December 28, 2006
I had just picked my son up from day school at 5 p.m., run an errand, then returned to pick up my daughter, whose religious school classes got out at 6:30 p.m.
It was one of those days. My wife was out of town on a work trip, and between my own job and drop-offs and pick-ups, I'd logged about 100 miles, and the day wasn't over.
I had until 7 p.m. to make it to the auto shop to switch cars, and the clock was still ticking on dinner and baths and bedtime. That last sequence of "Good Fellas" where Ray Liotta has to do a drug deal, launder cash, run family errands and avoid the Feds? That was me, without the drugs, cash and cops.
Trying to shave a minute off deadline, I parked a block from the school, ran at a dead heat up La Cienega Boulevard, grabbed my daughter and power-walked back to the car. Then off through rush hour traffic to Miller Honda, where I arrived as the giant metal garage doors were rolling shut. I hurried to pay for my repairs -- without my wallet.
It wasn't gone, I told myself. It was black, my seats were black and the sun had set. I searched. The kids searched. Small hands went in and out of seat cracks. It took me a good two minutes to go from bemused to perplexed to frantic.
Forget the 100 bucks. What about the credit cards? The driver's license? The identity theft. The hours on the phone navigating voice commands. A crazed thief showing up at our home address. My ATM card somewhere on its way to Vegas.
I drove back to the school. By cellphone I alerted the security personnel there, who quickly scanned the sidewalk and came up empty-handed. I traced my steps and found nothing.
"If you dropped it in the hallway," one guard comforted me, "whoever finds it will give it to us. If you dropped it on the street, forget it."
Of course he was right. It was dark. That section of La Cienega hosted a stream of transient foot traffic from the bus stop to 7-Eleven to dark alleys where pickpockets warmed their hands around trash can fires kindled with the useless receipts from emptied wallets ... or so I imagined. I was, at that point, without hope.
And my kids, hungry and tired, were aching for food, which I had no money to pay for.
Just before I left school, I had the idea to call my work phone. Who knows? There was a message, which I've saved: "Hi Rob. This is Michael. I've found your wallet. Give me a call. I'm sure you're probably looking for it."
I pulled over and called. The young man on the other end of the line gave me his address, which turned out to be on Corning Avenue, the next block over. He was waiting out front when I swung around.
I rushed out to shake his hand, to thank him. I thrust a reward at him, which surprised and slightly embarrassed him. Somehow I figured words weren't enough.
When I drove back to school to thank the security guards and share the good news, they were astonished.
"In this city," said one of them, "That's one in a million."
They asked how old he was. Around 20. They asked what color he was. I said black. They shook their heads. From their faces, I could see their stereotypes melting about as gently as nuclear fuel rods.
A little while later I called Michael Evans to thank him a bit less breathlessly.
On the one hand, he didn't cure cancer or rescue an endangered species or rush into a burning building. On the other hand, he found a wallet full of cash on a dark street, made the effort to contact the owner, and returned it. No big deal? Not if it were your wallet.
Michael told me he is 22. He was born in New York City and moved out here when he was 10. His parents died when he was 4 -- not a subject he wanted to delve into -- and he was raised by his grandmother, a retired schoolteacher. She's 92 now, and Michael decided to live with her to watch after her.
Michael attended Carthay Circle Elementary, Hamilton High and Los Angeles City College. He works as an accountant in Burbank for Smith Mandel and Associates.
The night we met, he was walking up La Cienega toward the 7-Eleven to buy his grandmother a newspaper when he saw my wallet.
"I thought I might as well go and help this person," he told me, verbally shrugging off the whole incident. "It's not inconvenient, and I'd want somebody to do the same thing for me."
He searched out my business card, called me and e-mailed me. "I don't think it was too much trouble to go and do that."
I told him what the security guards said, that in a city like this, he's one in a million.
"It's just the right thing to do," he said. "There really was no other option."
This is the second year The Jewish Journal has compiled a list of our "Top Ten Mensches." Let other magazines slobber over the 50 Sexiest or the 400 Richest or the 20 Most Influential. Rich, sexy and powerful are easy. Mensch is hard.
How hard? You could make all those other lists and still not qualify for ours. There are three crowns, says the Pirke Avot, the crown of the law, which is knowledge; the crown of royalty, which is power and wealth, and the crown of priesthood, which is holiness.
But the crown of a good name surpasses them all.
Thus, Michael Evans.