Another day at home in my pajamas. Ah, the quarantine life. It definitely could be worse. To be a college student now is arguably a pandemic best-case scenario.
The disruption to my life pales in comparison to that of someone double my age, telecommuting full-time with kids at home. It’s hard to imagine your life being broadcast from multiple angles at any one time, depending on the number of video conferences and publicly homeschooled students. Imagine an entire household (re)learning math while taking a crash course in computer troubleshooting. It brings new meaning to the concept of homework.
My emotional bruises hardly show against the backdrop of fear and isolation that must be felt by nursing home residents. We have elders navigating their golden years through the fog of dementia, suddenly restricted from seeing familiar faces. Losing precious time with aging or ailing family members is a universally difficult consequence of current restrictions.
I count myself lucky, especially as an introvert, to spend my days with books and message boards, avoiding dreaded class presentations and partnered discussions in pursuit of a brighter future. Aren't ages 19 and 20 a time of limbo anyway? I can drive, but I can't rent a car. I could get married, but I couldn't buy a bottle of champagne. It seems to me a bit of a lifespan sweet spot to have a little extra headspace to think about what I want to do and be, while getting a taste of the freedom to decide for myself.
I expect the pandemic will be a defining moment generationally. There will forever be a distinct before and after. Much like elder millennials wistfully recall worlds of childhood inventiveness and imagination before coming of age alongside the internet, I relish that I reached adulthood before masks and hand sanitizer became more important than socks and underwear. Going commando may as well be an official Covid fashion trend. I honestly never thought the indoor/outdoor descriptor on my slippers would become so relevant.
In any case, social distancing is good for the budget. Renting my spinster aunt's basement using student loan overages must say something about my current financial situation. It could easily be a post for a certain type of social media challenge, "tell me you're broke without mentioning money."
I have had several long glances at single life this year. I think I’ve had enough “me time” since my aunt flew (drove) south for the winter to bolster at least a decade of future relationship struggles. Covid is to dating what herpes is to kissing. Either both parties have had it and you're free to swap spit, or you really don't want it and must constantly navigate a level of caution between isolation and frivolity.
Winter break just ended, so coursework is hardly intense yet. I have streamed as many groundbreaking documentaries and comedy series in the last 10 months as I can stomach. Food as entertainment is tempting, especially with today being one of those days in life when almost everyone feels unbridled permission to indulge in guilty pleasures. Unfortunately, most of the tantalizing takeout options and go-to snack foods have lost their appeal after nearly a year of their convenience being the crutch supporting my wavering motivation to order groceries online, and prepare any sort of complex meal for just me.
So, despite it being my birthday, I am a little at a loss over how to spend it. With it being my golden birthday, I had hoped for a glimmer of an idea, but everything that came to me seemed out of reach this year. "Smart speaker, add to my bucket list: panning for gold at a roadside attraction, playing a mining-themed slot machine at a casino, and acting interested in expensive jewelry just to try it on." I briefly consider making a shiny craft, but while glitter is fun to hang out with sometimes, I am just not sure we are ready to move in together.
Suffice to say, I am overly optimistic on this day when the doorbell rings. I take the flight of stairs like a high intensity exercise. I wasn't sure I would see anyone at all before our family video chat scheduled for 7 tonight. A car parade isn't really in the cards during a midwest winter cold snap.
It's just a package. Something I already forgot I ordered, I suppose. But no, my address is handwritten. I tear open the kraft paper to find a small black book. On the first page, there is a prologue of sorts:
In those moments it felt all must be right with the universe; I took a chance on happenstance.
The pages of that little book were almost like a puzzle. They contained bits of history taken out of context. There were values assigned to invaluable experiences. Once the pieces came together, I found something that changed my life.
Eventual details illuminated that this was a logbook for a hush-hush hobby called finder's keeping. Depending on the weather and current events, finders seek out the best odds for lost dollars. Fairs and sporting events, concerts and casinos; wherever cash is the favored currency.
The log contained pages upon pages of dates, place details, and monetary amounts. Some finds seemed serendipitous, like a five dollar bill found near the concession stand at a choir concert, a twenty spotted under a tree at a food-on-a-stick kind of fair, and two dollars found on the bench of a photo booth at the drive-in movie theater.
Other entries seemed a bit more calculated: $13.10 in cashed-out tickets from credits left on slot machines at the casino, and $4.25 in abandoned quarters found checking coin returns at the arcade.
There were no pages dedicated to the early part of 2009, but the initial entry from that year triggered my lightbulb moment. This was a page unlike others, consisting of a list with multiple lines and a title: Summer Beachcombing. Along with various coins, there were a few pieces of jewelry listed with associated cash values. I gathered it represented metal detector finds!
As I scan the city and beach names, I realize I remember this summer! I was able to tag along on many of these treasure hunts. Some of the factual tidbits my grandpa shared while we traipsed the beaches paid dividends in school science and history classes.
There are several other pages that list nickels and dimes as a sort of footnote, or some loose change as a weekly sum. It seems grandpa was otherwise a pretty clever finder of bills, and an excellent secret keeper!
Grandma's finding habits were a little more obvious. The joke went:
Q: What's great about grandma finding a dime on the ground?
A: She only has to bend over once instead of ten times.
Suddenly my mom's voice resounds in my head: "be on the lookout...keep your eyes peeled...watch where you're walking." I wonder now whether I was, knowingly or not, being groomed for a family tradition.
After a fascinating, albeit somewhat cryptic, journey through the pages of the log, I reach a relatively recent date: January 3, 2021, $10, under a discarded mask near the wheel of a taco truck. The second to last page of the book lists annual totals, dating back to 2001. This book is as old as I am! I turn back to the first entry for a closer look.
The initial encounter: January 20, 2001, $20, hospital cafeteria next to a vending machine. Apparently, this idea was born the same night I was.
At the bottom of the yearly ledger, a total: $20,000.
The last page reads:
Happy golden birthday to my lucky charm! You're a keeper.
He must have gotten a package delivery notification, and maybe even estimated the length of time it might take to thumb through the log, because just as I read those final words, I get a text from my grandpa.
"Did you know they let me choose your middle name?" He attached a picture of a photograph I had never seen: grandpa proudly holding newborn me and waving a twenty dollar bill.
Honestly, I always assumed Clover was a nod to my parents' "grow gardens, not lawns" mentality. That, or a tip of the hat to the sort of weak ancestral association you use to buy a "Kiss me, I'm Irish" tee for St. Paddy's Day.
Tucked between the last page and back cover, I find a program for an elementary school concert, a casino ticket with one cent of credit stamped with the date I turned 18, and a black and white photo strip of grandpa seated beside a younger version of me, flashing funny faces at the drive-in.
A notification pulls me away from the mist hitting my eyes.
You have received a new payment.
Pops sends another text, "I hope you find what you seek. I know I did." I don't even need to see the transaction details to know what an incredible gift I received.