In Philly I spoke for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Bill O'Reilly warmed up the crowd by calling them cross-eyed liberals and storming offstage.
I always thought Bill had to work his way up to that anger, maybe do some stretching. Turns out that he rolls out of bed that way.
"Fe fi fo fum, I smell libertarians."
For the talk I received a crystal statue that figures prominently into my plans for world domination. The others stole glances at it while debating politics, headlines, civil rights. I contributed only when I had something important to say like, "How come The Hulk's shirt came off, but never his pants?"
Whatever I lacked in social grace I made up for in Jim Beam -- "Give your brain the afternoon off." Mr. Beam was still in charge when I, somewhere between the cab and the airport curb, lost my wallet (estimated distance: five paces).
I searched my pockets at first confidently, invincibly, then with that sinking sensation you get when your car is stolen. You consider every explanation, including alien abduction, before sitting where you are and saying, "They'll be back ... They'll be back."
It's strange to be without I.D. You're turned away by airport bouncers and left to wander the earth like a fugitive until authorities arrive in their hovermobiles to scan your eyeballs and whisk you into a steaming manhole where you live out your days serving Authorized Citizens.
Eyeing the food cart, I thought about lifting a Buffalo wing. The only thing that stopped me was Jean Valjean from "Les Miserables"...
("What have I done? Become a thief in the night, a dog on the run. I have fallen so far and the hour so late that nothing remains but the cry of my hate."(
No, I would not break into song; I would call my ex-wife and tough-love friendYahaira, who assured me that once I got over my poopy pants, I would find the blessing. Maybe, for instance, the scheduled plane had a virus such as Bill O' Reilly.
I got busy calling Visa, Experian, airport security, the library (we can't have someone reading under my name). I left a voicemail for the PPA, who is to cabbies the Queen of Wonderland.
"The driver is in departures instead of arrivals?! OFF WITH HIS HEAD!"
Then I roamed the airport for empty seats. To sleep on. Like lawn trash. So it goes.
From the fetal position I watched people whiz by, all smiles, Authorized Citizens. Since becoming homeless, that was the thing I longed for most: eye contact. I felt like The Ghost of Terminal Four.
At which point a couple sat down and gave me sandwich money. I thanked them 15 times and asked if I could write a poem or something. The woman pet my head -- literally -- and off they went.
My phone rang. Enter Mario Tapia, ex-father-in-law and Philly native.
"Yahaira says you need a place to stay."
Mario arrived on his white steed (Ford Bronco) and took me to Chili's, where we ate -- if you please -- Buffalo wings.
("He gave me hope when hope was gone. He gave me strength to journey on. Who am I? Jean Valjean!"(
Next morning, Mario built me a Tony-Robbins-sized hoagie, expressing his love in number of pickles (approximately 62). My other in-laws showed up with hugs and spare change, making me feel like a jackhole for not calling.
Mario returned me newly showered to Terminal Four, where I received a call from the Queen ... as if she were watching.
"Jason, we found your wallet. The driver is on his way. ON WITH HIS HEAD!"
The cabbie, Ghebgreigzi "I'd Like to Buy a Vowel" Abiher, apologized for the screwup. The wallet had slipped beneath his seat and so on. I tipped him fifty bucks and wheeled over to check-in, where the clerk, amphetamine-level happy, waived my cancellation fee and placed me on the next flight out.
Have you ever been treated so well that you could almost believe in Santa Claus? Not only did I receive the red carpet from family I had just overlooked, but the whole world leant a hand. I have since been giving sandwich money to the homeless and mailed to Mario a wallet reading, "Backup (just in case)."
I'm thinking that maybe, under the right circumstances and with the proper amount of pickles, all this love might even reach Bill O'Reilly. We won't know for sure until one of us steals his wallet.