According to Merriam-Webster, it means “a power or process of transforming something common into something special.” It’s not what I would call your every day, run-of-the-mill kind of word, but I randomly saw the word twice within a fifteen minute time period. First, as I was waiting in line to order a sandwich, I glanced upon the word on an advertisement. Second, it graced the book chapter that I woman was reading next to me on the 6 train. I was reminded of childhood episodes of Sesame Street. Boys and girls, the word of the day is . . . alchemy.
Maybe there is something alchemic in the art of turning a random coincidence into meaning. Maybe I was turning something common — a common event — into something special.
But there was nothing common about the two events that happened hours later.
First, I randomly received a check for $189 from the hospital that I stayed overnight in way back in January 2008. I have no idea why the hospital sent me a check almost 22 months after I stayed here. There was no explanation in the envelope, just a check. Also, how often do hospitals reimburse? Color me confused, color me $189 richer.
After leaving work, my windfall fresh on my mind, I headed to the bank to deposit it lest they decide to take it back. As I crossed the street to the corner of 33rd and Park Avenue, I saw man walking straight toward me. At first I thought he was going to let me pass, the street was busy with people leaving work, but we ended up doing this sort of awkward dance that people do when they’re trying to not run into each other. I noticed he sort of looked homeless and it was as if he was intentionally blocking me from entering the bank.
“I was wondering if I could ask you a strange question?” he said.
Great. Fantastic. What does this guy want??
Before you think that I am uncharitable to homeless people, especially in the wake receiving an unexpected $189, let me explain what happened next.
He started with his speech. “Don’t worry, I’m gay.”
It was a disarming thing to say, especially to a woman in New York. Translation? Don’t worry, I won’t rape you! Meanwhile as he talked, some explanation of some situation that required my help, I was a little transfixed by the poor state of his teeth. They were either non existent or small, discolored nubs. Anyway . . .
“. . . . you see I’ve done something stupid and I’ve locked myself out of my apartment.”
Something clicked in my brain. Wait a second, I thought. WAIT A FUCKING SECOND! The speech. It was familiar. Because that’s what it was. A speech. A con.
Flashback to December 2004. I was new to New York City, painfully broke, and painfully naive. While crossing Washington Square Park one evening, I ran into the same man with the same exact story. I’m gay! Help me get uptown! I need cab money! I locked myself out of my apartment! I need to make an appointment for some job! Except that time I gave the bastard $20 because I believed him. He even asked where I worked and swore he would come back the next day with my $20, thanking me profusely. (Suck it, naysayers, I am charitable. And gullible.) After I had handed over the money — the smallest bill that I had — I knew that it was a mistake, but it was too late. He was already off on his bike. Sometime later I happened to read a description of the same guy and the same scam on Gothamist, confirming what I already suspected.
Five years later I was face to face again with the con artist. And yes, it was the same guy . . . except time had not been kind on his teeth. (Karma!) In city of 8 MILLION PEOPLE, I run into the same man? What are the odds?! Had I remembered all the details of our last encounter as I do now, I would have thumped him on the chest and demanded my $20 back and perhaps my good faith too. But I remembered enough to walk away from him with a curt, “Sorry, I can’t help you.”
And then I deposited my $189 in the bank. It’s like my original $20 made interest over the last five years.
How’s that for alchemy?