"I left my wallet on the last bus through here. Can you help me go get it?"
"Your wallet? Yeah, get in. Have a seat."
So began my relationship with Abdul, my spirit guide throughout the arduous psychological journey to 263rd and Riverdale.
As we crossed into the Bronx, I explained my story. He listened impassively, eyes on the road (and all the zigzagging gypsy cabs thereon), then placed a call to his dispatcher. He chatted inaudibly with someone for a few seconds, then hung up.
This should be easy, right? Calls made, wallet found, Bob's your uncle.
"He's gonna get back to me."
Minutes passed. Streets passed. Gas passed. I drummed my fingers, playing out worst-case scenarios in my mind. The driver hasn't got it. Some guy found it and ran out to play the trifecta at Yonkers Raceway. Then perhaps a platinum VIP junket to the Teaneck International Film Festival. These hustlers, they really know how to play with found money.
The phone rang, and Abdul answered.
"Uh-huh.... What do you mean? ... Why not? ... What time? ... But he's right here with me... Yeah, I got him right here! ... What am I supposed to do with him? ... Wait! What am I suppos-- hello? ... Hello?"
He waited a few achingly long seconds, each more achingly long than the last. Because if I had good news for some joker who'd lost his bankroll, I would have said something by now.
"OK, we got the wallet."
"But see, it's at the depot. And I can't bring you to the depot, or I'll lose my job."
So what happens now?
"Um, I don't really know. Let me call him back. He's being kind of a jackass."
What's this now? Why? Why is the guy with my wallet being a jackass? How big a jackass are we talking, here? Is he a just-fucking-with-you jackass, or an inveterate, dyed-in-the-wool, social misanthrope, finders-keepers jackass?
Abdul rang up and traded more inaudibility that gradually rose in volume, before the Jackass hung up on him. Then Abdul tried to call back, and the Jackass wouldn't pick up. Abdul was pissed.
"See, now that ain't right. Somebody loses something, you gotta help him out, you know? Jesus. Goddamn jackass."
He explained that the lost and found operated between 8am and 4pm on weekdays, and the Jackass wanted me to go back and present myself, in person, during a workday, 90 minutes from my workplace, to collect the wallet. I wondered if Abdul wouldn't mind letting me off his bus so I could throw myself under it.
"Naw, man, that ain't right. That ain't right."
Abdul picked up the phone, worked some sort of diplomatic magic, and turned back to me triumphantly.
"All right. Someone's gonna come here to give you your wallet."
"He didn't say."
How will I know who to look for? Is he coming by car? On foot?
"He wouldn't tell me."
Right. Jackass. Got it.
We reached the end of the line, and the last Riverdalian got out.
"OK, I have to leave you here. But don't worry. Somebody will be around in a little while."
He scribbled a number on the back of a bus schedule and said it probably wouldn't do any good because the Jackass probably wouldn't pick up. Then he wished me luck, said he'd be back in a little while to check on me, and sped off.
And there I was, 15 minutes to midnight, 60 blocks from home, 48 cents in my pocket, hoping my wallet was on its way. My right buttcheek, accustomed to the padded warmth, shivered nakedly.
[to be yet again continued...]