June 27, 2003
Karmic Propriety


Friday night, 7 p.m.

I am standing in the kitchen of our sweltering apartment, in my comfy clothes already, removing the ham from my half of The Big Sandwich. As much as I love The Big Sandwich -- and I do love The Big Sandwich, pre-assembled straight from our grocer's deli, especially on nights like tonight when it's too hot to cook (and we're too broke to go to Togo's or Dimitra's) -- I feel that it contains entirely too much meat most of the time. Tonight's sandwich, for instance, features a layer of turkey, followed by a layer of salami, followed by a layer of ham.

That's one layer too many for *my* tastes.

I remove the offending ham slices and stuff them into David's half of The Sandwich, wedging them neatly between the tomato layer and the turkey layer. Then I dump a handful of Tim's Cascade Potato Chips onto each plate and pour two extra large glasses of lemonade. Just as I am about to pick up the food and the drinks and carry them into the bedroom, where David is waiting for me to join him in our ritual Friday night Bed Picnic, there is a soft knock at the front door.

Crap.

The only person who ever knocks on our door this late in the evening is Alma, our nice little apartment manager ... usually to drop off a package or give us a new recycling bin or hand us a rent increase notice. So I open the door without hesitation, even though I'm wearing nothing but a skimpy tank top and a pair of floppy shorts. It's a bit of a shock, therefore, to open the door and find a tall young stranger standing on our doorstep.

"Terri Rafter?" he says.

Crap redux. He's a process server! shrieks the Little Voice of Paranoia in my head. Or a Jehovah's Witness! Or an ax murderer!  Except that he isn't dressed like a process server or a Jehovah's Witness or an ax murderer -- he's dressed like me, actually, in a tank top and floppy old shorts, looking dorky and sweaty and mostly harmless -- plus he's holding something in his hand that suddenly makes all of the hair on the back of my neck stand at complete attention.

It's my Day-Timer.

More specifically, it's my Day-Timer slash wallet slash address/phonebook slash checkbook slash photo album slash ENTIRE LIFE.

"Is this yours?" he asks politely, even though it must be abundantly obvious from the shocked and bloodless expression on my face that it belongs to me. Plus he must have checked the California State ID in the front pocket, in order to find my address. 

"Oh my god," I say, and I all but snatch the Day-Timer out of his hands. "Oh my god. Oh my god."  For one long awful moment, I'm sure I'm going to vomit lemonade all over my own bare feet ... AND his.

He doesn't even have to tell me the story: I understand instantly what must have happened. Stopping on the way home from work to buy The Big Sandwich. Hot, crabby, exhausted, hungry. The grocery store parking lot. Loading the food into the back of the Subaru. Setting the Day-Timer on the roof of the car while I pushed the shopping cart back to the front of the store. David starting up the car and driving to the end of the parking lot to pick me up.

Driving off without a second thought, thinking only of getting home, getting out of the heat, getting on with the Bed Picnic ... with my Day-Timer still perched on the roof of the car.

End of story.

"It was laying in the middle of the street," the young man says, nodding at my Day-Timer. "Cars were veering around it like crazy: I thought it was gonna get run over before I could get to it." 

I am still standing there with my mouth hanging open, cradling my precious Day-Timer in my hands, unable to make any sound at all. I look it over carefully. The leather cover is slightly scuffed, and one of the zipper charms is missing -- the little silver charm bearing the Chinese symbol for "peace" -- but otherwise it looks none the worse for the wear. I sink to the couch, a bit unsteadily, and unzip the binder. I want to check and make sure that all of my money and credit cards and personal items are still inside ... the floppy disk with tomorrow's *FootNotes* entry on it, the photo of my grandfather playing his guitar, the Ocean Beach postcard from Jaymi and Joel ... but I don't want to do it while he's standing there watching me.

"Thank you," I say to him finally. "Thank you so much. I can't even begin to tell you how awful it would have been to lose this."

He looks at me expectantly.

A reward! prompts the Little Voice of Karmic Propriety in my head. You should give him a reward!

"Can I give you a reward?" I ask him, and he looks momentarily uncomfortable, like he wants to say 'no' but needs to say 'yes,' and eventually he nods and mutters "Sure, that would be great." I unzip the money compartment and pull out a thin wad of ancient dollar bills. Kacie's visit sort of wiped me out last weekend: I have exactly eleven dollars and forty cents to last me between now and next payday.

I hand him ten.

"I wish it could be more," I say to him regretfully.. He takes the ten bucks and stuffs it into the pocket of his shorts, without even counting it, looking a little embarrassed about the whole thing. I thank him again -- "It's good to know that there are still honest people in the world," I say, which makes him blush, but in a nice way: I wonder if he's married? or has a girlfriend? or would be interested in meeting a lovely young girl from TicTac? -- and then he turns and walks away. 

As soon as he is out of sight, I close the door, lock it, throw the deadbolt ... tuck my Day-Timer securely into my purse: tomorrow, of course, I'll have to talk to the bank and to the credit card companies about whether or not I need to have all my account numbers changed, because even though the guy looked honest, that doesn't mean he is honest ...

... and then I head back to the kitchen to finish preparing our Bed Picnic.



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