From the e-mails, voice mails and real-life experiences:
FORTUNE HUNTER -- Junior Cruz of Modesto always wanted a metal detector and finally got one a couple of weeks ago. But where to use it?
Most folks don't cotton to treasure-seekers who traipse all over their property without first asking permission or offering to share a cut of the findings.
And, while you might come across some coins in public parks, you'd better not dig up the lawn to get them.
A friend told Cruz to inaugurate the new gizmo in an empty field at Mitchell and Service roads in Ceres. So a week ago, he went to the site, which had just been disked. Working amid a stand of trees, his metal detector did its job.
"I spent a couple of hours out there," he said. "It was the first time I used it."
Cruz found a rusted-through pot, an old spoon, a nickel minted in 1963 and a happy-face medallion -- none of which are destined for display at the Smithsonian Institution. But he did come across a tiny smoked-glass bottle with a rusted metal screw-on cap. He soaked the cap in water to loosen it before trying to remove it. It crumbled in his fingers.
"The cap broke, it was so rusted," said Cruz, a 40-year-old who moved to California from Puerto Rico in 1987 and owns a video security company in Modesto.
He noticed a piece of paper folded inside the bottle. He unfolded it to find a handwritten note that read:
We have buried this bottle Feb. 3, 1952, finder please return to Larry Wayman, Gerald Wayman and Dave Firestine.
Of course, they left no forwarding addresses.
I supposed that's the difference between coastal and inland dwellers. People who live near the beach stuff a message into a bottle and fling it into the ocean, hoping someone will find it and reply.
Landlocked types take a different approach. We bury stuff, knowing it probably will get concreted or paved over later.
Certainly, the message left Cruz wondering: Are they still alive? In the area?
He found some Firestines in the Stanislaus County phone directory.
"But I was afraid to call them," said Cruz, who said he didn't want to bother them.
So I did, and spoke with Dave Firestine's brother, James, who lives in Modesto. Dave Firestine died in 1986. Gerald Wayman died a few years later. Firestine and the Waymans were cousins.
"I think Larry's still around," said 73-year-old James Firestine.
Through the miracle of modern technology known as the Internet, we located Larry Wayman who, at 70, now lives in Golden Valley, Ariz.
"No, I sure don't," Larry Wayman said when asked if he remembers actually burying the bottle. "That's really interesting. We used to run around all over that country."
The property was likely a junkyard at the time, he said, owned by the father of a friend.
He said he would have been about 14 in 1952, while Gerald and Firestine both were about 19.
Maybe that explains the scribbling on the back side of the note:
P.S. Love & kisses to you all from all of us. Love you, my darling.
"My brother and Dave had girlfriends," Larry Wayman said. "I was only 14. I was too young for that."
Still, he seemed amused that his name turned up on a note buried 56 years ago.
"Found that bottle after all these years," Wayman said. "That's amazing."
SPEAKING OF DISCARDS -- Last week, I watched a young woman get into her car in the Save Mart parking lot downtown, and toss an aluminum can into the landscaping.
I turned to Bee reporter Garth Stapley, pointed to the can in the planter and said, "Look at that. She just threw it out of her car."
She noticed me pointing at her, rolled down her window and yelled at me to mind my own business. She tossed it out so that someone else could recycle it, she claimed.
So that's how it works, eh? Just dump your garbage onto the street so that someone else can pick it up and turn it in for the California redemption value?
Keep America Beautiful, baby ... .
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.