Published in The East Hampton Star
It was to be a pleasant dinner this July evening, just my daughter, my ex-husband, and me at a restaurant in Southampton. Fred would be visiting from Nassau County, and the three of us would celebrate my milestone birthday. “Be here at 6:30, okay?” Suzanne had said when she called the day before. “Don’t be late, Mom.”
I made sure I was dressed and ready to drive from my home in East Hampton to the restaurant by 5:45. Because of the summer traffic, I would take the back roads.
Once in the car, I realized I was low on gas. Would I make it? At the local Getty station I decided to get just enough gas to get myself to Southampton.
And there, across the divider at the next pump, was Alec Baldwin. God, he was good-looking. So tall and broad-shouldered, with that sensuous mouth and big, sexy eyes. I’d talked to Alec several times; he lived in Amagansett and was often around town. We were introduced more than once but always in the company of other people. He probably wouldn’t remember my name, but I certainly knew his.
“Hi Alec,” I thought of saying, “how have you been?” How did I look, I wondered, in my white slacks and black blouse, silver earrings, and sunglasses; my light red hair blowing in the summer breeze? Not good enough for Alec to stop pumping gas and look my way, obviously.
I took my credit card out of my wallet, pushed it in and out of the machine, and prepared to fill up.
“Oh, Alec,” I rehearsed, “do you remember me?”
No, not that. He’d say no, and then I’d feel rejected.
“Hi, Alec, so good to see you again!” Yeah, that sounded okay. So what if he’d look at me, wondering now who the hell is she? I doubted he would be rude; he’d at least pretend to know me.
I started pumping. Two gallons, that would do it. “Alec, how nice to see you. Did you just fly in from the coast?” Locals asked this of each other in Waldbaum’s, looking for a reaction from the tourists.
In my daydreaming state, I was careful to throw my credit card back inside the car, onto the driver’s seat, so I wouldn’t forget it. And when I turned around, ready, finally, for my dramatic encounter with Alec, he was back inside his car, ready to drive away.
Alec. Oh, Alec, don’t go! But he couldn’t hear what I was thinking, of course, so my chance for a one-on-one chat with him was over. Damn.
I replaced the gas cap, got in the car, and took off. Pumping gas and ogling Alec had taken almost 15 minutes of my time. Both Suzanne and Fred would be critical; they were both very prompt. Maybe I should call and say I’d be late. On second thought, no. Just get there A.S.A.P.
I drove west on Montauk Highway, and when I reached over to put my credit card, now on the dashboard, back into my wallet, it wasn’t there. What on earth? I felt all over the seat, trying not to take my eyes off the road, but . . . no wallet. I pulled over, my chest constricting suddenly, fear and panic moving in. The wallet was gone.
I quickly made a U-turn and raced back to the gas station. I must have dropped it on the ground. Alec? Nah, Alec wouldn’t steal my wallet. But what about the attendant?
I was back at the station, at the pump where I had filled up minutes ago. No wallet. “Did you happen to see it?” I asked the attendant, not really sure he’d tell me the truth.
“No, ma’am,” he said and offered me his phone. “You want to report it to the police?”
My heart was racing; I’d misplaced wallets before — lost them or had them stolen. All the credit cards, the library card, the driver’s license — everything had to be reported missing or stolen. What a pain. How dumb could I be?
First I called the police, using my cellphone, and then I called Suzanne. “Go ahead and have dinner without me,” I said, explaining the situation. I hung up quickly so that I could start canceling credit card accounts. I might as well use my mind constructively while waiting for the police. Keeping busy helped ease the hyperventilating.
I had made two calls and canceled two credit cards by the time the police officer arrived. While he listened to me rant about losing my wallet and how Alec Baldwin distracted me — but he shouldn’t put that in the police blotter, for God’s sake — Suzanne called back. “Mom, we really want you to come to dinner.”
“It’s so late, “I told her. “But it’s sweet of you to call. We’ll do it another time.”
“Here,” she said, “Dad wants to talk to you.”
I finished speaking with the officer, and then Fred was on the line. “Eileen, why don’t you just come to Southampton? All those calls can be made later. You won’t get penalized. Relax. Come join us, and take care of it later.”
He made it sound so easy.
“Okay,” I said, “but I don’t know when I’ll get there.”
“Come right now.”
So I did. As I drove I tried to stop berating myself for not paying attention, for being preoccupied with Alec, who was probably off to a party somewhere with a beautiful woman by now, not realizing the chaos he had created in my life.
The back roads were clear, and I made it to Southampton in good time. But I was a full hour late. I parked the car in the restaurant lot, resisting the temptation to make a few more calls to cancel credit cards, and walked inside.
And there they were — my daughter, my ex, my two brothers and their wives, my cousin, and two colleagues of my daughter’s.
My milestone birthday celebration. I smiled as cameras flashed, hoping the worry lines on my forehead wouldn’t show on the photos.
“I’m starving,” my younger brother said, kissing me on the cheek. “They wouldn’t let me order until you got here.” He had traveled from western Nassau County after working hard all day at his mechanic’s shop. “I almost got a speeding ticket so I could be here on time,” he said, glaring at me.
Suzanne kissed me and showed me to the seat of honor. I had almost ruined the party, which she must have been planning for weeks.
Everyone toasted me and gave me gifts — silly things mostly, like a large pair of ears to wear over my own when my hearing started to go; also, a pair of thongs for my feet that were clearly marked for each foot, for when my sight was failing.
“We’re glad you finally made it,” my cousin said. “We were ready to get in our cars and show up at your house.”
I told everyone about my misadventure, and about Alec Baldwin, in between eating and talking and opening gifts. The time went quickly, and there was a lot of laughter. Soon we were outside in the parking lot saying our goodbyes.
When I got home, I made all the necessary phone calls. There wasn’t much money in the wallet, maybe $50. And I didn’t carry photos; I had lost two sets of photos earlier in my life, along with the wallets that held them.
The next morning a guy from Springs called me. “I found your wallet,” he said.
“Really! Where?” I held my breath.
On Montauk Highway, near the bowling alley. It must have fallen off your car. Your cards were all over the road.” My credit card compartment — of course! I had taken a card out to pay for the gas and never closed the case. And I left the wallet on top of the trunk, or was it on the roof? I hadn’t a clue; I was too busy thinking about Alec, Mr. Handsome Movie Star.
“How wonderful!” I told the guy whose name, I think, was Nick. “What about the money in the wallet?” That was kept in a separate, zippered compartment.
“No. No, there was no money.”
Which was exactly what I expected him to say. And why didn’t he call me sooner, like last night? No matter; Nick did call; he was returning my cards, useless though they were now, and I decided it was worth it, the $50. I might not even have to buy another wallet, unless too many cars had run over it.
I drove to Nick’s house, already planning my next encounter with Alec Baldwin. I would tell him about the terrible experience of losing my wallet in the gas station, and say it was entirely his fault. Maybe he would invite me to lunch? Or ask me to go back with him to the coast?
Published in The East Hampton Star July 16, 2009