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9/13/13

Fanging My Way Thru America: Lost Property Unit

[2005. At dawn. The New York City MTA Lost Property Unit. CLERK, behind a counter; WOMAN enters the office, holds two umbrellas, better said one complete umbrella and what was left out of another umbrella, its shaft.]

WOMAN
I didn’t know it was a storm overnight! We have no windows at the club. I passed by an invasion of broken umbrellas in front of Loews movie theater. The garbage bins burst out with them. Black, red, plastic handles, wood handles. The broken ribs and wires stick out maimed, the canopy stripped off. Even the subway entrance steps are littered with umbrella skeletons!
It’s like a battlefield of fallen umbrella soldiers!
CLERK
How can I help you?
WOMAN
Sorry, I’ve never seen so many umbrellas in my life! I come from a poor country, we fix our umbrellas. I couldn’t resist and picked these ones. See, lovely wooden crook handle. I found your office by accident. I’m coming from work, I work nights at Copacabana. We had a reggaeton and I’m all wound up.
I’ve just seen your sign: Lost Property Unit. For a month I’ve called all these numbers the subway booth attendants gave me and I didn’t get anywhere, and now, just by accident, I saw your door, and on top of it you’re open! Isn’t that great? Right nearby my workplace! Didn’t have to go out of my way to some office in the boondocks.
I’ve lost my bag in the subway. Must have been a month, four weeks ago. I gave up hope, but I just saw the sign and I thought, Let me see where is this unit! and you’re open! I can’t believe it! At five a.m!
I left my bag, I’m not sure if it was in the subway stop on a wooden bench, or in the subway on a seat. At times as if I see my gray bag on an orange subway seat. It was a hard night. The toilet seat in the handicapped stall flooded and I had to get hold of the floor manager, then the bus boy rolled in a mop and the yellow bucket-cart you wrangle the mop in. The ladies in high heels were shrieking fearful! “Ladies, it’s water! Just water! Use this stall! You go in here, please, you in the next, you, next!” so I left my bag somewhere on the A line between Penn Station and 14 Street/8th Ave. stop or on the L line, from 8 Ave. to Myrtle/Wyckoff Ave. stop.
CLERK
It was a gray bag.
WOMAN
Yes, gray bag, cloth, nothing special, but I had some items in it I was very fond of.
[The CLERK either checks the inventory on his computer or walks along the actual shelves of lost objects.]
CLERK
Let me see. Watches, eyeglasses, books, yellow pads, coats, strollers, shoes, beads, feather boas, umbrellas, cushions, gloves, shawls, caps, art portfolio, diaries, bracelets, bras, mirror frames, balls, grandmas, in-laws, kids, shrunken camels, wallets, purses, cooking pots, phones, lost souls, lost time, lost faith, laptops, kidney stones, livers, eyeballs, lost dreams, lost health, lost love, lots of this, friends, and money! Cameras. Lost virginity. Lost lives, lost jobs, lost sisters, lost balance, someone lost his fear of the dark. Another one lost a bargain and here is a lost bet. Someone lost face! Lost battles. What is this? Oh, someone lost in thoughts. Daydreaming again? Here we have the lost look of a man, trapped and afraid. Hopeless. Get lost!
Here are stored a few lost causes. There lies the Lost Generation. And here! finally! are the Lost Tribes of Israel! Little Bobeep has lost her sheep. Lost her beauty. The village lost all its young men thru emigration. Some lost votes. Someone lost the tide. Lost a hooked fish. Lost lawsuit, contests, prizes! Lost her reputation, lost his hearing. Lost battles. Lost limbs. Lost honor. Lost memory. The lost art of etiquette. More people lost in admiration. This one lost his touch, the other one his temper and his mind. Lost his footing on the path and fell. Lost himself in the maze of subway tunnels. Lost intentions. Lost weight. Lost a cold. Lost in translation. Oh, no, someone lost his heart.
Hairdryers. Wigs. Bags.
Gray, you say?
WOMAN
[Amused.] Yes, gray. Cloth, zipper, three pockets. It’s cold in here.
CLERK
Yeah. Well, you’re lucky, Miss.
WOMAN
I’m so happy! Nothing good has happened lately. Everything is the same. The highlight of my weekend is doing the laundry! Even the exotic foods I eat became monotonous. Finally a pleasant surprise!
CLERK
Only there are four of them, all gray, all cloth, all with three pockets.
WOMAN
Same model?
CLERK
Interchangeable. Yes. I’m now forced to open them, Miss. Describe the content of your bag.
WOMAN
A pair of black velvet trousers I wear at work. A few bread buns,—they might be hard as a rock by now—a roll of paper towels, two half-used toilet paper rolls, a Lysol air freshener,—Country Scent—and a sour cream silver-plated dish. A large book, Spanish and English Grammar, and another one, small, The Naked Civil Servant. I was lucky I kept my debit card and tips and my phone in my small bag.
CLERK
[He looks in the bags.] Three of them have the same content, Miss.
WOMAN
[Silence.] They are either all mine—I lost several of them but didn't think anyone will make the effort to bring them here—or the other bathroom attendants filch too.
CLERK
Could be. Could be. Still, in order to get back your bag, you have to enumerate some items that were only in your bag. Management requirement, Miss. Our policy.
