My friend Eddy had flown from New York, where he lives now, to Salt Lake City, where he used to live, and his parents were driving down from Idaho, where he grew up, to collect him for a week’s vacation, though I don’t know if that’s word I would use to describe seven days spent in Idaho.
Eddy’s parents are wonderful salt-of-the-earth types who run a small dairy farm in Preston, Idaho, which you’ll recall was the setting of “Napoleon Dynamite.” (Eddy reports that the film is highly accurate, which I had not doubted, and that he often had to be shushed when he watched it because he kept saying things like, “Hey, that’s my high school!” and “Hey, I’ve been on that street!”) Both of his parents were raised in rural Idaho, too, which perhaps explains Eddy’s mom’s dialect. Upon being introduced to me on the day in question, she declared, “Well, hi, Ereek!,” with the “i” in my name coming out “ee.” Air-reek. I made no comment, for already I liked Eddy’s parents, and already I could see they were about to invite me to lunch.
Sure enough, we found ourselves a few minutes later across the street from my apartment at P.F. Chang’s, a chain restaurant that Eddy’s folks visit whenever they hitch up the wagon and head down to the big city for provisions. Mom thought we should get the lettuce wraps for an appetizer, though she wasn’t sure which vegetable was involved. “Cabbeej? Is it cabbeej?” she asked. Which it wasn’t, of course, not cabbeej, nor even cabbage, but lettuce. But again, I point out these incidents not to mock Eddy’s mother, who I find delightful and who paid for lunch, but merely to observe the quaint humor to be found in everyday life. I’m a lover of mankind’s foibles, as you know.
Not long after the cabbeej incident, I noticed a waiter in another part of the restaurant who looked familiar. Since Eddy and I sometimes traveled in the same circles when he lived here, I asked him if he recognized the fellow, and he said he looked familiar to him, too, but he didn’t know from where. We dropped the matter and went back to discussing Jay Leno, of whom Eddy’s parents are big fans. (“We saw eem the night he had on, oh what’s his name? The guy who wrote ‘Fahrenheit 11’?”)
A few weeks later, I was exiting my apartment building when I saw the P.F. Chang’s waiter leaving another building. So that was it. He lives there, or knows someone who does. Mystery solved, not that it was a very compelling mystery to begin with.
* * *
The next day, I was walking past the Red Rock Brewery a few blocks from my apartment when I saw a wallet on the sidewalk. I examined it and discovered that it contained a $50 bill. Much to my dismay, it also contained a driver’s license, a document that is notorious for featuring its owner’s name and address. This meant I would have to return the wallet, $50 bill and all, to its rightful owner.
I cursed my luck. Why can’t I be one of those people who find wallets with thousands of dollars in them and no identification, where it’s ethically justifiable to just keep the money? Or better yet, a wallet with thousands of dollars AND identification, so you do the right thing by returning it, only to have the owner be so stinking rich he lets you keep the money as a reward for your honesty? That way, you get the bonus points for having integrity, and you also get a ton of money, which is really the best reward for integrity that I can think of.
But no. Only $50, not thousands, and I had to give it back. I trudged home with the accursed wallet in my pocket, noting bitterly that it occupied more space than my own empty wallet did. By the time I got home, I had almost rationalized why it would be OK to keep the $50. Surely if anyone else had found it, he or she would have kept the money, I reasoned. The minute you lose your wallet, you forfeit the right to expect that you’ll get it back intact. That’s just how it is in the modern world. Furthermore, why had the guy lost it in the first place? It was outside Red Rock Brewery, a popular brew-pub restaurant whose food, I have to assume, tastes good when accompanied by alcohol. (I know it’s lousy by itself, anyway.) Had he gotten so drunk at Red Rock that he had carelessly dropped his wallet on the way out? Well, anyone who could afford to get drunk at Red Rock and STILL have $50 in cash left over must be extremely well-off. Surely he wouldn’t miss the $50, if indeed he even remembered having it, what with all the drinking he had done. Why, a man that poisoned by alcoholism practically deserves to have his money stolen. It serves him right!
Oh, I’m good with the rationalizing. But finally I forced myself to do the honest thing by dropping the wallet, complete with a kind note, in an envelope and putting it in the mail. I spent 84 cents on postage, bringing my losses in this incident to a total of $50.84.
* * *
Not long after that, I was at ComedySportz in Provo, where I am tangentially involved. In the audience was the P.F. Chang’s waiter, marking the third time I had seen him in recent weeks, and the third different locale. Clearly he was stalking me, which I found flattering but disturbing, but mostly flattering, and in fact not actually disturbing at all.
* * *
A few days later, I opened my apartment door to find a man standing there, preparing to knock. He asked if I was Eric, and I said I was. He told me his name, and said he was the man whose wallet I had found. His office is nearby, so he wanted to drop off a thank-you card while he was in the neighborhood. Apparently, he was neither wealthy nor alcoholic, but simply a white-collar working man who had dropped his wallet on a sidewalk near where he’d had lunch. He was glad to have it returned, and surprised the $50 was still intact. (See?! I told you he didn’t expect to get it back.)
The thank-you card said this:
“Eric — Thank you so much for returning my wallet. It was an amazing relief to see it again, especially with cash in it. I am so impressed that someone would take the time to return it, and not keep it for themselves. Thanks again. You made my day. I hope you like Chinese food. I appreciate what you’ve done.”
“I hope you like Chinese food”? What does THAT mean?! I was alarmed at what I presumed to be code of some kind. I do like Chinese food, but only in the literal sense, not in whatever sicko metaphorical connotation he meant it.
Oh. Then I saw that he had included with the thank-you card a $25 gift card to P.F. Chang’s. Twenty-five dollars at P.F. Chang’s! I’d still rather have had the $50.84, but hey, $25 was nothing to sneeze at. Rather than being a loathsome burden, honesty had actually paid off!
I used the gift card a few days later when a friend and I went to lunch there. The waiter who had been making cameos in my life was working that day, and it finally dawned on me: He’s in “Napoleon Dynamite.” He plays Don, Summer’s uber-blond jock boyfriend who occasionally torments Napoleon. It was satisfying to have resolution to the whole affair: the wallet, the money, P.F. Chang’s and the waiter. To celebrate, my friend and I had some of those delicious cabeej wraps.
Many thanks for Jerilyn for 1) knowing the character's name in "Napoleon Dynamite" and 2) locating a picture of him for me. Surely her obsessive knowledge of that film will pay off in many other rewarding ways, too.
The actor's name is Trevor Snarr, by the way, and a sad post-script to this story is that when I called P.F. Chang's to verify that it was, in fact, him who I saw there (and that I was not merely hallucinating), I was told he no longer worked there. The person I spoke to did not indicate where Trevor is now, but I like to think that, like most actors, he's waiting tables somewhere.