If you were the last person leaving your favorite restaurant and the only umbrella in the coatroom looked just like yours (but you knew it wasn’t yours), would you take it? That would be very wrong, and I wouldn’t do it. Unless, of course, it was raining.
Here are some hypothetical situations and how I would advise anyone faced with these dilemmas:
Q: I have been a waitress at a steak house for 35 years and I have taken home a bottle of ketchup every night since 1985. I now have 9,000 bottles in my garage. Now I feel guilty but don’t want to get in trouble just before I retire.
A: Returning them all at once would raise suspicion. Return them the same way you acquired them. So, delay your retirement or eat there every night until 2040.
Q: When traveling I take the little bottles of shampoo and conditioner from the hotel bathroom. The desk clerk said the business expects it and that’s why they put their name on the products. I recently picked up a Sony TV and a General Electric hair dryer from the Westin. Should I stop?
A: Only after you cross the border.
Q: My neighbor doesn’t know I mow his lawn when he’s at work. It’s driving him crazy that his grass never grows. Should I tell him?
A: And ruin this perfect practical joke? Hey, here’s my address. Wouldn’t it be funny if my car never got dirty?
Q: My fiancé bought a hideous felt hat and I’m embarrassed to be seen with him. Each week, I secretly replace his hat with an identical one, but about a quarter-inch bigger. John thinks his head is shrinking. Do you think he’ll figure this out?
A: Heavens, no (see letter below).
Q: Recently, I have come to the realization that my head is shrinking. I’m probably dying. Should I tell my fiancée what is happening? I don’t think she knows.
A. You have underestimated her (see letter above).
Now, in my own life I am facing a real ethical conundrum. I will tell you about it next week. I look forward to your advice. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I can answer each response personally.