A few weeks ago I spotted an odd-looking shiny object on a sidewalk on 28th Street, by the basketball courts at the Dutch Kills Playgrounds just north of 36th Avenue. It was an iPhone, but the way it had landed on the sidewalk, and the sunlight reflections cast by its sparkly protective case, had me confused for a few seconds as to what I was looking at.

I bent down to pick it up and, upon realizing what it was, the car parked next to it drove away. I did not see it happen but as someone got into the passenger side of the vehicle they must have dropped their phone on the sidewalk. The car drove off before I could do anything.

I poked around on the device looking for some way to call back the last person called or to text the last person who had texted.

But the phone had a passcode. It seemed the only option would be to call 911, but that seemed like overkill, and for all I knew 911 dispatchers would send out cops to question me about whether I had stolen the damn thing.

I did not think to look for a way to contact the carrier. That might have been another option besides 911.

So I hung on to it. My instincts were not all pure. I started to ask myself if I really wanted to make this my problem  when I could just as easily chuck it onto someone’s driveway and make it their cross to bear.

But that might amount to making it look like I had stolen it, or else someone else finding it, bricking it, taking it to a Dark Web buyer and getting 100 bitcoin for it.

I even tried to imagine what I myself could do with this $1000 object if I could never identify its owner. Nothing. Nothing is what I could accomplish with some random person’s phone with a passcode I’d be unlikely ever to crack.

All I could do in good conscience was hold on to it, and I’m glad I did. Less than 10 minutes after finding it the phone rang. Unlike everything else about this device I needed no pass code to answer a phone call.

My first words were “Hey! Is this your phone? Are you the owner?”

I heard laughter of joy from the caller. “Yes! Yes! Did you find it?” It was the owner of the phone calling from a friend’s phone.

“Yes I found it. When can you come get it?”

I said to please be quick, I hadan appointment to get to. This was true, and while I had plenty of leadtime to get to my appointment I imagined they might have already cruised up onto one of the big nearby bridges. I didn’t want my lead time cut into by waiting for these guys to drive all the way over the Ed/Koch Queensboro or the RFK/Triborough and back to meet me at 39th Avenue and 27th Street.

They said they could be there in 2 minutes. They drove up in less time than that. They had not gone far from the school where I found the phone.

The owner of this phone could have been happier if it was his wedding day, or at the arrival of his first born. Consummate joy all around, but no handshakes or hugs what with Covid still out there. He joyfully handed me a $20 bill, which I begrudgingly accepted.

He asked where I found it. I said “By the school” then explained how his car pulled away just at the moment I found it and realized what it was. I demonstrated how, as the car pulled off, I even gesticulated toward the car, trying to make it come back as if by waving a magic wand.

He seemed suitably impressed by my honesty and just plain luck. I told him I had tried to find a way to redial the last caller but the passcode made that impossible. He nodded with a certain chagrin. I added I could have called 911 but that seemed like too much, though I might have tried that eventually if his call had not come in the way it did.

Ultimately all I could do was hold on to the thing, and I’m glad I did, bringing joy and relief into someone’s life following what was no doubt a moment of panic.