While cabbing it from Chelsea to the Upper West Side last week, I found a 24 year-old New Jersey lady’s drivers license in the cab. My friend Ken’s first response was, “What? You can’t return it. My Nigerian prince needs it.” We had a good laugh or two over it: “What underage friend looks similar to this chick? What do kids pay these days for IDs?” But there was no doubt in my mind about mailing it back to the woman. I included a handwritten note saying, “No worries about where it is. I know you’d do the same. Karma is a boomerang. Have a lovely day.”
There’s something so sweet about something returned to you by a stranger.
A crack-head loitering in a laundromat lifted my phone hours before a flight to Europe, but managed to cut through the thick brain fog to return it to me on 108th and Amsterdam, grunting out, “I seen it, I picked it up. Peace, love & happiness.” Then asked for money for a sandwich. Once a little woo-hooooo after daytime softball celebration in the East Village, my sister lost her purse and days later, a kind civilian mailed it back priority mail with a similar note. Everything was there. In Northern Michigan, I misplaced my journal that housed my chronicles traveling cross-country with my grandpa among other wild tales. A divine woman mailed it back with a note, stating “In case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t read a single page. I wouldn’t do that. Some things are sacred.”
Weeks later, a witchy woman pushed my mom to get off the bus, but in the shuffle the woman dropped her phone. My mom gave it to us to figure out. My sister Kristy scrolled through last-dialed numbers, and decided to call “Daddy.” So she called “Daddy” and the man answered, “I’m not her Daddy. She just calls me that.” Awwwwkward. After haggling for days on when to meet, Kristy made her drive to Newark. “I wanted her to go out of her way because no one pushes Mom and gets away with it,” Kristy recalled. “Plus, she was still being weird and pushy. She did bring me a bottle of wine, though.”
On Halloween Day this year, I sat on the stoop of Dive 75 in my Dixie Kong monkey get-up on an endless, distressed phone call with my bank, disputing charges made at random establishments in Brooklyn. “I never go there,” I told her. “Someone has used my card.” I operate on a cash-only basis all the time. I don’t use it to pay rent or my cell phone, and I don’t have a car. I use cash for subways, cabs, and bars. I never use it but always know where it is. At home. I’ll take $100 out with me in a night, and say, “No going over this.” But somehow a mangy little freak was roaming around Brooklyn using a replica of my card at a gas station, hotel, bar, and pharmacy without my blessings or pin. “It’s called skimming,” the banker said. “Someone scanned your card and made it into a believable card. Happens all the time.”
A week later, I was wrapping up claims with the bank then headed to my sister’s bar. After last call, she asked if I’d put all the stools back because she’s sore from falling down a flight of stairs. I find a backpack, and yell out, “Is this anyone’s?” They wave me off. I open it to find:
- Three Smartphones
- A MacBook Air
- An iPad
- An iPod Nano
- A Passport
- A checkbook
If you see something, say something.
I had no intention of sending my moral compass spinning off its axis by keeping any of these things; I was just astounded that someone carries this around. Jackpot for a mugger! An Apple goody-bag! I was also really genuinely happy to be the one trying to find its owner, that this fell in the right hands and not some hooligan that could cause this dude financial and mental anguish for quite awhile. (I still think about my stolen Toshiba laptop and all its creative contents I can’t retain, or my iShuffle lifted at a bar.) My friend Ken advised me to just leave it at the bar, that I was on the verge of getting myself in an international spy scandal. We scavenged for clues. I couldn’t call because I had his phones on me. His checkbook gave a west coast address, his press-pass yielded no information, and his Passport showed his handsome face but no address. I tried finding him on Facebook to no luck.
At one point, I thought our reactions were being filmed for “What Would You Do?” capturing our ethos, pathos and logos. But if this guy never got it back, I’d feel somehow personally responsible, or worry the neighborhood bar’s name had been tarnished. My sister thought the panicked person would come back to the point of origin and be freaked out it wasn’t there. I thought the opposite: I’d be freaked out if it was left at a bar. Plus, everyone needs to feel like a hero from time to time.
