While on a lunch break back in January, the Observer found a wallet on the sidewalk in front of the Arkansas Times office. I didn’t recognize the name or picture on the driver’s license, but once I had picked the thing up — when I could have just looked the other way — obligation took hold. I felt it was my duty to reunite it with its owner, morality getting tangled in the mundane, as it so often does. I returned to my desk burdened.
After being laughed at for asking some co-workers if I should call the nonemergency police, I caught a glimpse of someone crossing the street outside with a striking resemblance to the man I was on the lookout for. I bolted outside, my fellow editors gathered around the window to watch the wallet’s homecoming moment.
The good news was he did indeed look exactly like the photo in the wallet. The bad news was that his wallet was already in its rightful place, proving that this one must belong to his doppelganger. Even so, I showed him the ID, hoping it might change his mind. He acknowledged the strange similarity in appearance, but was resolute; it wasn’t his. I had no choice but to believe him.
Next, I took to Facebook. Despite having a commonplace name, the wallet’s owner wasn’t difficult to locate, though his profile appeared entirely inactive. I sent a note to him and each of his three (!) total friends, crossing my fingers that my words wouldn’t end up in message request purgatory. Miraculously, one of them responded within a couple hours and gave me the phone number of the person I was trying to find.
The universe was taking it easy on me, requiring so little in order for me to feel like an exemplary human. It turns out the wallet’s owner worked in the same building as me. We met in the lobby, just dozens of steps from my cubicle. Appreciative but reticent, he blamed the runaway wallet on a faulty pair of pants and was on his way.
Half a year later, I came upon another abandoned wallet. This time, it was in the very lobby where I’d returned the first one, propped up on a windowsill — presumably by someone who wanted to put it out of harm’s way but wasn’t willing to take on the full commitment of being a responsible finder. My virtue was being tested anew.
Something about the wallet — more rectangular than most — was familiar. Inside, I discovered the same driver’s license as before.
How rare is it that someone loses their wallet twice in six months? Does the kind of carelessness that leads someone to lose a wallet in the first place make them more inclined to lose it a second time? Perhaps.
But what about my role in all of this? Obviously, our physical proximity to one another factored into the equation, but it seems exceedingly improbable that I would be the one to find it both times, right? Does the fact that I’m the kind of person who attributes moral significance to wallet reconciliation make me more inclined to find wallets generally, and therefore more inclined to find this particular wallet twice? Perhaps. For all I know, this man could lose his wallet on a daily basis and I just happen to be around a small percentage of the time.
At any rate, I dug up the man’s phone number from my Facebook message archives and called him up. Our meetup was once again underwhelming, more a quick handoff than a celebration of cosmic ridiculousness. He was grateful, but if I were going to glean any greater sense of importance from the encounter, it was going to have to be self-imposed. As we walked away from each other, he cursed his pants, the same pair he’d been wearing the first time we crossed paths.