Wilfred Friedman is odd, brilliant and a bit disheveled. Misfortune is his fate. He gets frustrated. But he recovers quickly. He’s not at home on earth, but he’s OK with that. I envy him, in a way. After all, "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). But that changed last week, somewhat. He was en route to Los Angeles from Washington, with a layover in Charlotte. He had an interview for an environmental engineer position with EcoTech Green Energies, a dream job. Just before departing, however, his email was hacked. But he didn’t know it. Someone in China emailed all of his contacts: “Help me! I need UR help.” When opened, the email read: “I desperately need UR help! I in Bangkok. Wallet credit cards passport suitcase stolen. Police no help. Need money. Click here send $2000.” Three of Wilfred’s contacts responded, including his mom in Kansas City, who never knows his whereabouts but worries about him all the time. Someone in China got $6,000 and a lot of info., so it seems. But Wilfred hadn’t a clue. He was drinking Heineken in flight to Charlotte. Upon arrival, his troubles started.
He had a 40-minute layover. After de-boarding, he bee-lined for a stall in the men’s room and, while fumbling with his brand-new iPhone XS, he dropped it into an un-flushed toilet. The iPhone had no protective casing, and its portals were unguarded and open. “Ooooh…nooooo…wayyyy,” he bellowed. He zipped from the stall. The other men feigned indifference. Bolting through the men’s room into the concourse, he sprinted to Gate 47. Out of breath, red in the face, he haltingly explained it all to a purse-lipped, supercilious gate agent. She asked for an ID, boarding pass or confirmation number. He handed her his driver’s license and baggage claim receipt. She examined the documents through her bifocals, flickered her fingers on a keyboard, looked up, squinted at his license and wrinkled her glabella behind her eyeglass bridge. She raised her eyebrows; lowered her eyes to the computer screen; glanced back-and-forth between license, baggage receipt and computer, intermittently; raised, lowered and wrinkled her eyebrows again, like a kid making faces in a mirror. She finally came to a conclusion: “Mr. Friedman, we don’t have your reservation. You say you’re on Flight 87 to LAX?” “Yes! It was on my phone that I dropped in the toilet by Gate 12.” “I’m so sorry to hear that. We don’t have a Wilfred Friedman on that flight. You came from DC?” “Yes,” he said flatly. She squinted again and typed away. “All we have, Mr. Friedman, is that you were on a one-way Flight 1683 from DCA to Charlotte. This is your final destination.” “How so? I’m booked to return Wednesday to DC from LAX.” She typed on as Flight 87 concluded boarding. “Nope. When were you returning Wednesday?” “My flight leaves at 11:15 AM from LA to Charlotte.” “That’s Flight 89,” she said, type, type, type, click, click, click… “I have no Wilfred Friedman on that flight. Did you buy that ticket with a credit card?” “Yes.” “Can I see it?” He presented his American Aviator Master Card, and she entered more info into the computer, type, type, type, click, click, click...” The agent next to her was an obvious rookie, with a shock of black, moussed hair parted dramatically to the side, proud of his newly employed authority. He announced, “THIS IS THE FINAL call for FLIGHT 87 to LOS. ANGELES. Gates ARE closing!” Wilfred said, “I’m on that flight. Seat 35B.” “No you’re not,” she said. “That’s my seat! Who’s on it?” “Your credit card’s rejected, Mr. Friedman. Sure you didn’t purchase the ticket with another form of payment?” “No!” “Sir, this card is blocked. Do you have another?” “Yes, here’s a Visa.” “FINAL. CALL. For FLIGHT 87. to LOS. ANGELES. GATES. ARE. CLOSING,” barked the moussed hair. “They’re not accepting this either. Both cards are blocked. Sorry, Mr. Friedman. Our records show Charlotte as your final destination. I’m so sorry.” “Where’s my suitcase?” Wrinkling her eyebrows, she said, “Check the Baggage Claim.”
He flashed through the concourse to Baggage Claim. No bag. He went to American Airline’s baggage office. A balding middle-aged man with thick-rimmed bifocals resting on a red potato nose, wearing a nametag labeled “Frank,” asked for his flight info. Wilfred retold the story of dropping his iPhone into the toilet. “I’m so sorry to hear that,” said Frank. He asked for an ID and his claim receipt. Playing the keyboard, Frank said, “Mr. Friedman, your bag is on Flight 87 to Los Angeles and will be transferred to Hong Kong Airlines, Flight 40 to Bangkok. You’re all set.” “Bangkok?” “Yes, you’re booked all the way to Bangkok through Los Angeles. No worries. American’s got you covered. You might have to re-check your bag in LAX. But ask an agent there.” Wilfred started to leave in frustration, but he turned around and asked Frank, “Where’s the nearest Wells Fargo?” “There’s one on Freedom Drive.”
