Wednesday, November 01, 2006

People are Good and I am a Loser

So for reasons that will go unexplained I found myself on the bus today, carrying a disco ball. This was an unusual circumstance. As I sat on the bus, I spoke to my girlfriend on the phone about another couple we know who have just broken up. The young woman half of the couple had just loaned me the disco ball. I stopped by her place of work to get it, moments after she and her boyfriend broke up. That couple had been together for a very long time, 11 years. For almost the entire time that I had known my friend, she was in this relationship. So it upset me to hear that they had called it all off, and I needed to share this information with my girlfriend, if only to get some of the weight of it off my shoulders.

So as I spoke to my girlfriend something was amiss in my pants. I wore a tattered pair of jeans whose right rear pocket had worn through from years of carrying my wallet there. This was the occassion when my wallet decided that it would break free. I should have known. The possibility of losing my wallet in these pants has been on my mind for some time. But I was distracted.

The bus reached my stop and I got off. I did the quick mental check that I do from time to time as I move through the city. Do I have my disco ball? Yep. My backpack? Check. Ipod? Uh huh. Wallet? Wallet. Oh shit. I turned and the bus was pulling away.

This was on a section of roadway in Brooklyn called Park Avenue. I have no idea why it is called Park Avenue. So far as I know, it passes no where near any major or even minor park. It is not verdant. It is hell, hemmed in on one side by rotting warehouses and factory buildings, and collapsing tenemants and rapidly gentrifying brownstowns on the other. Looming above it is the BQE, which is forever losing its battle against entropy. Scaly flakes of rust and concrete rain down from above every time a large truck rumbles past. Through this tableau, I watched the bus (and presumably my wallet) recede into the distance.

I ran.

Some people think I'm in good shape. I ride my bike everywhere, when I'm not carrying a disco ball. But urban bicycle commuting is not really aerobic excercise. It just keeps me from becoming grossly overweight. I have smoked about a pack of cigarettes almost every day for the past 12 or 13 years. Still I ran. My shoes started to come loose, as I had tied them loose. The mirror covered disco ball grew heavy in my left hand. My backpack shifted awkwardly on my back. I ran. There were moments when I thought I was lost, that the bus would escape, the rhythm of traffic lights would conspire against me and the bus would race ahead at 35 miles an hour. At those moments I despaired, and I admit, slowed to a broken-hearted walk. But then the red of stoplights would blossom again before me, and I said to myself, "I can catch it." I ran again.

With one last mighty sprint, I caught the bus. I ran that fucker down. Just as I reached the door, the driver began to pick up speed. I pounded on the door. The bus driver cursed me.

I recalled nearly missing the school bus in North Attleboro Massachusets in 1981. We had a driver named Barbara. She had blond hair and a nerve-slashing screech. When a child sprinted for the bus, she would often see him (it was always a boy, often me, or my brother) in the rear-view mirror and she would continue to drive, slowly, for a hundred yards or so. Just to make him run. I thought of this and pounded on the glass. I shouted "I lost my wallet on the bus," facing the driver through the glass. I exagerated the shape of the words on my mouth, so she could read my lips. I prayed that she was a native speaker of English, and that she would recognize the key words "lost" and "wallet." She did. Through the glass I saw her lips form the words, "Oh, you lost your wallet" as she slowed the bus to a stop. She let me on and I thanked her profusely.

I walked back to where I had been seated. There was a woman sitting in the spot where I had been.

I told her, "I think Iost my wallet here."

She started looking around her. She got up. I looked under the seat. I looked behind it and on the floor between the seat and the rear door where I had exited. The woman felt bad for me. She also worried that I thought she might have picked up my wallet. In her hands she had a brown paper lunch sack. She opened it for me, unbidden, to show me a half empty soda bottle and something wrapped in foil.

"I didn't pick it up," she said.

"I know you didn't," I said.

Then she told me that I'd just have to cancel my cards. I began to come to grips with this reality.

There's a sinking feeling of self pity and loathing that overcomes me at moments like this. I knew my wallet would escape these pants sooner or later. I knew I should have had the account numbers of my cards recorded somewhere else. I knew I should have picked up the disco ball two days ago. All these failures of judgement. I felt like a loser, literally and figuratively.

Normally I place my metro card in my wallet immedately after I get on the bus or enter the subway. I do this so I do not lose my metro card. On this occassion, I kept my metro card loose, in my front pocket. I did this because I was on the phone when I entered the bus. Now this, the second time that I had entered this exact bus, the driver did not require me to dip my metro card. But she had continued on her route while I searched. Now I was miles beyond my initial destination. At least I could get off and take the bus in the opposite direction. I would deliver the disco ball and call my card companies. The rest of the day would be a total wash of beurocratic annoyances.

This is all I could think of as I rode the bus back to where my misadventure began. I did not think about my friend who lost her boyfriend of 11 years. I did not think of all the other horrible mistakes I have made in my life. I did not think about the book I am trying to write that was at that moment, officially past due. I thought about customer service reps for Bank of America, and low level functionaries at the New York Department of motor vehicles. Through the slow moving chaos of my life, at least, for this moment, I had clarity.

I also thought about all the bank cards and cell phones I have come across in my life. I thought about how I either returned them, if any information was available that let me return them, or destroyed them (the bank cards) so at least they would not be misused by anyone. I hoped that in doing this, rather than buying a new ipod or calling Kuala Lampur, I had saved up some Karma.

The bus reached my stop. I got off and started walking down the sidewalk. I reached the very spot where I first realized my wallet was gone. For the sake of due dilligence, I intended to search the gutter and the sidewalk, on the off chance that the wallet dislodged as I stepped off the bus. At that moment my phone rang. The caller ID displayed a Brooklyn number that I did not recognize. I answered the phone.

"Did you lose a wallet?" the voice said.

"Yes I did."

The caller then explained to me that he was at the corner of Washington and Park avenue. I too was near the corner of Washington and Park. He said he would come outside in a moment and return my wallet.

And he did. I melted with gratitude for the decency of all man kind. I love you all, each and every one of you.


Anonymous said...

That was God giving you a kick in the pants. Are you going to get all sappy about the world now?

John McCloskey said...

Oh, I'm always sappy about the world, especially when a nice man in a tweed jacket returns my wallet. People are great, but God doesn't exist.

John McCloskey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Oh, this may take a while...okay, I'll bite. Why doesn't God exist?

John McCloskey said...

People snicker at Thor and Zeus and Zorasthustra. These gods were once worshipped like the western god we vaguely worship on Christmas and Easter. But if any one god is disposable, all gods are disposable. The impulse to worship god is just the result of a craving humans have for an emotionally distant father who will not die. Everybody dies, so every society concocts some eternal rhorshack of itself to worship.

Anonymous said...

What happens when you die? Is that the end? You just cease to exist?
Do you have any children? The first time I held my son, I saw God. I know He exists. He must. Or maybe I just want Him to. Whether you believe in God, Allah, Buddah, or whatever...there is something greater than us. Perhaps earlier civilization just couldn't fathom the "right" god. That's why you think gods are disposable.
Even if you think the universe was created by some atoms smashing into each other, you have to think...where did those atoms come from?

John McCloskey said...

I'm sure your little boy is adorable. That should be enough. But you know what they say about why babies are so cute.

Anonymous said...

no, what do they say?

John McCloskey said...

Babies are cute so parents don't kill them. It's Darwinian.

Anonymous said...

I think we'll just have to agree to disagree