gift cardThe tenant who used to live in our apartment was a perfectly nice person. We had met him on two occasions. First when we first looked at the place, and then again when he kindly let us in so I could take photos and measurements.

After he sold us his two LG air conditioner units at a very reasonable price -- and after we reciprocated with a very prompt payment -- he and my husband struck up a friendly email correspondence. He filled us in on neighborhood bar and restaurant suggestions. We were totally cool when he changed his moving date by a week. Twice. He even left us a bottle of wine when we moved in. 

The one thing he was not, though, was diligent about his mail. It seemed to take him and his wife an unusually long time to forward it to their new address. Things -- important things, like packages, bills, and personal letters -- arrived in our box months after they moved.

Aside from the obvious junk, I put everything in a pile, then a shopping bag, then a box, until he eventually had one of his friends pick it up. I neatly tied everything together and included a note that read: "Mike, Hope all’s well in D.C.! –Nicole and Jeff."

A few weeks later, it was apparent that the appropriate postal forms were finally filled out, because, day-by-day, his intrusive mail in our tiny box dwindled down, until eventually there was none. Coincidentally, at the same time, the weather was rapidly cooling down. And when we turned off our reasonably priced air conditioners once and for all, all traces of Mike were gone.

Until December 8, 2010.

I was flipping through the mail as I walked up the stairs of my building, hoping it would be the day I’d, for no good reason, receive a check, when I noticed an envelope addressed to Mike from Williams-Sonoma. It looked more like junk. So I opened it. 

Inside was what looked like a gift card sticky-gelled to a folded piece of cardstock that had the amount $227.16 printed on it.

The hell, I thought. 

In an effort to make myself feel better for where my brain was deviously going, I attempted to reel in an accomplice -- my husband and his lame non-existent dark side. If he was the one to say, "Let’s keep the gift card," it would be cool. He’d been wanting a Nespresso machine for years now, so it was within the realm of possibility. Our conversation went like this:

"So, guess what came in the mail today?"

"What?"

"A gift card of Mike’s to Williams-Sonoma for $228."

"We should probably give it back."

"Well, I don’t know if he knows about it."

He shut the refrigerator door, took a swig of beer, and said: "It’s your world, dude." He totally wanted one.

During the next few days, I waited. Not to contact Mike, but for him to contact me. The more time that passed, the less chance he knew about it. And the more chance there would be a Nespresso frothing up European goodness in our shit-ass Brooklyn apartment.

It’s worth noting that this entire situation was compounded by the fact that, at the time, I was working solely from home. And when you work from home, or are unemployed, every minute thing seems more intense. Two weeks prior, I had spent a weekend wondering if the plumber who snaked our toilet was pissed at me.

After much mulling, on December 20, I decided to spend the money. It wasn’t an easy decision, as I’m not someone who takes larceny lightly. But I’d been down on my luck for months, and for one of the only times in my life, I said fuck it. I was buying myself a god damn Nespresso, because I deserved it.

On the train ride over to the Chelsea Williams-Sonoma, I sweated. Profusely. I also fidgeted in my seat like a toddler and had the tingle in my stomach I get before giving a presentation. Or having diarrhea.

But my anxiety and conscience melted away the instant I walked into the warm and civilized store and saw none other than a Nespresso rep, handing out espressos and coffees -- or lungos, as we call them -- in tiny paper cups. 

A sign! I thought as took a sip and was transported to a Roman café. I could practically feel the leering waiter’s breath on my neck.

The rep informed me that they were running a special (a special!). If I bought the Nespresso machine that day, I would receive $75 worth of espresso from their online store.

"I’ll take the silver one!" I blurted before my buzzkill morals could make a guest appearance.

"That’s the one I have," the rep said. She was in a black cowl neck sweater and had cropped black, difficult-to-pull-off hair. She was sophisticated. I was glad we shared the same taste.

It wasn’t until I was heading back to Brooklyn that I started to seriously question what I had done. When I got off the subway, I raced home like I was being hunted, brushing past breastfeeding mothers and Chihuahuas with better wardrobes than I. I was scared that someone was going to ask me about my giant bag, and I’d have to tell them what I'd done. I checked my email every minute, like a raving lunatic -- still no signs of Mike or the Williams-Sonoma police. This wasn't fun.

When my husband got home, I told him to close his eyes. "I have a surprise," I said, as I led him two feet into our kitchen. When he opened them, he was shocked. Really shocked. Not just dude shocked. He was the true coffee freak in the house.

"Where’d this come from?" he asked, not remembering Sonoma-gate from a few weeks back. And then shit got real.

Saying it out loud, hearing myself try to rationalize what I’d done, made me realize what an asshole I’d been, and how not me this was. I essentially stole a high-end coffee maker. I needed to figure out how to unravel the mess I’d made. And I couldn’t think of a better way to mull it over than with a warm cappuccino.

After hours of trying to figure out how to let Mike, the nice, disorganized man, know that I had spent money that was rightfully his without him knowing that I was a complete dick was no easy feat. My husband and I eventually concocted a relatively asinine but believable story. Our email went like this:

Hey Mike!

Hope you guys are enjoying D.C.! We’re still loving the apartment! Anyway, totally random thing:

I opened up a Williams-Sonoma envelope addressed to you, thinking it was junk, but it turned out to be a gift card of some sort for $227.16. I left it on our table near some of our other wedding gifts and my wife thought it was ours and spent it. Long story short, we’re now the proud owners of a Nespresso machine and owe you money. What’s your address?

We mailed Mike his money, and to this day, I drink a Nespresso lungo every morning. In fact, while proofreading this, I made myself one, because, despite being forced to reflect on one of the shittier things I’ve done in my life, hearing the word “Nespresso” puts me in the mood for one. They’re that good.

But they're no doubt better when they're paid for with your own money.

 

Image via Blue Jean Images/Corbis