivation?"

"My daughter asked me to do something and I love my daughter."

"That's not motivation! I'll give you motivation. You've got babies — a lot of them, 15 — and you can't afford diapers, and you all live in a 1978 Toyota Corona station wagon. And there's a cop knocking on your door, I mean, hatchback! Now pick up that phone and call Gelato Spot!"

I'm certain that my mother gave a compelling performance — albeit a little stiff — but the manager told her that there was no money turned in. So, almost a year after I turned in the money, I decided to go into the G Spot and find out what happened to it.

Mr. Gelato Reagan was at the register. "Single, wet, cappuccino, right?" he said.

"Yes, good memory," I said. "What ever happened to that $100 I turned in about a year ago?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." he said.

"The 100 bucks? From the bathroom? Remember?"

"No. Sorry."

Any smug barista who remembers your coffee drink has to remember a Jewish writer, on Christmas day, finding $100 in the bathroom, and turning it in!

"You really don't remember?"

"Well," he started, "about a month after you turned it in, no one claimed it, so . . . I just spent it."

I was stunned. I told Mr. Gelato Reagan that I would not be paying for my cappuccino today! "Since you're a hundredaire, you can buy it for me!" He smiled nervously and said, "Yeah, sure. So . . . we're okay, right? You and me," he asked.

"Sure," I said. "We're fine."

"Because, you know, I thought that you were a psychologist conducting some sort of social experiment."

"And stealing the money was the right choice to make on this hidden-camera show in your mind?"

"I guess."

"What are your professional aspirations?" I asked him.

"I'm a business major," he said, with no irony.

Here's the deal with choices: When you're lucky enough to make the right one, you often don't realize it until later, sometimes years later. And when you make the wrong one, you feel it instantly and try to save face by making odd excuses. So, the next time God chooses to throw someone else's money my way, I hope that I choose to turn it in. Or get my mom some acting classes. Not sure which one yet, but I'll keep you posted.

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