It was a few days before Christmas and I had a lot on my mind as I rode the train from the News Corp MetroTech Office for community journalism in Downtown Brooklyn to Sheepshead Bay to cover the Manhattan Beach Civic Association.
It was a bitter cold windless night. Normally the Manhattan Beach Civic Association was a call-in job where I’d ring up the president and a few sources to cobble together a local news story, but like I said I had a lot on my mind. And I reckoned the long train ride plus a good mile walk from the Sheepshead Bay train station to the meeting would give me serious thinking time.
It had been four years since I left my wife and our youngest son in our upstate New York house to come back to the city, and although the breakup was something I needed to do, it still hurt back then and still does now some 20 years later.
My wife had her finer points but making and managing money wasn’t one of them. After I left and landed the staff reporter job, I’d send half my take-home pay every two weeks so she could pay the mortgage and bills while I lived in a tiny basement apartment.
This didn’t work out, however, when despite what I sent her she never got around to paying any of the bills. After being several months behind on the mortgage, electric, telephone, water, and whatnot, I stopped sending her all that money. Instead, I just had her send me all the bills and I gave her $200 a month for miscellaneous expenses.
But there was always an unexpected something, and on this bitterly cold day she had called me to say they were out of heating oil, and she and my son were camped out in her bedroom with an electric heater, while she had a kerosene heater downstairs to keep the water pipes from becoming frozen and bursting.
Normally, the heating oil people would give us a hundred dollars of oil on credit, but my wife had already used that up and they were demanding back payment of $350 or we wouldn’t get the fuel. The problem was, I was still a week away from payday and didn’t have the money.
So I got off the train and began walking towards Emmons Avenue and the footbridge across the bay with fingers numb and my nose stinging from the cold. Then as I cut across the parking lot of the El Greco Diner on Emmons Avenue, I spotted a ripped half of a fifty-dollar bill. I scooped it and looked around and saw other money denominations including 20’s and 100’s all ripped in half and forming a trail up the steps leading to the diner entrace.
I looked around and both the diner parking lot and diner itself were pretty empty save for a few cars and the diner cashier. I quickly scooped up and pocked the loot and made my way to the meeting.
Later, when I got home, I taped and matched up the money, which came to $480 plus one fifty that had no match to it, and that I still have to this day in the bottom of a shoebox with other knick-knacks from my life.
Two days later, on the day before Christmas Eve, I took the train upstate and immediately walked from the train station to the oil company and paid off the bill, insisting that oil be delivered that very day. Then I took a cab to our house just outside the town with a Santa hat on my head.
My wife, as she does, had done up the house with Christmas lights and had a small silver Wal-Mart Christmas tree. It was beautiful and I came laden with wool hats, scarves, gloves, slippers and such for gifts. And in the gloves for my son, I stuffed a twenty in one of the fingers, and in one of the slippers for my wife, I stuffed in a fifty. It made me so happy to see their faces when I told them to try on the gloves and slippers and they found the money.
“What the hell,” I said when they pulled out the greenbacks. “How could that have gotten there? I guess Santa decided to pull a few surprises this year.”
This is a true story, and I told it to my girlfriend the other night with the moon shining through her bedroom window.
“You manifested that money,” she said. “You thought it into being.”
“Maybe,” I said, “but I prefer to think of its coming to me as a miracle. A Christmas miracle.”