Sunday night; what a fright.
What fury and despair I felt on losing my cell phone. I was enraged when I assured myself that it, a small leather belt bag, and $130 in bills and coins had vanished. It seemed impossible. How could I have been so careless negligent and stupid as to have lost it? How could it have simply fallen from my hips from beneath layers of sweaters and coats without my noticing? It was brand new! I had it secured with the plastic snap-buckle so it rode on my left hip, until I sat in the cab and moved it to my lap. From there I gave change and stashed money all night. The cell phone fit in a pocket beside the pouch. It made a small unnoticeable bulge beneath a hooded sweater that hangs below my belt, and below a smart black wool jacket I wear while driving, and the green arctic coat that covers all to my knees when I'm walking; well-hidden. A stick-up artist would have to undress me to find it.
“Okay motherfucker. Take off your clothes. I know you got some money somewhere.”
I learned it was gone when Mohammed called my name at shape-up and I went to the window to pay. I figured I must have left it at home, though I had given my rooms a last look before leaving, to make sure nothing was forgotten. Nothing of the things I need every night: a small canvas bag containing a map book, magnifying glass, notebook and pen, extra receipt roll, toothbrush, subway map, diode flashlight, medicine and an Atrovent puffer, and a book to read when waiting at JFK.
Oh I must have left it home, I thought, hardly-worried. It only meant losing about 45 minutes to drive down Bushwick Avenue to East New York, retrieve the pouch, and start working my way north through Brooklyn to Manhattan. But when I arrived in my rooms after parking illegally on the sidewalk out front, there wasn’t a sign of it. I refused to believe my senses and practically tore the room apart searching. I checked the cellar and walked to the corner gas station where I had gassed-up. I asked the guy if he’d seen it and he said no.
It could have fallen off there or it could have dropped off before I’d reached my van. Or it could have fallen in the parking lot of the taxi garage where I’d parked. Anything was possible. It might have been in the small plastic bag I keep in a stainless steel wastebasket for trash in the van, which I had dumped in a barrel at the garage. But it was gone all right.
I went back to my rooms and succumbed to despair for five minutes. The money was one thing but losing the phone was like losing loved ones. It was too much on top of the other things. A great wave of self-pity crashed on me. I gave into it and let it push me to the murky bottom. Man what else can go wrong after all this shit? Why the hell did this happen, when I am busting my tired old ass to make money and pay off all these loans? Is there some nasty little demon following me around and fucking me up? What did I ever do so bad as to deserve this shit? For the 13,000th time I thought about leaping from a bridge. Three seconds of terror and splat, it's all over.
Cindy’s unlisted number from so long ago, still working. And other valuable ones. And my oldest friends from the Marine Corps. A couple of them I could get back, but one is lost forever, since I was the only guy who had it. I wept without shame. I could never find Rex's number again. He lives in the middle of a desert with an unlisted cellphone. I would have to drive to Death Valley to get it. And another number too that I should not have been sorry to lose but was.
I drove back to the garage knowing I couldn’t work. The unexpected loss punched me in the guts and consumed my mind; losing the money I’d wore myself out earning the night before. How dumb of me not to have committed the numbers to old-fashioned paper! I’d been meaning to do it for a month and kept forgetting. No, driving tonight was impossible. I could end up in the morning papers.
I told Mohammed the story and said I was too angry to be driving tonight, and how much did he want for the hour-and-a-half with the car? Forty bucks. Okay. That's $170 gone and not-working tonight is another $80 to $100 maybe, and $5 for gas for the taxi, and $10 for my own expended gas; I can accept a $290 loss without screaming, but please give me back the cell phone. I implored the universe and the universe I thought had ignored me.
I catch Alex the Mexican at the pump and borrow his phone and call my own number. I tell my own message service why whoever is hearing this should keep the money and to please return the phone by mailing it to me or by calling another number, which I leave with my address. I feel absurd telling him/her to keep the money. Now I feel stupid and absurd. I’m not showing that I’m so pissed I could put my foot through a wall. Not to Mohammed or the other guys anyway. That’s for when I’m alone with the proper wall. And one day there may come such a wall and I may be in such a mood and my foot might make a hole in it.
I go outside and a tall dark and handsome man approaches, looks with plain friendliness into my eyes, and touches my shoulder and says, "Brother, you can talk them into not-charging you at all. You can get your money back, go get something to eat, and sit back and relax, and then go out there and make some money to make it up."
I am astonished by this timely wisdom from the universe through this very black man that I never saw before. I ask his origin and he says Ivory Coast. I say that the deal is done and my plan is to go home and chill. He agrees that this is a very good thing too, and gives me this calm terrific smile of encouragement, and squeezes my left shoulder, and suddenly it is almost all right. It’s better. Another human sent to give me a message of solace comfort and wisdom. And my own tribe oppresses his.
He saw into me. He saw me the way I really am beneath this welded iron mask. He saw the tension despair anger age desperation weariness and flagging determination, and he cared. I wonder if he knows how grateful I am to have been seen and cared for, and how sorry I am about some of my own sadassed cowardly race?
I go out with Alex and move a taxi while he moves another so I can back the van out. It is tricky but I manage it and take the key back to Mohammed and wave goodbye to Alex and drive back to East New York, chafing at the robot lights, delayed behind the careless and half-doped motorists, who bribed someone for their licenses. One of the bastards has my money and cell phone.
By the time I got home and found a miraculous parking space, I was thinking maybe someone needed some money and a cell phone, and the universe had me provide it.
I borrowed Gary’s phone and called my number again to make sure it wasn’t here. I called Sprint and after 30 minutes of waiting a guy told me I would get $75 off on a new phone, and they could restore my contact list.
Now I’m writing this and listening to the radiator rattle, glad to be warm, glad to be off, glad to still have some dough to buy another phone tomorrow, glad for the guy, glad for the cigarette, glad to have the numbers of the ones I still love.
Not that I'll ever call them again.