I’m a dye-in-the-wool devotee of the old TV program “Columbo” and have watched – and re-watched – each show scores of time. In one episode, detective Columbo, scratching his head trying to figure out the possible evidence of a crime, voiced in frustration, “this can mean only one thing and I have absolutely no idea what it is.”
Now while out walking recently, I reached for the keys in my pocket and pulled them out when a pen dropped out of that pocket onto the pavement. When I leaned over to pick it up, I noticed that it landed right next to a dime that I would’ve missed had that pen not dropped.
Oddly, I “deliberated” on the two while thinking about the words from the affable detective Columbo, “this fallen dime can mean only one thing and I have absolutely no idea what it is.”
Now in an impulsive “omigod, who done it” moment, I asked myself could this be a tipoff that somebody “dropped a dime” on me?
Instantly I looked over my shoulder fearing that the police were about to descend on me, mace and handcuffs in tow, and breathed a sigh of relief that that wasn’t the case. I’ll get back to explaining that further down.
But first, “dropping a dime.” Heard that expression before? Well for those new to it, or others needing a refresher, the phrase “dropping a dime” is an idiom meaning to surreptitiously report someone to authorities anonymously. The phrase dates to the time before the mobile phone era when coin-operated pay phones were commonplace, when one could literally drop a dime in the pay phone to make a call.
Now call me paranoid, schizophrenic, gone bonkers – whatever! – if you want but hey, look, I’m a squeaky clean black man in today’s America but still run the daily risk of someone “dropping a dime” on me for driving while black, walking while black, barbecuing while black, napping while black, shopping while black, using the “John” while black, or just being black while black. So when some poor soul dropped that dime I wondered if someone had “dropped a dime” on me. Hey, the combustible mix of race, suspicious imagination and life experiences can take you to some strange places.
Now once I set aside my knee jerk reaction, I started thinking about that moment’s parallels to life. I thought about those times when I dropped something I considered important only to discover something more important that never crossed my mind. I thought about when we sometimes aim for the “BMWs” when the “VWs” in life will serve us just as well. I thought about when we aim for Harvard Medical School, get rejected, but get accepted into an excellent Meharry Medical School.
I thought about those many great yet inexpensive family camping trips we took years ago in New Jersey versus that one expensive trip to Hawaii. I thought about how we often overlook worthy “little people” while kissing up to worthless “big people.” I thought about when we don’t see that something or person who appears dubious at first but turns out to be exceptional.
I thought about those little pearls of wisdom and grains of truth that exist beneath the facades, the barely distinguishable, the overlooked, the tiniest of the tiny; those “dimes” dropped on us sans malicious intent.
Oh yeah, – you probably saw this coming – I also thought about the relative size of the dime compared to larger coins of lesser value – in our currency the nickel and the penny.
In the end readers, remember that those little dimes, like life, can add up and take you to some phenomenal places. So, don’t overlook them while on the way to the rest of your life.
Oh wait, is that a dime, a “diamond in the rough,” on the pavement in your driveway?
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Shenandoah Valley Hit, BlackMarket.com, The Echo World, the Appreciate You Magazine, The Valley Trail and co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org