I know Wilfred well. He misfires on everything, profane and sacred. It started in kindergarten. He missed the bus on day one. Wet his pants on day two. On day three, he was sent to the corner for disliking God. In first grade, he dropped his lunch at the bus stop, and it was run over. In 2nd grade, he dropped his First Communion. Monsignor wiped down the floor to avoid sacrilege, so his teacher told everyone. In 3rd grade, Ms. Garfinkle told the class to draw scary Halloween pictures. Wilfred drew a tidal wave capsizing the S.S. Poseidon, which he saw on TV. When Ms. Garfinkle saw his picture, she said, “That’s not scary! That’s a ship movie!” In 5th grade, he took up clarinet. He practiced screeching whole notes after eating a hamburger. Left the clarinet on his bed. Guinness, his Irish Setter, chewed it up. In 6th grade, his godmother gave him a St. Anthony medal. He lost it. In 7th grade, he entered the Science Fair and tried to demonstrate the effects of climate change on goldfish. He heated up a bowl with ten goldfish by 4 degrees. Nothing happened. After the Fair, he accidently fed the fish with Accent – monosodium glutamate – which he took from the kitchen cabinet because he thought it was fish food. He had ten floaters. In 8th grade, he chose St. Francis of Assisi as his Confirmation saint. When the bishop asked him about it, he froze up and said something about bird s***. In 9th grade, he asked Marissa McDonald to Homecoming. His older brother, Lloyd, drove him to pick up Marissa. Her older brother, Hoyt, met him at the front door with a sawed-off shotgun.
Last week, however, Wilfred found the last pay phone in Charlotte’s Douglas International Airport. He called his mother in Kansas City and asked her to wire him $3,000 because his credit cards were blocked. She said that she already sent him $2,000 to get him out of Bangkok. “Huh? I’m in Charlotte, ma! I need cash. It’s an emergency!” “Oh,” she said, “but you said you lost your wallet in Bangkok. Did you have an interview there?” “No!” “Oh my. Then why did you send that email?” “What email?” “The one the that said you need $2,000.” “Huh? Ma’, can you send $3,000 through Wells Fargo? I need a suit and a plane ticket to LA.” “What did you do with the other $2,000?” “What 2,000?” “The money you need to get out of Bangkok!” “Please, ma, send $3,000. I gotta get to LA for an interview tomorrow. My credit cards are blocked.” “Call your sister Jane and ask her to send you the money. You know she got that good job in Pittsburgh?” “Ma’, time’s short.” “YOU call her!” “I don’t have her number,” said Wilfred, “I dropped my phone in the toilet. I need a suite and a ticket, and my bag’s going to Bangkok.” He shouldn’t have said that. “You’re going to Bankok? I sent your money to Bangkok.” “No! I’m in Charlotte going to Los Angeles.” “Then what’s the Bangkok thing?” “Ma! I’ll tell you later! Give me Jane’s number!”
Wilfred called Jane and asked for $3,000 to be wired to Wells Fargo in Charlotte, and he’d pay her back later. Jane said, “I got an email saying you’re stuck in Bangkok and you need $2,000.” “No. I need $3,000 in Charlotte to get to LA. The airline screwed up my reservation and sent my suitcase to Bangkok and I dropped my iPhone in a toilet.” After two long silent seconds, Jane asked, “Can I send it by Apple Pay?” “I haven’t a clue. I don’t have a phone. Ask Wells Fargo and I’ll pick up the cash at their branch on Freedom Drive. Here’s my info…”
Wilfred cabbed to Wells Fargo and got the cash. He cabbed to Jos. A. Bank and bought a new suit on the fly, untailored. The jacket sleeves and the pant legs were too tight and too long, and the jacket hung too low. He looked like Peter “Herman” Noone singing, “Mr. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.” The retail clerk said he looked like string cheese. He paid $653 in cash and cabbed back to CLT. He bought a one-way ticket on the 9:00 PM to LAX. Nestling into seat 38B, he perused through American Way magazine and read an article about cavemen in southern France.
Arriving in LA shortly after 11:00 PM, he was detained by police. They escorted him to a little room off the concourse. He was questioned about things such as, “Why did you pay cash for the ticket?” “Why one-way?” Records show he has spurious contacts in China, Bangkok, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Hackensack. Wilfred set the record straight with his Virginia driver’s license, his baggage claim receipt from the DCA-CLT leg, and the tale of dropping his phone in the toilet. He was released.
Wilfred interviewed at Eco-Tech. He was it. Tired, bedraggled, misfitted into a suit and a white tie with green polka dots, he was stuttering yet articulate, incoherent yet knowledgeable, awkward yet smooth, right-brained yet logical, and unaffected. They salaried him at $126K. He didn’t care. He cabbed to Our Lady of Angels Cathedral and opened a pew Missal to a random page. He read this: "Consider the lilies, how they grow. They neither toil nor spin, yet not even Solomon in all his splendor was arrayed as one of these” (Luke 12:4). Reaching for cab money in his wallet, he found a long-forgotten, wrinkled note tucked beneath the bills. In faded pencil writing, it said: “All will be well. Love, Dad.” He wasted another hour in the Cathedral. Thinking nothing. Saying nothing. In the Presence.
Fr. Frederick Edlefsen, Pastor