Nina In New York: Free Money! No, Really.
A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
By Nina Pajak
Did you hear the one about the eccentric millionaire who anonymously hid envelopes and containers of cash around California for random strangers to find, tweeting out location clues from a dedicated twitter handle?
No? Well, there’s a . . . I mean I basically just told you.
The man behind the originally mysterious @HiddenCash account turns out to be this guy, a real estate investor who decided to give back to people in his home state in his own special way. And now he is extending his generosity all over the country, and the continent even! This weekend, he’ll be stashing cash in Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, Mexico City, and—you guessed it—New York City. More specifically, one location in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn.
When I initially heard about this, my kneejerk reaction was pretty negative. He says it’s an act of philanthropy, done in a way he hopes will bring people together and give them a little fun. Naturally, I assumed that was a euphemism for: “I’m conducting a social experiment in which I hope to act as the wealthy overlord of thousands of scrambling, frantic, money-hungry serfs and prove that greed makes people lose their humanity and drives them to behave like desperate, degenerate, rabid animals. Bwahahahahaha. Bwaha. Ha. Ha.”
So super evil, right?
Maybe I watch too many movies. After doing a little online digging, it became clear just how wrong I was. First of all, nobody is finding thousand dollar bills. They’re finding $40, $60, maybe $100. In one instance, the cash was hidden in bubble bottles, buried along a beach. The Twitterverse is filled with photos of happy people, exhilarated from digging and winning enough money to spend on an unanticipated Sunday Funday. One little girl sent her findings to her sick grandmother in Mexico. People gleefully gave away their bubbles to children on the beach. They reported amazing, shocking behavior of their fellow searchers, like “coming together,” “bonding,” “having fun,” and “being inspired to pay it forward.” Wait. Don’t they mean “pushing and shoving,” “grabbing,” and “hissing to repel people from their digging space?” No, incredibly, they don’t.
It’s not that I’m a cynic. Wait, yes, I’m a cynic. But it’s not just that. I can’t even play the nickel slots at a casino without vulturous screwballs hovering around my machine, waiting to swoop in strategically at the precise moment that I win nothing and they theoretically reap my missed rewards. Perhaps this is apples and oranges, but it goes to the idea that greed infects. It drives people to commit murder, thieve and lie, even (especially) wage wars. Money is the root of all evil, and all that jazz. Toss a bunch of money into a group of strangers should be like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.
Somehow, this beautiful, crazy genius has figured out a way to turn that idea on its head. Not by doing something complex and psychologically sneaky, but simply by ignoring popular wisdom and doing the very thing he shouldn’t. Or that you’d think he shouldn’t. Or that I wouldn’t (if I even could). I’m so confused!
People . . . good? Money . . . nice? Competition . . . fun? Up is down! Black is white! Things are weird!
I’ve never been so heartened to be wrong. While I won’t be able to participate this weekend (sad trombone), I look forward to all sorts of tedious and slyly insulting national media reports about how even those horrible, mean meanies from NYC had a good time and didn’t shoot, punch or trample one another in pursuit of the dough. Because you know that’s what everyone thinks about us. Let’s pay it forward by showing them what we’re made of (spoiler alert: good stuff).
Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!