My life is full of mysteries. Some more interesting than others.
When I was in graduate school in 1988, a lowly candidate for the Master of Public Administration degree at Virginia Tech, I dutifully tried to do adult things like subscribing to the local newspaper. That said, I didn’t actually sit down and read the paper most days — I’d sleep until I had to rush out for class and then I’d come back much later in the day and brainlessly eat something and go to bed. Unread newspapers piled up in a big stack on my sofa.
One day I decided to throw them out. I picked up half the stack and headed for my recycling bin, then stopped and did a classic Hollywood double-take. Fanned carefully out across the topmost paper in the remaining heap were five crisp new $20 bills. If I’d split the stack at any other point I’d have missed them.
To this day I don’t know how they got there. My mother had a key to my apartment in case I ever misplaced my own copy, but I can’t imagine that she’d have decided that the best way to slip me some extra cash was to conceal it in a stack of unread newspapers.
The cash was clearly on top of one issue and below another, not tucked into a particular issue. And I can’t imagine how I’d have dropped a whole newspaper onto the stack if there were five $20 bills fanned out on top of the stack at the time. The only explanation that makes sense is that someone put the money there, but again, why would someone choose that method of delivery? It’d have been so easy to overlook the money altogether. (I did finally ask my mother; she denied all knowledge and seemed as genuinely confused as I felt.)
Less Twilight-Zone-esque, but still perplexing, is the matter of the going-away gift I received when my temporary position at Glaxo Pharmaceuticals ended in 1994. I’d been doing temp work at Glaxo for a while after giving up on my PhD program and moving to Durham, NC. Our department supported clinical trials on ondansetron, an anti-emetic used to prevent opioid-induced nausea, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and post-operative nausea and vomiting. When the powers that be decided there was no need to do any further clinical trials to support additional indications for the drug, I was surplus to needs.
So: on my last day in the department before moving on to another temporary position at Duke University, everyone wished me well and then one of the Pharm.D’s, Melissa, told me she had my farewell gift in her car. I thought that was a little odd — why hadn’t she brought it in? Mind you, I hadn’t been expecting a farewell gift at all; temps aren’t normally noted nor long remembered. But at the end of the day, as I was leaving the building for the last time, Melissa walked me out to the parking garage and retrieved my gift from her car.
It was a 24-pack (a “suitcase”) of Budweiser beer.
To say I was a bit nonplussed would just about sum it all up. First, why a farewell gift at all for a lowly temp, and second, why Budweiser? I couldn’t recall ever even discussing alcohol and drinking with my former co-workers and I certainly hadn’t indicated a preference for the King of Beers.
I decided not to ask, though — best not to look a gift horse in the mouth, after all — and simply thanked Melissa and went off, suitcase of beer in hand, to my car.
Still, I wonder: what made Melissa think “Oh, right, Jay’s position runs out tomorrow. Better stop off at the store to get him some Bud”? I’ve even thought about writing her to ask — what’s the Internet for, if not for cyberlocating people you used to know decades ago and who’ve long since forgotten you?
But no. I think it’s best if I leave this mystery unsolved.