New York, New York USA
The call came at 4:30 on an ordinary Tuesday—some guy on the other end I didn't know. Although I could have recognized the voice anywhere, I didn't realize I was actually speaking to Peter "Columbo" Falk until after I hung up the phone.
PF: "Are you Steve Valentine?"
Me: "Yeah, what's it to you?"
PF: "Were you related to a Louie Farberware?"
Me: "Yeah, he was my uncle, what's it to you?
PF: "Well, we found your Uncle Louie's knee."
Me: "That's crazy. We buried Uncle Louie four years ago."
PF: "Well, we found his knee."
PF: "In Jersey."
Me: "Well, what part of Jersey?"
PF: "In Paterson."
Me: "Was it close to the river?"
PF: "What river?"
Me: "Oh, you know, the Paterson river, the one that's in the William Carlos Williams poem."
PF: "Oh, you mean Paterson."
Me: "Yeah, the poem Paterson."
PF: "No, no, it wasn't near that river."
Me: "Well, then where was it? Was it by the old church."
PF: "What old church?"
Me: "You know, the old church on Main Street."
PF: "Uh, well, yeah, sort of."
Me: "There's a great place there where you can get pepperoni bagels. Right around the corner. You know if that place is still there?"
PF: "Well, sir, actually, we're calling about your Uncle's knee."
Me: "Oh yeah, yes. So you found his knee?"
PF: "Yeah, we found his knee."
Me: "Uh, okay. So, whuddya want me to do?"
PF: "You've got to come down to pick it up."
Me: "I've got to come down to pick up my Uncle's knee?"
Me: "Well, can't you just bury it?"
PF: "No, not without your permission."
Me: "Um, okay . . . you have my permission."
PF: "Uh, it's not that easy, you see, you have to sign a paper."
Me: "What do you mean I have to sign a paper? What am I going to do with a knee? I don't have time to come down and sign a piece of paper for a . . . for a frickin' knee. Hey, is it his kneecap or his whole knee?"
PF: "Well it's sort of, uh, there's part of his thigh on there and part of his shin."
Me: "Well, then why did you call it a knee?"
PF: "What am I supposed to call it? It's not a leg."
Me: "I would think that you people would have . . . you know, better names for things. You're gonna call people up and tell em you found a knee and really you found half-a-leg? That's crazy."
PF: "Well, sir, I really don't see that it matters—"
Me: "You don't see that it matters?!? You don't see that it matters?!? You're talking about my Uncle Louie, my flesh and blood—in both senses."
PF: "Well, I'm sorry, sir, I apologize. We found half of your Uncle Louie's leg. And we need you to come down to our station and sign some papers and take it with you."
Me: "Take it with me where?"
PF: "It doesn't matter where you take it."
Me: "What do you think I should do with it?"
PF: "Well, most people would probably . . . bury it."
Me: "Well where would they bury it? I mean, can I just bury it in my backyard?"
PF: "Well, actually, no. You can't bury it in your backyard."
Me: "Why not?"
PF: "Because that's not an official burial site. You can't just bury human beings anywhere you want to."
Me: "Well why not?"
PF: "I'm not sure. That's really not my department."
Me: "So you're telling me that I've got to come down there and pick up my Uncle Louie's half-leg, and then I can't bury it in my backyard . . . Can I throw it in the garbage?"
PF: "No, you can't throw it in the garbage. That would be highly illegal."
Me: "All right, well, what am I gonna do with it then?"
PF: "Well, I suggest that you bury it in a graveyard."
Me: "Bury it in a graveyard? What are you talking about? Those plots run five, six hundred dollars."
PF: "Sir, I'm just giving you my opinion."
Me: "Do you think they would give me a discount for, you know, a half leg instead of a body?"
PF: "I'm not sure—"
Me: "Cause I heard once that little people, you know midgets and such, get gravesites for half off."
PF: "Uh, I'm really out of my area of expertise on this one."
Me: "You've got quite a sense of humor . . . Where's it at now?"
PF: "It's in the freezer."
Me: "In the freezer?"
PF: "We have to keep the body parts there or else they'll . . . well, I don't really think we need to get into this."
Me: "No. Go ahead. I gotta hear this one."
PF: "Well, the body parts start to smell if we don't put them in the freezer."
Me: "Let me ask you, do they all smell equally bad, or is one part known to smell the worst? Is there a worst smelling body part, you know, if you remove it from the body and let it sit around for a while?"
Me: "Well, that would probably be either the anus or the intestines. But I suppose the liver would smell pretty bad too."
Me: "Well, what about the soul?"
PF: "The what?"
Me: "And, you know, do you think he's up there in heaven with only half a leg?"
PF: "Sir, I have a few other calls to make today."
Me: "Actually, I bet God could make some pretty fine prosthetic body parts. He made a woman from—"
PF: "Sir, I really must go."
Me: "Well, what about you . . . do you want it?"
Me: "Yeah, you."
PF: "Well, um, actually . . . yeah, I might."
Me: "Okay, now we're getting somewhere. If you take it, do I still have to come down and sign for it?"
PF: "No . . . I think I can handle the paperwork."
Me: "Hey, let me ask you . . . why didn't you just tell me you wanted it from the beginning?"
PF: "Well, I didn't know I wanted it."
Me: "And now you do?"
PF: "Yeah, I guess I do."
Me: "Okay, just one more thing."
PF: "Yes . . ."
Me: "I want to know what you're gonna use it for."
PF: "I guess I would . . . probably . . ."
At this point, the line started to crackle and we lost the signal. When I tried to redial the number, the line was busy for four days and then disconnected. A week later, a handwritten note arrived in the mail. It said, "Nice talking to you. The thing we discussed is in a good home, being put to good use. Fondly, Peter Falk."