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2.20.04 The Unmet Friend

I am still finishing up eBay business from January. The most difficult transaction has been the very first item I sold -- a hulking World War II Japanese aerial camera. It's an ugly metal thing, but you can appreciate the craftsmanship in the wooden handle grips that would allow someone to hang out of a small plane and take reconnaissance photos, maybe over a place like Pearl Harbor.

It was purchased by Roberto, who lives in Italy. But then I didn't hear from him for a week -- very poor practice for an auction winner. Just as I was about to offer the camera to the next highest bidder, Roberto pops up. "Apologize for my delay but I'm go back to my home from Holland only this evening. I can't read my emails from a Hotel room.... Monday morning I send to you my Western Union payment. :-)"

He sends me the Western Union transaction number and a scan of all the information submitted to them. I go to the Western Union office in the grocery store across the street and fill out "pick up your money" form. The clerk rejects it. "The money is not in the right area." When I stare blankly at her and ask her what that means (after all, isn't electronic money "everywhere"?), she repeats what she just said. It is uttered like some sort of secret code, as if I'm supposed to respond with "the jackal howls at midnight." But instead, I assume she's an idiot and go back the next day.

The next day a different clerk tells me the same thing and that I must contact the sender to tell him he sent the money to the wrong place -- not Rochester. I have the scan of his original request and it is accurate. I e-mail Roberto. He also says my Western Union agents must be idiots. I call Western Union. The agent says that the city and state must be correct or they won't release the money. She is looking at the transaction. She can see something is wrong, but she will not tell me what it is. I write Roberto again. He is frustrated. He has to drive 35 miles to his Western Union office.

But then he writes: "Finally.... !! My original order is absolutely correct like you look on the scan ... The Western Union has transmitted by phone my order to Central Office on Rome but the W.U. girl on Rome write like this: Rochester NC (not NY) ...
and the payment has been disposed to your name but to Rochester on North Caroline."

I pick up my money, at last, and send off his camera. When I write him with some details about the package, I get this response:

Thanks Susan , "simpatica e deliziosa amica sconosciuta".

I get it all but the last word -- sconosciuta. Maria's the only one I know who has studied Italian so I ask her to translate. In this morning's mail, she writes: "likable, delightful, unknown friend."

Ah, the Unmet Friend. I wonder where that phrase originated. Maybe it's not so unusual, but I first heard it in the movie "The Year of Living Dangerously." It's what Billy Kwan wonders when he first meets Guy: Is he my Unmet Friend? The novel by Christopher J. Koch is even better than the movie and the phrase pops up there again. I don't know why it always grabs me. The Unmet Friend. Mystery? Spiritual connection? The potential in every new encounter? The potential that a new encounter is the One?

Of course now I'm having the ridiculous vision of some old children's book character going around to everyone saying, "Are you my mommy?" Maybe that's a sign that the morning's inspiration has now officially ended.

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