subway token agent takes one look at the mound of pennies I have poured in the
groove of her booth and says, "Unh-uh. It is rush hour. Leticia hasn't the
time to count all these damn pennies!"
People in line behind me start
grumbling about the hold up. From the rear, the voice of what sounds like someone's
grandmother calls me an asshole. Humiliated I want to apologize and explain to
everyone how I accidentally spent the last of my tip money a day too soon, how
it'd be a day and a half before I worked again, and how these pennies were all
was nineteen and I was terrified. All my life I had had this secret belief that
God, the Universe, or whatever, wanted me dead. And now that I was living in New
York City with no one to protect me, I could feel death coming. Running out of
money was a sign.
this thinking was crazy, I decided that morning that instead of playing into the
fear by asking my parents or friends at school for help, I would do the opposite.
I would go about my day and not say a word to anyone about my situation. God be
damned. If He wanted me dead He'd have to do more than make me broke.
to skip this speech, I simply say to Leticia, "Please just this once?"
folded across her chest, she shakes her head. "No."
glass, I think. Now I know why.
line is now a small crowd and again Grandma shouts, but this time at Leticia,
"Just give the guy a fuck'n token already, why don't ya?"
does the trick. Rolling her eyes and taking one last long suck of her teeth, Leticia
says, "Fine." and slides a token out to me.
The subway packed,
I push my way to standing in the middle of the car. Stuck between the sweaty armpit
of a pinstripe-wearing broker type, and a homeless man masturbating in his sleep
on a bench, I think, I love New York!
Trapped as I am, I consider
my train mates. Here we are, three men as physically close as is permissible short
of dinner and drinks yet, simultaneously, inhabiting entirely different realities.
Where are those realities now, I wonder? They are in our minds. In the stories
we are each telling ourselves. Though invisible to the homeless guy and myself,
I imagine that the broker's reality of prosperity is as close at hand as is his
body, and that if I could just change my thinking, it might be possible to step
At school the day goes by hungrily but uneventfully. When it
is over I leave by way of the big red front door and, while crossing 54th Street,
kick a green plastic piece of crap to the curb. I just kick it and keep moving.
It occurs to me that I should stop and check the thing out but I don't want to.
I'm tired and cranky. All I want to do is go home and figure out what I won't
be having for dinner.
I worry all the time about God, money and my survival
because I believe worrying is how I will arrive at a solution. But maybe all the
thinking I do is itself the obstacle to experiencing the world differently. In
the spirit of testing this theory, of taking action from a place of un-knowing,
I turn and retrieve the plastic thing from the street. Puke green vinyl scuffed
black from being run over and kicked at least once; just holding it makes me feel
dirty and diseased. Disgusted and ashamed, I imagine being caught by my mother.
And at your age. Really. You should know better. Now, get rid of that thing
and go wash your hands. I move to toss the green thing back to the street.
But just as I do, curiosity gets the better of me, and I grab the little zipper
along the side of the case and pull it back.
is a stack of fifty-dollar bills.
I totally freak out. I scream, Whooooo!
and literally jump backwards. I can't believe this is happening. Then I get paranoid.
It's a scam! I'd heard of this kind of con. Two people find money at the
something else happens that I can't quite remember, and
then you end up getting fucked out of a lot of money. But no one else is here.
No one else is claiming the wallet. Then I think it's the FBI. Oh my god, I've
stumbled into the middle of a sting! Everyone on the street is suddenly an
undercover agent and there are hidden guns and cameras pointing at me from all
over. Hoping to signal the agents there's been a mistake but not wanting to blow
their cover, I wink knowingly at a Hassidic Jew passing by, and whisper an apology
to a mailbox, "My bad, man. My bad."
Nothing happens. Time
slows way down. Still feeling the crosshairs of automatic weapons trained on my
skull, I decide to chance getting off the street. Holding the wallet out in front
of me like a bag of ripe dog shit I can drop in an instant if commanded to or
shot at, I make my way into the lobby of the nearest building. An old brownstone,
it is very quiet and serene inside. Sitting on a little bench beneath a big potted
palm, I turn the wallet over in my hand. The fact of it seems a miracle, like
it's not just a wallet but rather a star-filled piece of sky that has broken loose
and fallen to earth specifically so I could find it. Maybe it's not God who wants
me dead after all. Inside there are sixteen fifty-dollar bills. Eight hundred
dollars. Next to them, a few credit cards and a checkbook bearing a woman's
name and posh upper west side address. I smile. Shopping money. She'll never
The wallet stowed in my backpack, I head for the subway
home. Lexington Avenue is a river of commuters. Letting the current carry me along,
this weird Twilight Zone feeling comes over me of being in two realities
at the same time. In one I am the person I have been all day. I am hungry, tired
and still pretty fearful. In the other I am light and alert, neither hungry nor
afraid. One reality says keep the wallet, the other give it back. Fear or faith.
The choice is mine. Against what sounds like my better judgment, I step away from
the crowd into the street and, breaking into a run, head for Central Park and
the West Side.
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