Having stayed in my apartment the better part of the last week or so, today I decided to hop on my bike and do some writing out of doors. It was a breezy 68 degrees and I wanted to enjoy the pleasant mildness of early fall before it became the cold old dreary, crappy, disgusting middle fall.
I entered Prospect Park at Grand Army Plaza and headed south towards 9th Street where there are some picnic tables I could make use of. I was shifting gears and beginning to pick up speed when I saw it flash by below my tires. Just a blink of green and white, geometric patterns and sharp angles amidst the chaotic cracks and non-repeating lines of the bumpy charcoal-grey sheet of asphalt. In the same instant I made eye contact with Washington, he was gone.
I hit my brakes and oozed to a stop (rather than screeched, as I lost my front brakes a few days ago and my rears were hanging on just barely). Fearful of losing my bounty to the next passerby, I used the last of my momentum to whip my bike around to the right, hoping to ward off any other pursuers with my stern glare. An all-to-serious-looking biker in red and white spandex whom I had cleverly distracted by making him veer sharply to avoid hitting me was the only person nearby. “Yeah, keep moving, “I thought as I watched him pedal by.
Not wanting to allow time for the wind to take my treasure, I gently dropped my bike without bothering to kick the stand. I ran back to the dollar only to find that there was in fact several dollars! Unfortunately, in addition to my newly multiplied wealth, there was also a New York State Driver’s License.
It belonged to a woman in her late 30’s, a Christmas baby like me, who lived on Vanderbilt, a few blocks away. I felt angry, robbed of my guilt-free money! I knew I would never be able to enjoy spending it, even if it was only a few bucks. A happy hour beer. A soft-serve chocolate vanilla swirl ice cream with chocolate jimmies. All would be as ashes in my mouth, knowing that returning it to its rightful owner was fully within my abilities.
I briefly cursed myself and my parents for raising me right, but finally decided that returning the lost money would be worth it and possibly more fun than keeping it as long as I pretended to be a detective on a case.
Looking at the facts before, I decided she must be biking, as cash and cards do not just squeeze out of a back pocket unless as the result of some kind of repeated action, force or pressure, like that of gyrating gluteus muscles rubbing vigorously against a bicycle seat. I also deduced that she couldn’t have passed by too long before, as unattended money doesn’t sit unnoticed on the ground for too long. Also, judging by her license picture, she was a little on the pudgy side so I figured I could probably catch up to her.
I saddled back up and continued on my way. I wanted to catch her on this side of the park because to not do so, would mean going down a big hill and then having to come back up an even bigger hill. On a bike that is rapidly ageing like Mel Gibson at the end of Forever Young, it is not a pleasant prospect.
I pumped away, overtaking most people pretty quickly, craning my neck and checking bikers who made likely candidates and also a few who made less likely candidates, but I wanted to be thorough in my search.
I really enjoy finding lost objects (not just money), whether I am able to return them or not. There is a kind of magic to them, like they have many stories to tell but no words to tell them, leaving us to wonder and guess. They are mysteries to be solved, and naturally, I take it upon myself to solve them. It’s the perfect outlet for my inherent desire to be a private eye- to track down some missing dame or in this case, track down the dame who owns some missing thing that I have found.
Approaching the downhill slope I saw a potential and coasted after her. It was not long before I realized it was not her and just kept coasting. I was fairly certain at this point I wouldn’t find her here, but I had come this far so wanted to see it through to the end.
In my head I begin to compose the note I will drop off with the cash and ID at the address on her license – several versions, some admonishing her carelessness, some hoping to kindle her faith in the good of humanity, all signed with my first and last name so that she can find me easily enough if she happens to be a millionaire dowager who wants to reward me for my honesty.
Once in Washington DC, I found a digital camera on the ground and tracked down the owners by looking through their pictures to see where they had been that day and figuring out where they were likely heading next. I caught up with them four blocks or so from where I found it. They hadn’t even noticed it was missing- nor did they speak any English, so I couldn’t even impress upon them the amount of deductive problem-solving energy that I had expended upon the camera’s return. That was the real tragedy! They never knew my brilliance! They probably thought I saw it fall out of their pocket thirty seconds before and just picked up and handed it to them.
I finally came to the foot of the giant uphill struggle to the end of the loop, and kicked it into an easier gear. It is the same hill on which Colonial soldiers felled an enormous oak tree across the road and held off advancing British and Hessian soldiers during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. I will concede that it was probably harder to get up then, but it is still a pain in the ass to get up on a falling-apart, 3-gear bike.
I started to climb, thinking of how much smarter it would have been to have turned around and done the loop in the opposite direction when I found the money, thus cutting her off halfway around, as opposed than chasing her like an electronic rabbit around a track.
The end of the loop was just beyond the top of the hill, and I did not plan on making the rotation more than once. Chasing some phantom that may not even be there around and around and around. But finally, sweaty and winded, I approached the hill’s crest and saw her. There was a garland of nylon flowers on the back of her bike. I could see she was wearing glasses like the ones in her picture, and her hair was up. She was standing astride her bicycle at the very top of the hill, patting and searching the back pockets of her Spandex pants.
She looked around her a bit and got back up on, riding slowly and unsure, no doubt distracted. I finally caught up with her and came along side, making cautious eye contact a few times as she started to pick up speed, no doubt wondering why I was not just passing her.
“Marika?” I said, still out of breath from the hill. She turned her head and looked at me as I reached out with the bills and license, and said, “here.”
She saw it and took it from my hand with a smile and with obvious relief said, “Oh thank you! Oh my God, thank you!” I smiled and nodded her welcome and sped up without looking back to say anything else, make awkward eye contact, or even to see if she got off the path at the end of the loop.
I didn’t see the point in telling her about my chase around the park, other than fishing for praise I suppose. She seemed sufficiently appreciative of my handing it to her without knowing where exactly she dropped it- unlike those snooty Germans back in DC! I’d been tracking her for 20 minutes, but to her, she had been in trouble for less than 30 seconds. I don’t know. Maybe she would have been happier in knowing that there are some people who would go to those lengths to return her lost property. Or maybe she would have been creeped out that some sweaty guy on a bicycle had been following her around the park and planning to go to her house if he couldn’t find her there.
I biked on past where I’d found the cash, into a nice small grove of pines near 9th street, sat down on the ground, and began to write.
Connor Gaudet is an unemployed, 27-year-old writer/musician, living in Brooklyn and surviving on government assistance. He keeps track of his triumphs and humiliations at thedailyhell. He also runs the Mr. Beller's Neighborhood reading series.