To the Man Who Forgot his New Books on the Subway Platform at Lincoln Center

by

02/12/2003

w 66th st & broadway, new york, ny 10023

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

Your books were a little bit strange, and that ended up working in your favor since none of us wanted them at first glance. Stuff about yoga and spiritual exercise, something about linguistics, and a medieval text. There were five of them in the bag, complete with your credit card receipt from the Barnes & Noble, with a couple of bookmarks thrown in for good measure.

I was just in the Barnes and Noble, (perhaps I had seen you?), and to my dismay, the book I had wanted was not in stock. They had called other stores for me so I was on my way uptown to another branch where I was told my book would be waiting for me at the information desk.

When I got down to the subway platform, my thoughts flitted between the winter chill and the insidious, yet accommodating energy of the superstore and I sat on the bench right next to your bag of books without even noticing them. There was no one else around and I stared across the tracks with a heavy lidded focus at the groups of people toeing the edge. It was the sound of that young couple slipping through the turnstile that finally caused me to turn my head.

She was loud and demanding with long painted fingernails curled around the cell phone attached to her ear. Her free hand extended behind her to where her boyfriend grasped it, a step out of sync, giving him the appearance of an animal on a leash being led aimlessly. He carried her Victoria’s Secret shopping bags and flinched when she tossed her hair over her shoulder and it hit him in the face. She would leave him first, I surmised.

She snapped her cell phone closed as she approached the bench where I was sitting, and called out, loudly, “Look, someone forgot their new books.” She began to pick up the bag. It was then that I turned to them.

“Well let’s see what we have here,” I said.

And then we looked, and again, none of us said anything right off the bat because I think we were a little confused by the subjects you were interested in.

I took one of the books in my hand, one that had a picture of people in leotards on the cover, and noticed that your credit card receipt was tucked into the front page.

“Here’s the credit card receipt,” I said to the couple, “this guy just bought these a few minutes ago.”

They said nothing and the girl continued to leaf through one of your other purchases, periodically pointing something out to her boyfriend. The train was taking a while and I couldn’t help thinking of you. Did you realize you had left your books as soon as you walked on to the train, only to turn around and have the doors close in front of you? Or had you not even realized they were gone yet? Suddenly, I remembered I was on my way to the uptown Barnes & Noble and thought again of the web of inter-connected stores in the city. Then, in a burst of inspiration, I said to the couple, “Hey, I just had them put a book on hold for me at the 82nd St. Barnes & Noble and I’m going there now and maybe I can take these books to them and they can contact the guy from his credit card receipt and he’ll get his books back. Do you think that would work?”

I said it kind of all in one breath in a rather dorky, excited state.

They said nothing, continuing to page through your purchases.

“Yeah,” I said to no one in particular, “I’m going to do that.”

This decision left me feeling slightly giddy. I had come into contact with a textbook situation in which to test my moral fiber, and that realization combined with the knowledge that I was doing the right thing, was rather delightful.

Finally, the guy turned to me, “you’re going to return them?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, “I’m going to take them to the uptown store now.”

He turned to his girlfriend and continued talking, and finally we hear the train pulling in. We’re getting up to walk over to the track and the girl is putting your books back into the bag and I’m standing there waiting to get them from her, when she holds the spiritual exercise book outside of the bag. “I’m just going to keep this one,” she says timidly, “do you think that’s ok?”

I stare at her for a moment, feeling a sudden anger toward her and feeling at a loss for words. My simple textbook situation of only minutes before had now mutated into something decidedly different. Other people had become involved now, other people who may or may not obstruct my swift carriage of justice. I’m thinking to myself that there must be one perfect thing to say at this moment, and if I don’t hit upon those words I’ve somehow failed. Since there was only a short window of time before the doors of the train closed, I knew that I must act quickly, and this made me even more anxious.

“No,” I finally say with a dramatic pause, “I’m not going to return them if they’re not all there.”

We stare at each other for one more moment, she’s not moving and I don’t know what else to say so I turn and walk onto the train. The couple follows me and takes a seat on the opposite side of the car, holding your bag and engaging in a heated discussion. The girl is sitting and the guy is standing over her, and she’s holding that one book in her her lap and scowling up at him I’m looking over at them but trying not to let them catch me and I’m really rather angry now. I contemplate whether I should walk over there and give them an abridged monologue on ethics in everyday life, and then I laugh to myself imagining what I would say. But a second later I’m frustrated again, your lost books and these people are really making me mad and now I’m emotionally involved with this situation and I just want to do the right thing and make up for your loss and now it seems out of my hands.

We’re nearing my stop and I’m realizing now that I’m going to have to just let it go because I need to get off the train and re-engage with what I was planning on doing anyway, when I see out of the corner of my eye that the young man is walking toward me.

He approaches my side of the car and looks at me with a serious, almost pleading look.

“Here,” he says handing me the bag, “they’re all here.”

“Thank you,” I say, and I sincerely mean it, as a triumph for you and for me and also for him, maybe, by winning a small argument with his princess girlfriend.

But what transpires in that moment is a little anxious at the same time; it’s one stranger trusting another merely on a leap of faith. When I walk into the uptown store and explain what had happened (minus the supporting characters) and hand over the bag, the man at the counter looks at me with such incredulous gratitude that I almost think they’re going to reward me for my good deed by giving me the book I want for free.

But of course that didn’t happen.

And instead of them contacting you from your credit card receipt to come pick up your stuff, which I realize now was rather complicated and illogical, they just credited your account the missing amount and restocked the books themselves. After it was over, I was a little bit exhausted, and a little bit giddy again, but I was glad for you, and I wondered what you would think when you noticed that Barnes & Noble had credited you for the amount you paid for the books you had lost.

You’d never know how it had happened.

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