Dream of: 21 May 1999 "Conscience"

I had gone to a garage sale and picked out 15-20 items to buy. After I had stacked up my finds on a table, and the woman sponsoring the sale began adding everything up, I began having some doubts about a couple of pieces. One item was a heavy black metal device, about the size of a briefcase. It was heavy and a bit rusty, and I wasn't even sure exactly what it was, although I thought it was some kind of early telegraph machine. The woman asked me if I collected such things, and I told her I didn't. I however added that I did have a collection of old typewriters, which I thought were somewhat similar to this device.

Another item about which I was uncertain also looked very old. It was bulky, about a meter long and about a meter high, and vaguely looked liked an old stereo, with speakers on each end. As I examined it further, however, I realized it had a screen in the middle, about the size of a computer screen, and appeared to possibly be a television.

Both the telegraph and the television (if that was what they were) weighed quite a bit. Although they only cost a couple dollars apiece, they would be hard to handle and store, and would probably be more trouble than they were worth. At the last moment, I decided I didn't want to buy either of them, and was just about to tell the woman I was putting them back, when she told me that she had totaled up the cost of everything, and that I owed here seventeen dollars and something. Not wanting to cause a hassle, I decided to go ahead and keep both items, and handed over the money to the woman.

After I had paid her, I began looking more closely at the device which resembled a television and saw it had an electric cord. Wondering if the thing worked, I unwound the cord and asked the woman if I could plug it in. She said I could, and in no time I had turned it on. I was astonished when a clear color picture came on the screen. Obviously It was a television, and seemed to be in perfect working condition. But most remarkable was that the television was so old. I quickly concluded it must be one of the earliest color televisions ever made. I immediately realized that this was a valuable antique and that I had made a very good purchase indeed.

However, just as I had finished unplugging the television and had picked it up to carry out of the garage, the woman and I noticed a piece of paper, wrapped around some brass item, which had the sum $450 and someone's name written on it. Other people had also stepped up, and everyone at once realized the television was actually worth at least $450. I said, "So?" I was uncertain of the exact significance of the paper. Was it from someone who had offered $450 and had then gone to pick up the money?

I was, however, certain of one thing – I had already paid for the item and legally it was mine.

But I immediately saw problems. The woman looked shocked, and I couldn't help feeling sorry for her. It certainly didn't seem fair for me to get the set for only two dollars. In fact, I figured it was probably worth far more than $450. It was incredible that the woman would have even thought of selling it to me for such a low price. But at the same time, I was the only person who had appreciated the set. It was already rather late in the day, and many other people had walked by the television without paying any attention to it. I was the only one who had shown interest.

With the television firmly in my arms, I headed toward my car. I reached the car, opened the trunk and placed the television inside. A throng of other people followed me, mostly older women, carrying the other things I had bought. I also had one other item of obvious value which I wanted to stash in the car – a large painting about a meter square. I had also bought the painting for a pittance, and at first I myself hadn't realized how much it was worth. But now I saw that there was a small picture of Mickey Mouse in one corner of the painting, and that the painting was an original painted by Walt Disney himself. It was probably worth thousands.

But no one except I was aware of the worth of the painting. Everyone was only concerned with the antique television.

I was uncertain what to do. But the word "conscience" went through my mind several times, and I was aware I was going to feel guilty if I simply took the television for only two dollars. I was thinking I might split the value of the television with the woman. I might simply pay her half of the $450, or I might try to sell the set and then pay her half of whatever I received. But I was going to keep custody of the set until I figured out for sure how much it was worth. I definitely wasn't going to give it back to her. I thought I was on solid legal ground. After all, I had already paid for the set. But if we ended up in court, anything could happen. She might be able to claim she had made a mistake and somehow get the set back. The law was so flaky about these kind of things, who knew what could happen! No, it seemed the simplest solution was simply to split ownership of the set, as unpleasant as that was to me.

To myself I was also thinking about how much differently things looked, depending on their value. Just a few minutes ago, I had found little to recommend this odd-looking device. But suddenly, now that I knew how valuable it was, it seemed quite beautiful.

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