WOMAN
Sure. I had tampons.
CLERK
[Checks.] So did the others. Any other personal hygiene items?
WOMAN
None.
CLERK
What about a purple dildo?
WOMAN
[Laughs.] That’s Fatima’s bag! We had male strippers that night and they gave away goodies. Who would have thought that she needs one! She just came back from her honeymoon. She’s so inventive. I went to her station to ask for the Lysol spray and she was with a hairdryer stuck in a client’s panties drying her ass! She said I should use matches instead of spray. So that’s where the bathroom supplies disappear. My boss said Fatima and her family, all Copacabana employees, take home everything they can. Termites.
CLERK
We still have two more bags to choose from.
WOMAN
Right. Well, I had something else in it... I had a dream in it. Now I’ve lost it.
CLERK
I was just kidding earlier, Miss. We’re the Lost Property Unit. Property. Things, Miss. I can offer you bagfuls of my lost dreams. I spent a fortune on my education and here I am, at the MTA Lost Property Unit waiting for my breakfast break.
WOMAN
No, no, I really lost a dream! I typed it. I remember I typed it but it’s not in the computer. I don’t know what it meant. In it I walk with a chestnut-hair Romanian actor, Mircea Diaconu. He’s a comedian whom I don’t like in particular, so I don’t know why he is in my dream! We hurry on a sunny busy street, then we run downhill, as if there is a stadium uphill, but we run downhill, with my son at a younger age, seven or so, skipping around us. We’re about to do the laundry. I hold the detergent in my hand, Mircea has a bundle of clothing or a plastic garbage bin filled with them, and we say nothing exciting. I’m grumpy that he doesn’t carry the detergent too. He should carry more weight than I. I’m weaker. We walk down on such abrupt stairs! I pass him my burden. Then I take a few steps down, but he is ahead of me, and I just give up, it’s too dangerous and my sandals are cute but horrible to walk on these steps. I clamber back up the stairs and I look for the elevator. A lace curtain flutters in the air. On the windowsill there is a strawberry pie still in its baking pan. Oh, how lovely is the ruby jelly encasing heart-shaped strawberry slices! A girl shows her face at the window. I don’t want to scare her, “Hi! I’m looking for the elevator door.” Then behind her, through the lace curtain, her mom, dark like a West Indian woman, friendly, lonely, softly says, “Pull the door behind the lace curtain and press the button.”
I wake up remembering with delight the color of strawberry jelly pie.
But, like always, my arms are tense and my fists are clenched. I don’t know how I do it. I make a point of going to bed perfectly relaxed, like Gandhi, and I wake up a boxer! I’ll handcuff myself one night. I don’t know if it is because of the rain, but I have a pain in my shoulders, and hands, like muscle fever. Look, please, maybe my dream is in the bag. I don’t want to retype it again. I need to spare my fingers.
CLERK
It’s rheumatism. Is it cold where you live?
WOMAN
No. But at work it’s a freezer.
CLERK
That’s what it is. I’ve had it for years. This office. Use heating salt pads. Swim in the ocean in the summer. Salty water is good. No, nowhere in sight. You may dream new ones.
WOMAN
I don’t. I stopped dreaming.
CLERK
Dream one with me, the Lost Property slob. A nightmare. Anyway, may I see your photo ID? [She obliges.] Thank you. Please, sign here and here. Here is your bag.
[Checks her bag. Yes, a folded piece of paper in one of her books. She gives him a postcard.]
WOMAN
Thank you. Come to Copacabana! We have free buffet on Tuesdays and Thursdays! Free entrance with this postcard.
CLERK
I can interpret your dream.
WOMAN
You can?
CLERK
My degree is in Dream Interpretation. At the time of the dream, did you complain, gossip about your boss or co-workers at the club with a friend you trust?
WOMAN
Yes. I wrote a clever complain letter against the top management and showed it to my boss. They cut down our pay from $70 to $50 a night without telling us. So for a week we worked expecting the usual paycheck. It’s illegal, but they get away with it. Most of the workers are scared immigrants.
I thought we’d make public our grievances.
CLERK
Something like washing your dirty laundry in public?
WOMAN
In a way.
CLERK
But then you felt she was not shouldering her responsibility?
WOMAN
Yes!
CLERK
And you retreated in your inner circle, family.
WOMAN
Yes!
CLERK
Still you’re proud of your letter.
WOMAN
Proud.
CLERK
The strawberry slices are in the shape of your heart, and the red jelly is your blood, so you made something you put your heart into it and you meant to nurture others with it, but...
Interesting, now you find doing the laundry confining.
WOMAN
Wow! What a clever dream! Thank you. I should send out that letter.
CLERK
Yes. Your dreams will come back after that, and you’ll relax. Gandhi was a willful boxer. Fight your fights, otherwise you’ll implode. Look at me. I’ve been there.
[Blackout.]

New York City
September 13, 2013

 July 2016: Pierre Bienaim√©, reporting for Deutsche Welle on anti-consumerist activities in NYC included my alarmed soundbite about broken umbrellas.


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