PART ONE: LUKE’S PROBLEM
Around my neck of the woods, everybody’s got an Uncle Charlie. The Carollies have an Uncle Charlie; so do the Goldsteins, the Mackenzies and the Papadopoulos gang around the corner from me. It seems that our entire neighborhood in Jersey is made up of the United Nations, and each of them has at least one Uncle Charlie in their family. Me? I got two—they’re both named Cario but insist on being called Charlie. My favorite one lives in Manhattan and the other’s got a good thing going for himself up in Toronto, Canada.
Now to be honest, I don’t want to get too specific about my favorite uncle, because he’s kinda famous in the entertainment business. Suffice it to say, he’s something else—a real sweetheart. When you need a favor, he’s definitely the go-to guy.
So I’m telling you all this because last week, I found myself in a major bind. I’d booked this two-week cruise in the Mediterranean some time ago. My girlfriend and I were going to do it up big and hit all the hot spots in Greece, Turkey and Italy. The boat was even going down the Nile to Luxor, where we’d visit the Valley of the Kings. It was the chance of a lifetime. However, there was a proverbial fly in the ointment. When I went to the travel agent to make my final payment, she asked for my passport, and what do you think? The damned thing was out of date! What was even worse, I didn’t have enough time to get it renewed!
But instead of panicking, I thought of my favorite Uncle Charlie. He has lots of connections.
PART TWO: UNCLE CHARLIE
My nephew, Luca, is an okay kid. Not too bright at times, but a hard worker and pretty darned respectful. I’m not only his godfather, but I have to admit, between you and me, that he’s my favorite nephew, even if he is one of those Millennials. You know the kind of young people I mean: spoiled from birth, strong sense of entitlement, world owes them a living, shocked when they come up against failure. Surprisingly, young Luca isn’t like that. He’s held down the same job since he graduated from college, and has even been promoted several times in the past three years—all properly earned, with no help from yours truly.
So I was a little surprised when he came to me with his problem about the outdated passport. He’s always been a loving and polite young man, but he’d never asked me for a favor before. I was surprised, and a little pleased to have the opportunity to help him out.
PART THREE: LUKE’S SECOND PROBLEM
We arranged to meet at a gin mill on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. It was the following Saturday afternoon, after I’d discovered my goof, and the corner table at the back of the joint was dark and quiet, perfect for our kind of transaction. After some hugging and backslapping, and a few slurpy cheek kisses, Uncle Charlie ordered some drinks, and collected my expired passport and the fee for a new one. He then passed over a renewal form and a pen, and told me to get writing. When I’d finished the paperwork, he said that his “contact” would have the new passport ready on Monday.
“Fantastic!” I cried. “I really don’t know how to thank you.”
“Luca, you are my godson. There’s no need for thanks. I’m pleased that you came to me for help.”
I could feel myself tear up, and just wanted to repeat the huggy-kissy routine all over again. However, before I could stand up and express my gratitude, Uncle Charlie held up his hand to stop me. His face turned real serious as he leaned across the table.
“There’s just one thing, son. Your passport fee will keep the government happy. But my contact, on the other hand, will need a little grease to keep him happy.”
Crap. I never thought there’d be a handling charge. “How much are we talking, Uncle Charlie?”
“Three grand. Cash on delivery.” My eyes must have crossed or something, for Uncle Charlie’s voice turned a little cold. “Of course, you’ve got that kind of money?”
“Just … just about,” I stammered. “I’ve put aside a little over twenty-five hundred for spending money on the trip. But, if I use that …”
“I understand. Even if all your meals are paid for on the cruise, you’ll need a little entertainment dough. Right?” An awkward silence settled in. Finally he said, “How about credit cards? You got any cards that you could use?”