I met up with the mid-thirties man who lives on the UWS and he was extremely grateful. “I hadn’t even been drinking,” he said, “just slipped my mind.” Oh, we’ve all been there…Then he handed me a envelope with a thank you note and a Starbucks gift card. Unnecessary but appreciated. Umbrellas are the only lost thing acceptable to keep from bars. Who buys them anymore?
Around the same time my buddy Andrew’s iPhone was jacked from a casino, I found a brand spankin’ new iPhone on a ledge outside of Splash, the gay nightclub on 17th street, and scrolled to the last-called numbers. Someone answers and I tell him, “I think I have your friend’s phone.” He asks what I’m wearing, thinks I’m joking, and when I finally hang up to try someone else, he starts texting the lost phone with come-ons and college-minded insults. The faith starts slipping. My brother implores me to give it to him. “Mine’s cracked and the speakers are bad. You don’t know this guy, just give it to me.”
But I couldn’t. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself when my phone goes MIA. The missing phone’s owner contacted me, and gave five sorrys. He gave me his Kentucky address and thanked me twelve times over. I said, “Not a problem, I’ve been a bonehead before. I’ll mail it back to you in three days, I’m out of town.” He said okay, but preceded to call and text me 50 times in those three days, taunting me about returning it. “I will, I’m out of town. I’m not burdening a friend. I swear on everything I’ll send it back.”
If after three days I hadn’t made good, this guy would have the right to pester. But this was too soon and my nerves were shot after he messaged me on Facebook, and called the super of the building my mom lived in to question my character. I got questions from the door guy, the security guard, and my mom. “Who is this wacko?” she said, phoning me on a business-related trip out West. “Someone I’m doing a favor. Yeah, believe that.” I was half-tempted to say “finder’s keepers” in that squeaky pre-teen voice and make my brother’s day brighter. Instead I delighted in giving this nut-job a new ear piercing. It rivaled the scene in “Tommy Boy” when Michelle (Julie Warner) rips some heckling bullies a new one for belittling her friend, Chris Farley, while they’re trying to enjoy lunch in a canoe.
It did the trick. He scrammed from my life, and stopped threatening me with calling the cops. (I asked him if he needed their number) I paid my little brother to run the package to the post office, wondering why I was going through the whole rigmarole for this schmuck. I lost on postage, brother courier fee, and general headache when I went into the situation happy to help. He was asking something of someone that he didn’t possess himself: faith in others. A few days later, he sent a gift card for $200 in the mail- half the cost of his phone- with some overly cursive font detailing his strange sad life.
Going out of your way can be exhausting but there’s no other way to go. Yes, I hope the guy who robbed my computer has night terrors. Sometimes you can feel so beat down from thieves, jerks, and strangers skirting away with your sanity, but it’s important to keep your wits. Any and all acts of kindness and civility add stock to your karma account, and one day you’re going to need to cash in. It’s one account that can’t be hacked.
Regina’s Spektor singing “The Wallet”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5H1MrBEG2Q
I found a wallet
I found a wallet
inside were pictures of your small family
you were so young
your hair dark brown
you had been born in nineteen fifty-three
your winter birthday
was stamped on the plastic
of a license so recently expired
I was so tired
as I walked through my door
I let all the contents of your wallet on the floor
and like a holy relic
or a mystery novel
I thumbed them in the dim light
searching for a clue
a blockbuster card
an old stick of juicy fruit
a crumpled receipt
for a pair of leather boots
I have no wallet
I have no wallet
I keep my cards together with a blue rubber band
and with a free hand
I search in my pockets
for pieces of, pieces of paper and change
I’ll take your wallet
to my local blockbuster
they’ll find your number
in their computer
you’ll never know me
I’ll never know you
but you’ll be so happy
when they call you up
Photos by Claire_Sambrook via flickr, and Katie Barry.