“You can always tell the veterans; they bring magazines to the cafeteria,” he said. It was lunch time. We were waiting for the elevator. They are notoriously slow in the afternoon.
I turned down my iPod. “Yeah, I’m not so good with the down time.”
A few minutes later, we exited the building into the fray of a Times Square bustling with matinee goers, and waved each other off into the crowd. I turned my iPod up.
My lunch time routine is fairly, well, routine: I walk to an organic health food place called Green Symphony, grab some stuff, and walk back. It’s all of two blocks. I’m outside for less than fifteen minutes. It’s often the only direct sunlight I see all day. It’s down time. And I never spend it without protection: my iPod and sunglasses.
Today was only slightly different. There was a fruit stand on the corner of 43d & Eighth. I reached into my pocket for a quarter, and felt a coin slip down my leg. I let it go, figuring someone else could use it more then me. I got a banana, and walked on to Green Symphony. I got a salad (with tofu, sunflower seeds, broccoli, carrots, and a hard boiled egg). Standing in line I noticed that my left arm felt lighter. I looked down at my wrist for the time, and saw only a pale wisp of skin where my watch had once been.
You remember the watch, right? The one about which I wrote:
I have a wicked cool wristwatch. I always feel dressed up when I’m wearing it (which is always), even if I’m in pajama bottoms, a t-shirt and flip flops. Plus, it keeps terrific time.
The one that I “set it forward a few seconds” because “I wanna’ get there first, and feel it fully every time.”
I walked back to the office thinking I’d taken it off. Nope. I stepped back outside and retraced my steps meticulously. Nothing. I asked the fruit guy, and the Green Symphony guy. Nope. Nope. I returned to work to sit blank-faced through a meeting. Fumbling nervously with change in my pocket, I found a single, cold and smooth watch link. A clue. The scent of hope. I struck out on a ‘CSI’ mission to reconstruct the incident. I stepped inside 255 West 43d and asked the security if someone could dig around the space below the sidewalk grates. He made a call. I sat in reception and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited…
In the interim, I learned that 255 West 43d Street is the old Times Square Hotel. It’s now a 650+ room, mixed-income housing initiative for actors, seniors, AIDS patients, veterans, and local employees. There was a woman playing show tunes on the piano in the lobby. There was resident-created art on the walls. It was a bee hive of activity.
Twenty minutes later, a woman named Sharleen introduced herself smiling. We walked outside, and crept over the grates while another man swept around with a broom. I explained the events as I had reconstructed them. She was rich with empathy, but alas, our efforts failed: there was no watch. It was lost and gone forever.
“Maybe it happened for a reason,” Sharleen said smiling.
My immediate instinct upon heading off into the crowd was to get myself coffee and a cookie — a little pick me up in the face of my loss. But as I’ve made great strides in refined sugars and afternoon caffeine in the last month, I headed to Jamba Juice instead, and settled for an extra shot of protein.
I tell myself that it was only a thing. I remind myself that, though it cost nearly as much my first car (a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit), it’s just an object, material. It was my only extravagance, the first and only superfluous item I’ve purchased as an adult. It was simple, classic, elegant, and cool. And it is lost and gone forever.
And so I’m working on the down time.