The Harrowing, True Story of When I Lost My Wallet at the Farmer’s Market, by Jonathan Zeller
MORNING: MY ROUTINE
I wake up in my Brooklyn apartment, put my Pomeranian in her sweater, take the elevator downstairs, and avoid eye contact with my doorman so I don’t have to talk about sports. Blah blah blah my son is the Knicks’ point guard. Who cares?
I head for the apple orchard’s table at the farmer’s market, where I plan to purchase an apple-cider doughnut. An elderly woman in front of me struggles to get money out of her wallet while keeping balance on her walker. Hurry up, old lady! People drive me nuts sometimes.
After like forever, I get to the front of the line. I take a dollar out to pay, set my wallet down and—distracted by my dog’s barking—do not return it to my pocket. I’m too busy shouting “shut up, dog,” and “yum, doughnut” with my mouth full. Crumbs tumble to the ground, and when my dog eats them I’m like, Hey, I didn’t buy that doughnut for you. Dogs.
I walk toward the good coffee shop. They allow small dogs, or at least they tell you to please leave your dog outside but never call the cops, which is basically the same thing.
I order my Americano to stay. Drinking from a ceramic mug is relaxing, and that’s part of what you pay for at this type of place. When it’s time to pay, I pat the pocket of my weekend pants and am shocked to find I do not have my wallet. I ask if they can spot me this cup. They say no, and this is the first time I’ve made eye contact with anyone behind the counter.
I take the coffee outside and say I’ll pay them once I get my wallet back. They shout something about how that mug doesn’t belong to me.
My Pomeranian and I retrace our steps. I scan the sidewalk for my wallet as I walk. I can tell my dog is tense. My therapist says it reflects my own anxiety that my dog is high-strung, and I say, Yeah, but my dog isn’t paying 100 bucks an hour, so can we focus here?
I get to the orchard’s table and ask if anyone found a wallet. The license photo looks like me, but not in as good shape because I work out now. They say they haven’t seen it. I ask them to check again, but make sure not to give away from my tone of voice that I know they’re stupid.
I decide to go home and cancel credit cards. I will miss Pilates, and I have been trying to work on my core, but at least no one is hurt or sick. Well, someone somewhere in the world is, but I’m not.
I get to the door of my building. Oh, no. I have to tap a key card to get in, but the card is in my wallet. Maybe a neighbor will let me in. The first person who passes says she is sorry, but isn’t sure she’s seen me before. The second, too. Come on—do I look like the kind of person who doesn’t live in this building? I resolve, when this is over, to talk to my neighbors more.
My cash and credit cards were all in my wallet. I am quite hungry. I didn’t eat anything before the doughnut. If I do Pilates on a full stomach, I get queasy.
I try to call this guy I know, who is my father, to see if he can help me get some food, but my phone is out of battery and I don’t have a charger.
EVENING: LIFE ON THE FRINGES
I go near the park, where there is foot traffic. Please, I need $2.75 to get one ride on the subway and visit this guy I know at the nursing home. People look away. Men tell their girlfriends that people who request exact amounts of money are usually con artists.
I realize my life is not as stable as I’d once believed. My money, my access to my home and office, my insurance cards, the documents verifying my identity—they were all in that tiny folding pocketbook. I should have more of a safety net, and make a mental note to advocate appropriate changes to society.
My Pomeranian is hungry, too. She looks up at me, helplessly, and whines. I get it, dog, but can’t you understand I’m dealing with some stuff? You’re not the one who lost your wallet! I’m rolling my eyes. Dogs.
The sun sets. Defeated, I head back to my building. I wait outside and hope someone takes pity on me. In the meantime I chart my return to prominence. I’ll have to start over—no money, no home, nothing but the skills I have to offer the world. I can write ad copy. I start by taking a discarded cardboard box and scrawling a sign that says “PLEASE HELP—LOST WALLET AND LIFE SPIRALED OUT OF CONTROL.”
I sit outside my building near an older man with a long, gray beard and leathery skin. He says he’s been in front of the building for years. He dropped his house keys into a gutter and couldn’t get back on track. He says we’re alike. Maybe if you’re too dumb to tell the difference between keys and a wallet. I’m rolling my eyes. Bums.
He gives me half a Nature’s Valley granola bar, the only food he has. I tend to like brands that are a little less dry, but thanks I guess.
I fall asleep outside—dirty, sunburned, and hopeless.
THE NEXT MORNING: REDEMPTION
A young woman’s voice wakes me, asking if this is my wallet. She says she found it around noon yesterday at the farmer’s market and saw my address on the driver’s license. Geez, lady. What took so long? She called my phone but it went to voicemail. She decided she’d drop by my building on her way to work at the free health clinic.
I grab my wallet and tell her she probably has to get going. I look at the older man and think about all we’ve done for each other. Him, sharing his tiny snack with me. And me, giving him a sense of purpose. We probably won’t keep in touch.
I tap my key card and return to my old life. What a relief. I hear the older guy ask something about food, but I miss most of it because the door closes behind me, and it’s pretty thick and muffles the sound. I really live in a great building.
I get back up to my apartment and feed my Pomeranian. She eats ravenously, like she has never seen food before and might never see it again. What a moron. Dogs.
I am determined to make the most of this second chance, to do the things I never did when I had taken my good fortune for granted. I fire up HBO Go and finally start watching The Wire.
Jonathan Zeller is a writer, editor, and comedian who has contributed to McSweeney’s, The New York Times, and Teen Vogue.