Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lost and Found

I know you Slopers have been waiting with bated breath to receive my newest Dispatch from Babyville. Well, today is your lucky day. The Spring '09 Park Slope Reader is out, so head to a coffee shop near you and crack it open. And for those of you who enjoy a more instant kind of gratification, just keep reading.

Lost and Found

I’m a loser. Literally. As my mother is fond of noting, I would lose my head if it wasn’t attached to my body. So thank God for necks. And thank God, too, for New Yorkers. Because almost every time I lose something of value, my fellow city dwellers deliver it right back to me, even when the delivery is of considerable inconvenience to them. Contrary to what the rest of the nation might believe, we are a friendly, helpful bunch. Sure, we steal taxis and take other people’s umbrellas, and wouldn’t hold an elevator for the Dalai Lama. But if you were to, say, drop your wallet on the train platform at 116th street, you might find it on your doorstep in Park Slope by the time you got home, shepherded there by a stranger who happened to live two doors down. If you were to forget your cell phone in a cab one night after one too many cocktails, you might find it in an envelope in your mailbox only a day later. And if you were to leave your stroller on the boardwalk in Coney Island, you might just find it waiting for you in the men’s bathroom. Really.

This last strange turn of events occurred last August. Summer camp was over, and I had both my 3 year-old and my 18 month-old all to myself for a whole, long, hot month.

After a week-long blitz, the thought of entering our local playground made me want to knock myself unconscious. So I decided it was high time for me and the small fries to exploit the riches of NYC. Be advised that this sounds like a lot more fun than it actually is. And so it was that one August morning we found ourselves on the Q headed to Surf Avenue.

Since my little sister Courtney was home from college, I roped her into coming along, a decision she soon came to regret. Who could blame her? Our subway ride consisted of Sec pulling the hair of fellow riders and tossing her Goldfish on the floor before shoveling the tainted snacks into her mouth while Primo sang “What do you do with a scurvy pirate?” at full volume. By the time we got to the boardwalk, we were thoroughly knackered. We peeled off our outerwear, stashed it in the stroller basket and the kids ran towards the ocean with delight.

“What are we going to do with this?’ Courtney asked, pointing to my Maclaren stroller. I’d bought the stroller three and a half years earlier, on sale, and it had dutifully served both my kids since, bearing my son’s forty-five pound heft like a trooper, even tolerating the tonnage of Primo with Sec on his lap (not an approved usage, I might add). But lately, Old Faithful had begun to show signs of wear and tear, namely the squealing noise it made when you pushed it, the tendency of the front wheel to roll off without warning, and the fact that the mesh seat was so saggy my kids’ knees touched their chests when they rode. Not what I’d call a hot commodity.

“Just leave it there, next to the boardwalk,” I told my sister, “It’ll be fine.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she warned. “What if someone takes it?”

“Nobody is going to take that piece of crap,” I said over my shoulder, as I chased the kids across the sand.

An hour or two later, covered in sand, we headed back to the boardwalk.

“Uh oh,” said Courtney, “where’s the stroller?”

Because, of course, the damn thing was gone.

“Maybe this isn’t where we left it,” I ventured.

But a quick scan of the boardwalk made it clear that there was no stroller anywhere, as far as the eye could see. I knew what was coming.

“What did I tell you?” began Courtney, who is prone to acting freakishly like our mother when there’s an “I-told-you-so” to be dealt, “I knew someone would take it!”

Meanwhile Primo rattled off his list of complaints, an extensive list which included more or less every discomfort that could afflict a child: “I’m thirsty. I’m hungry. I’m hot. I’m itchy. I have to do pee-pee,” he whined. And then, for no apparent reason, he fell onto the sand and began to howl, “My foot! My fooooooooooot! It hurts!”

The which startled the baby who began to bawl so hard huge strings of drool fell from her mouth onto Courtney’s shoulder, which set Courtney off on her own whining streak.

And so, with everyone crying and whining and half-nude, since our clothes were in the stroller, we proceeded into the women’s bathroom. A real traveling circus.

“How are we going to go home with no clothes or shoes?” Courtney wanted to know, as I irrigated Primo’s invisible injury.

“And are we supposed to carry this kid all the way back to your house?” she asked of screaming Seconda.

“Maybe there’s a lost and found,” I said optimistically. Courtney shot me a “Yeah, right” look.

And sure enough, she was right, as the bathroom attendant confirmed.

“No, we’d don’t have nothing like that,” she said, and then, to a mother and child in a stall she bellowed, “Hey! There’s no changing in here! Read the signs! NO CHANGING! Says right there.”

We were just creeping out when she asked, “You lose something?”

I explained that we were missing a stroller and she sucked in her lips a little.

“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah,” she said, “That’s your stroller?”

“Do you know where it is?” I asked, hopefully.

“ANGIE!” she shouted, and a much younger woman wearing a Parks Department vest joined our conference.

“You know that stroller we saw?” the attendant told Angie, “That’s this lady’s.”

“Yeah, OK, I know what you’re talking about,” Angie said confidently, “It belongs to you?”

I nodded.

She led Courtney, the kids and me across the boardwalk to a middle-aged homeless man sitting on a bench.

“Henry, this lady lost her stroller,” Angie explained, “You know where it is?”

Henry thought about it for a minute and then smiled.

“That’s your stroller?” he asked.

“Yes,” we all replied, in chorus.

“I got it right here for you,” Henry said, standing. “I knew you’d be back for it so I put it away. You know, somebody will just walk off with something that that.”

“That’s what I said,” Courtney piped in.

We followed Henry back to the bathroom area where, I figured, there was in fact a lost and found, or some kind of stroller parking area I hadn’t noticed.

“I got it right here for you,” said Henry reassuringly, “Right here.”

And then he walked into the men’s bathroom and came out a minute later, pushing my stroller.

“Mommy why was our stroller in the BATHROOM?” Primo asked.

I ushered him into the stroller and turned to Henry, “Wow, thank you. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.”

“Well, like I said, I didn’t want somebody to take it.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” I consented.

Then we stood awkwardly for a minute, while I tried to figure out if some kind of reward was in order. I mean, was this a thwarted grand stroller theft I was dealing with here or just a Good Samaritan who, like my mother, was fond of doing “helpful” things that made life much more complicated for me? Did Henry figure I’d just know somehow to ask the bathroom attendant about my stroller’s whereabouts? And in the event that he was a straight-shooting do-gooder, was it insulting to tip him? Should I send him a fruit basket instead? How the hell do you respond to a guy who takes your stroller and puts it in the men’s bathroom of Coney Island for safekeeping?

“Thanks again,” said my sister, pressing a few dollars into Henry’s hand. And just like that, we were on the road again.

Over cheese dogs and lemonade, we discovered that not only were all our belongings still in the stroller basket, we’d even gained a few things -- a mostly-used tube of sun block, a distressed baseball cap and a woman’s flip-flop.

“Only in New York,” Courtney marveled.

“What is only in New York?” asked Primo.

I considered a moment, chewing some waffle fries.

“The best things in life,” I replied, forking him an extra-cheesy bite. “The best things in life are only in New York.”