I tore through several tons of crap in my wallet, but there was no sign of it.
My debit card was gone.
This is your punishment, my conscience shrieked inside my skull. This is what you get for being so greedy.
I had gone to the Chase Bank in Hoboken to get some cash the other day, but now my trip to the ATM was DOA.
I had crumpled receipts, ancient dry cleaner tickets, and business cards from people I couldn’t begin to remember, but the debit card had vanished.
I instantly imagined drooling hordes of subhuman sloths cracking open my bank account, throwing handfuls of my life-savings into the air while laughing hysterically and buying themselves all manner of ill-gotten goods and services.
However, I had one item in my wallet that didn’t belong there: a Metrocard that I had found on the X27 bus last week after an evening out with my sister and auntie.
I had seen the thing on the seat in front of me after I said goodnight to my sister and rose to get off at my stop.
The few times I’ve picked up these cards in the past they’ve always turned out to be worthless—who throws away a card with money on it?--and I assumed it would be the same thing here.
And yet I picked the card up furtively and got off the bus without handing it over to the driver, so clearly I had personal gain in mind.
A few days later I checked the card’s value and my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw it was worth 42 bucks.
That’s a lot of money any way you slice it. And it’s somebody else’s money.
I felt so ashamed. I blather on about kindness and paying it forward, but I had paid myself—and rather handsomely.
The sad irony here is that I lost my work ID card on this same bus line in November and a very kind woman who found it tracked me down, called me at work, and handed it off to me on her way home.
I posted a notice on Craig’s List announcing my discovery and—big surprise-got no responses. I called the MTA’s Lost & Found number but I didn’t get an answer and as each day goes by I forget to call back. (Yes, I know how lame that sounds. I forget to call.)
I suppose I could fall back on the old finders keepers schtick, but I know that’s a lie.
I asked Fred the Shrink for his advice and he came up with an interesting solution.
“Give it me,” he said.
Oh, brilliant. You don’t have enough of my money already?
“If I gave it to the bus driver it would’ve gotten back to the owner,” I said.
“That’s unlikely,” he said.
“But I feel so guilty!” I whined.
“I know,” Fred replied. “The Jews and the Catholics walk down that same path.”
The thing is I know that my sister—who was sitting right next to me on that bus—would’ve handed it over to the bus driver without a moment’s hesitation. Whether it got back to the rightful owner or not, she would’ve done her part.
I knew what I had to do. I went to Our Lady of Angeles Church on Fourth Avenue on Saturday morning, knelt down in a pew and waited for a priest to hear my confession.
This church is where it all began for me—literally.
My parents were married here 65 years ago, my siblings and I attended OLA grammar school and we all were baptized, received our First Holy Communion and were confirmed by Jesus Christ in this church. And this is where our parents’ funeral masses were held.
If there was any place in this world where I could find absolution this was it.
The walls of the church are lined with images from the station of the Cross and it happened that the confessional was right beneath the station where Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry the Cross.
Yes, the Romans made Simon do this, but the guy still helped. He didn’t look to profit from his actions—like someone else I could name.
The confessional at OLA has been refurbished since my grammar school days. Instead of sitting in the pitch dark, you enter a lighted room and kneel before a wooden screen.
The priest was an old timer and had a very formal approach, reading prayers and telling me when and how to respond.
He said I probably should’ve left the card alone and also noted that the person who lost the thing shared some of the responsibility.
“The card doesn’t even matter,” I said. “I was just so greedy and so self-centered.”
“You’re fighting that,” the priest said, “and that’s good.”
He absolved my sins and gave me three Our Fathers as penance. I never did find my debit card, so the bank gave me a new one.
This morning I got off the F train at 15th Street and a man who could barely speak English asked me to get him on the train because he had forgotten his wallet.
I refused and started to walk away, but I changed my mind and buzzed him through. He gave me the fist jab as he went by and while he might’ve been scamming me, I do feel like I have one less cross to bear.