On a drizzly Sunday evening my first summer in New York City, I was walking in Chelsea when a man rode up beside me on a bike. I really don’t want to bother you, he began, a baleful look in his brown eyes, but this ridiculous thing just happened to me. He explained that the costumes he had designed for a Broadway show had accidentally been locked in his apartment, and he had lost his keys. He just needed to borrow a little money so he could get in touch with his assistants and sort the whole thing out.
The glamour and urgency of the man’s dilemma charmed me, and I agreed to lend him the money. We went to a deli where I broke a larger bill by buying a pack of gum I did not want; I laughed and offered him a piece. The man was poised and grateful throughout, assuring me that I was “doing a service for the theater world.” I gave him the address of my office in Midtown and he promised me that someone would return the money Monday morning, first thing.
Monday came and went with no rushed assistant appearing at my cubicle, no complementary front-row tickets, no appreciatory bouquet of flowers for a small but life-saving loan. Tuesday, nothing, and as I returned to my computer terminal each day it began to dawn on me that the biking costume designer might have been a biking crook after all. I did not feel angry, though. My first impression of the man lingered, and I could not separate my subsequent disillusionment from the romantic circumstances under which we had met. I wanted to believe that it was possible for a bored, entry-level employee living in a cramped apartment to brush up against a famous costume designer. For a moment, he had made me feel like I had an important place in the workings of a city where often I felt I had no place at all.