Chicago II: The Good Deed

My list of most satisfying sensations includes flossing after eating corn-on-the-cob; scratching mosquito bites; peeing after a long car ride on which excessive amounts of water and iced tea have been consumed; receiving dog kisses from clean Wheaten terriers; removing a dry contact lens; sneezing after several false alarms; successfully plucking a piece of stubborn eyebrow stubble; and watching mean people trip.

But truly, there are few feelings better than seeing the impact of a good deed you’ve done.

On Sunday, our last day in Chicago, Keith and I partook of the noon-ish meal at a diner-esque venue called Tempo and then threw away money on a so-called Gangster Tour. The Gangster Tour consisted of a 90-minute school bus ride narrated by a scrappy college kid in a cheap zoot suit. He instructed us to duck every time we heard (plastic) gunfire, handed out equally plastic roses to all the “dolls” on the tour, and had obviously trained at the Rodney Dangerfield Mail Order School of Comedy.

"Temporary lay-offs ... GOOD TIMES!" Cabrini Green facade
Cabrini Green: "Temporary lay-offs ... GOOD TIMES!"

The tour made just two actual stops. The first was Holy Name Cathedral, near which Earl “Hymee” Weiss, a Capone rival, was gunned down in 1926. That wasn’t his real name, in case you care, and he was Polish, not Jewish. The second was Cabrini Green,  icon of American public housing gone bad and the setting of Good Times. Cabrini Green wasn’t even built until 1942, long after Al Capone had gone crazy from syphilis, so I’m not sure what its remnants had to do with him. We did, however, do a very brief hi-bye of the Biograph Theater in Lincoln Park, where Public Enemy No. 1, aka John Dillinger, had been shot in 1934. That was somewhat cool. As was the cupcake we had from MORE on the way back.

That evening, we dined at the famed romantic fondue restaurant Geja’s. From Geja’s, we took a cab to Navy Pier. As we were getting out of the cab, Keith grabbed what he thought was my wallet from the back seat. It wasn’t. The cab pulled away very quickly so we weren’t able to return said wallet to the driver, who might have known which previous passenger had left it. Luckily, a policeman was walking the beat nearby. Unluckily, he advised us against giving him the wallet, as he’d have to send it to Central Processing where it would most likely just get sucked into a vortex and never see daylight again.

Thank you, officer. That’s very comforting.

We attempted to find the owner through the obvious channels with no luck — he had a pretty common name and there was no listing for him at the address on his ID card.  We considered the various options we had for getting it back to him, none of which were entirely viable.

I was sure that the journalist-stalker in me could track this guy down. There had to be something in the wallet that would tell us how to find him. I deduced that he had recently collected unemployment benefits (folded claim); worked in the food services industry or really liked roughage (handwritten list of salad types and the most appropriate dressings for them); was Catholic (tiny prayer card featuring the Virgin Mary); had relatives somewhere (photos of a couple and a little girl); knew a district attorney in Sacramento (business card); and didn’t drive (no license — just the government ID card).

Naturally I concocted the saddest possible story for this phantom wallet owner. He’d had really bad luck with jobs, which took its toll on his marriage. The woman in the picture is his ex-wife, Joanie, who left him, and the little girl, now an angry teen, is his daughter (Jessica or Lisa). The photos are old, but he holds on to them as a reminder of better times. He hasn’t seen his daughter in years and she’s a Goth now. His apartment is actually one room in an old, dark, depressing building, and he rents it from an elderly Croatian woman who wears housecoats and carries a broom around. His seeks comfort in prayer.

I was getting teary just thinking about it. He’d probably called Joanie and begged her to let him stay on her couch, but she’d said no because her new boyfriend, Mack, wasn’t cool with it. Oy.

The next morning we asked the woman at the front desk if the hotel had a Lost and Found. They did, but like the police officer, she didn’t recommend leaving the wallet there, as it might end up in any number of places other than the hands of the owner. We were trying to do a good deed, but there was no viable way to actually do it. We truly had no idea what to do with the wallet besides carry it back to New York with us, put it in the mail and hope it arrived safely.

But there was one last — albeit highly unlikely — possibility.  I’d noticed a pay stub from a corporate office in California.  One of the logos on it belonged to an eatery called “The Grill.” Which happened to be the name of the eatery in our hotel’s lobby.  I stopped in and asked the manager if there was anyone on staff with the name of the man whose wallet we’d found. THERE WAS, AND YES, HE’D LOST A WALLET THE NIGHT BEFORE!

We’d found a wallet two miles from the hotel and it happened to belong to someone who worked IN the hotel. Of all the hotels in the entire city. Uncanny, no?

I gave the wallet to the manager, who insisted that we wait until the wallet owner could thank us himself. A few minutes later, a waiter learned his wallet had not fallen into evil paws after all. He literally choked up as he expressed his gratitude profusely and relayed the details of the wallet’s loss (it wasn’t like him to lose things; he’d been distracted because this was his first week on the new job, he’d thought the wallet was in his pocket when he got out of the cab, and so on).  He offered us money and semi-hugged me. I remain convinced that I had his story down pat, but either way, this seemed to put a smile on his face.

And I have to say that as much fun as I had on our trip to Chicago, knowing we’d brought such relief to this stranger was the best part by far.

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Chicago II: The Good Deed

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