(In some circles ‘Luck of the Irish’ isn’t so much unexpected good fortune, but rather a positive outlook on a discouraging situation.)
It was Labor Day weekend and the phone was ringing. The caller was unidentified. So, for a second or two, I thought about not answering. Maybe it was an unsolicited fund raiser or telemarketing company. But, the ring sounded so insistent that I finally responded. And, I am glad that I did. Because at the other end of the line, was a familiar Irish accent. Finn was calling. More precisely, Fionnbarr McDermott Long.
Finn is the son of dear old friends from my student days. He was checking in from a cramped apartment in the South End where he and a bunch of students with summer work visas crashed between long shifts of busing plates, waiting on tables, and working in the back kitchens of late night bars and restaurants in downtown Boston. But, being Irish, they knew how to have fun and squeeze in a laugh or two, throw a party, or down a jar of Guinness in their precious off-hours.
You should know that Finn is an engaging 21-year-old from a place south of Dublin nestled in the Wicklow mountains. It’s called Knocknaphrumpa which, loosely translated in Gaelic, means ‘place where the goat choked to death on a thistle’. Or something like that. He was usually quite upbeat and irrepressible (Finn, not the goat)– almost in a manic kind of way. But, this time I detected a note of disappointment or discouragement. Anyway, I thought it strange that he would be calling since he was about to return home for his final university year. He had cadged an invitation to a villa in the Cayman Islands with a bunch of his friends before departing for the Emerald Isle. He should have already vacated their South End apartment and been well on his way to a Caribbean resort by this time.
“Oh Tom, I lost my passport and can’t leave the US until I get a new one. All the lads left this morning for the islands. Can I drop my things off and stay with you and Mary until the Irish consulate opens on Tuesday?” It was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Of course he could find shelter with us. A few hours later when he arrived at our front door, he was lugging a knapsack the size of Rhode Island and seemed a little crestfallen. But, a hug or two, and some food for the belly seemed to do the trick in eliciting his usual mile-wide smile. We would make the best of it. Hey, things weren’t so bad. He was with friends – albeit 40-plus years older. There would be a massive firework display with dueling barges down the waterfront on an absolutely gorgeous city evening. He had saved a ton of money in a few months and would be carrying home some wonderful memories of his time in Boston. Hardly a tragedy.
How Finn had come to part with his wallet and passport was somewhat sketchy. Since his only acceptable form of an authenticated ID was a passport, he carried it with him to pass muster with the bouncers on what he imagined would be a final night of pub crawling, celebration and farewells in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. They must have dropped from his pocket after closing time. But, amazingly, the wallet was recovered by a stranger on Mass. Avenue near Symphony Hall who noticed an employee pay stub from the Boston Harbor Hotel where Finn had worked part-time. The wallet was left at the concierge desk. Finn’s money and credit cards were left untouched. How lucky was that?
Finn fished a piece of paper from his trousers with a list of 30 police precincts and telephone numbers, including stations from municipalities in the surrounding suburbs. He had spent hours calling each location without success. When I innocently asked whether he gave his cell number or email address to the police in the event that the passport surfaced, Finn shook his head back and forth sideways. With such a (ahem) deranged search methodology, clearly he would be going nowhere near a palm tree in the near future. Mary was getting ready to leave for Long Wharf Park to snag a good seat for the fireworks display. I sighed and told her that Finn and I would catch up with her later. We had somewhere to go … such as … the nearest police station where we would file a formal report and leave contact information in the unlikely event that a 4 by 5 inch maroon booklet with a gold harp on the cover and his mug shot inside ever turned up during his lifetime. But, he was in such good spirits and he was so damn fun to hang out with, I did not mind the detour, even if it was going to be a colossal waste of time.
And so we went downtown to the District A station which looked as if everyone had abandoned the building without locking the outside door. It happened to be a night when every available cop was assigned to street duty, herding thousands of strollers and revelers on their way to the grand firework display. There was no one in sight. Just dead silence. Not one person behind the bullet-proof reception window. Not even a buzzer or bell to summons assistance. We were about to leave when two young policemen entered from the street. They seemed surprised to see us, but we explained why we had stopped in. Swiping an electronic lock with their magnetic card, they passed through a security door and disappeared from sight. It was so quiet that I could pick up some muffled voices behind the wall. I heard a cop say something about a man looking for a lost passport whereupon a female asked ‘Is he Irish?’ The next thing we knew, an attractive Irish-American uniformed officer came to the reception window with a smile and asked: ‘Are you Finn McDermott Long? They found this in Charlestown and a cruiser just brought this over this over.’ She held up the passport and slid it through the plexiglass window slot.
Finn was ecstatic, literally levitating off the ground like a cartoon figure flapping his arms. “Can I give you a kiss?” Finn asked the 40-something duty officer. I have to admit that she was a striking presence. But, she shook her head in the negative. ”Well then how about a hug?” Finn ventured. The kid was on a roll. “I think that you should be on your way now.” she suggested with mock sternness.
Out on the sidewalk Finn stopped, grabbed his cell phone, held it high over his head , and snapped a selfie with the passport held close to his heart. He immediately went online to grab a reservation for an early morning flight to the Caymans and then texted his friends with the news that he would be joining them after all – only 24-hours behind their arrivals. To tell you the truth the fireworks were spectacular, but anti-climatic for me. I was more fascinated with the dumb luck of this young man whom I put on a Caribbean-bound plane at Logan Airport at sunrise the next morning. Only on the streets of Boston or Dublin would a lost wallet and maroon passport with a golden harp on the cover turn up safely and be the cause of more joy and merriment than a leprechaun’s pot of gold.
From Boston’s North End, Thomas F. Schiavoni writes about neighborhood life and city living.