Il Caso LaClairPatrick Lancer, Tuesday July 10th, 2007
Working in the office of the Port Authorities in Naples, there is a small group of diligent men to whom I am not merely another American ruining the Italian language… To this group of men, I am a legend. I am Il Caso LaClair.
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You must understand a great many things about Naples before you can fully understand the greatness with which I am regarded by those men. Naples has been dubbed the "Armpit of Italy" or even of all of Europe. From this we can infer that, if Italy was indeed a boot, Naples would be the smelly part. There is one number that will explain it all: 740. Read it not as "seven-hundred and forty" but as "seven forty". In Milan, the business oriented in the North, 740 is a very important tax return form, like the 1040 here in the USA. In centrally located Rome, the number 740 refers to a particular type of car: the Volvo 740. Going a bit further south to Naples, 740 means what it sounds like... 7:40, or time to go home for dinner. And, finishing it off in Sicily, .740" is a caliber of a standard shotgun.
Italians and tourists alike are abuzz with negativity about Neapolitans. I have heard that they will purposely run red lights to hit pedestrians. I’ve heard that they will take your money in scams on the streets in broad daylight, and they will just straight up mug you at night. I have heard that they are petty, argumentative, and just downright dishonest. I have found, however, that these stereotypes are the exception, not the rule.
It was probably around eight in the morning when I discovered that my wallet was missing. I was buying a rather cheap-tasting cappuccino at a rather expensive café in the beautiful city of Naples. I reached to procure my wallet and pay the extorting shopkeeper, but I could not find it any of my pockets in my pants, or in my jacket, or in my shirt, or in my backpack. It might have taken me five minutes to check every pocket I had, but I did not need to. The lack of my wallet in my back pocket had confirmed any traveler’s worst fear: I had been pick-pocketed. As a calm-headed rationalist, I can normally keep myself under control. But that morning, I flipped out. The night before, we had been returning to the mainland after a week in Sicily. The ferry ride was anything but gentle and the rooms were cramped and had poor ventilation. I had gotten very little sleep and was in a horrible mood. I might have run right out of the café to track down my pocket-picker right then and there had it not been for the snooty shopkeeper not been breathing down my neck while waiting for my money. I frantically found a friend to spot me the cash and I dialed the program director on my cell, hoping he could help me out. As I calmed down a bit, I realized that I had not been pick-pocketed. No, indeed, I was only a victim of my own stupidity. I had taken my wallet out of my pant’s pocket before on the ferry and placed it in the compartment above my bed. Cleverly, I never remembered to retrieve it that morning. I had done the same thing with a nice pair of pants earlier that trip. I had left them in a drawer at a hotel in Sicily. I was not as torn up about the pants though, some how pants are not as important to me as the 100 euros, my ATM card, and various sorts of identification cards in my wallet.
Mr. Scanlon, the director, however, still seemed to think all hope was lost. Wallets, stolen or misplaced, never show up again in Naples, ever. It was impractical to return to the port and search for the wallet. We still had a five hour bus ride to get back home and we did not have time to go on a wild-goose chase all over the city in search of a wallet that some Neapolitan man was probably already feeling lucky about. I would need to work to get the money back, I would need to call the bank and have the card cancelled, and I would need to figure out how to recapture my identity.
My host family was disappointed to hear the news, but days later I found my host father jubilantly waving a piece of mail at me when I arrived home. It seems, in a stroke of luck, a truly honest maid on the boat found the wallet and actually handed it in to the Tirrenia, or the Port Authority of Naples. Unfortunately, because of procedure, they would need to hold it until I could travel to Naples to collect it. They could also not tell me whether or not there was any money left in the wallet, because of procedure, of course. If I paid the thirty euros to travel to Naples, I risked finding an empty wallet. However, the school was taking a trip to the area in a month, so I could go with a fluent teacher to go and work it all out then with nothing to lose. Fair enough.
We created a coalition. Neapolitans are difficult to understand, so we brought native Italian speaker, Santo Sammartino. They are difficult to argue with, so we brought the great negotiator, Mr. Scanlon. And they are easily impressed by legends, so I went along. After all, it was MY wallet. More than a month after I had lost my wallet, our triumvirate of wallet-retrieving power entered the Office of the Tirrenia, only to be directed to another office. We arrived at the next office to find it closed, but Mr. Scanlon made a few calls and found out that we were at the wrong office again, anyway. Weary from the heat and the strain of office-searching, our heroes pushed open the doors to the final stage of their journey. We walked up to the service window and stated our mission to the man on the other side. He asked for my name, and then he looked up in a moment of recognition: "Ahhhh, Il Caso LaClair..."
Although it is unconfirmed, the men at the office firmly believed mine to be the only wallet ever to be found in Naples... Not to mention the fact it still had all the money in it.