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Hip pocket stories

The way to a man's soul is through his wallet.

Published July 1, 2004

[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
Among the contents of Hillsborough County Judge Nick Nazaretian’s wallet is an image of St. Francis of Assisi blessing the doves. “It’s for pets. The saint of pets,” says Nazaretian, whose dogs wear St. Francis medals for protection and go to the Franciscan Center to be blessed.
The wallet of Marlon Lumpkin tells the story of inspiration.
The wallet of Kurt P. Lambert illustrates his desire to cut out clutter -- and prepare for death.
Joe Durkin’s wallet tells of humble, happy times.

A TV commercial asks, What's in your wallet? If you fail to carry a certain credit card, the pitch goes, your character is plain: Loser Who Invites Catastrophe.

We decided to ask a few guys to show us what they carry in their wallets. What man would consent to let a stranger pick through those leather folds, that repository of secrets? We had our doubts.

But they did something men don't do.

They opened up.

* * *

Nick Nazaretian, a portly, amiable Hillsborough County judge who makes a hit Santa Claus at Christmas, methodically lays out the contents of his wallet on the glass-top desk in his chambers.

Nothing interesting in here, he insists. His card for the University of Tampa, where he teaches. His judge's ID. His Hollywood Video rental card. A Harley dealership card. On weekends, he says, he jumps on his chromed-up $20,000 Harley Fat Boy and finds a county road. His wife, Dana, jokes that she has two fat boys at home now.

He plucks out a family photo and unfolds it: himself, his wife and four Australian shepherds, Molly, Harley, Blue and Jake. He fishes out a small, slightly rumpled picture of St. Francis of Assisi blessing the doves.

"It's for pets. The saint of pets," the judge explains. "A saint to watch over them."

Their dogs wear St. Francis medals for protection, and his wife takes them to be blessed at the Franciscan Center.

"Everybody's eccentric about something," Nazaretian says.

This one here? Jake? The judge had him since he was a pup. Cancer took him in October. He was 12. The judge, who is 43, says it was his first real experience of death.

"We don't have any children, so it's like losing a child," he says. "It was our first significant loss as a couple."

The judge was furious at God. Nine months later, it's still tough to contemplate never meeting Jake again.

"People don't understand," he says. "Why God would. . . ." His glasses fog up. He can't talk. Tears roll down his cheek. "He was just a great dog. You just wonder why these things happen."

He devotes himself to his other dogs now. He compares himself with a neglectful, workaholic father who has learned the value of quality time.

Jake's death got him thinking about whether animals have an afterlife. He bought a Learning Bible and a Children's Bible, looking for answers.

Nazaretian's wife belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, which believes pets don't have souls. But this is where the lawyer part of his brain starts working. If it's true that Jesus will return on a white horse, well, where does the horse come from, if not heaven?

There's a happy ending to the Jake story, the judge says.

When he claimed Jake's ashes, he kept worrying that the cremation service might have switched him with another dog. How did they know this was Jake? He could barely look inside the urn, for his crying. But tucked in the corner, wrapped in plastic and carefully taped, he found Jake's two titanium hip joints.

"The fact that was him, that was so great, that we knew we had him home," Nazaretian says. "I hope we see him again. Hopefully we will."

* * *

Joe Durkin was a Tampa street cop for 12 years, until a terrible wreck in his squad car put him behind a desk. Now he's a spokesman for the police department. At 43, he has a level, flinty gaze, a dry, gruff wit, and a gravelly smoker's voice.

He's a private fellow, not a gusher. Take a look, he says, handing over his wallet.

Here are photos of his wife, Sandy, and his four daughters. Here's the receipt from the Montauk, N.Y., hotel where he and his wife honeymooned, at the tip of Long Island. Here's a business card for the place he bought her flowers for Valentine's Day.

One photo is old, in black and white.

"That's a picture of my mom," he says. "She passed in 1965."

In the photo, Durkin's mom is a young woman, just married to Durkin's dad. Her name was Anne. She's standing on the back porch of a tenement in the Bronx, a tiny apartment off 183rd Avenue in a poor, tight-knit Irish Catholic neighborhood. It was before Durkin was born.

"She and my dad had their first apartment up there," Durkin says. "My dad was in Korea."

Durkin has other photos of his mom, but he carries this one. Behind her is a sagging wooden fence, a dirt courtyard and a tumbledown brick building. She was a first-generation American, from Irish stock.

"The background around her reminds me how far we've come," Durkin says. "This is long before all the conveniences. And yet, you look at the expression on her face. They were happy."

His young mother is smiling radiantly.

She was "very full of life, very warm, very upbeat," he says. "From my memory, she was mom. She was warmth, she was strength, she was security. There was a very strong sense of family."

She looks just like she does here in his memories of her. He has only four years of them.

He was just shy of his fifth birthday when a family friend pulled him out of kindergarten and took him home, where his whole family was waiting. They told him the news. She had collapsed and died at 36 on a shopping trip. It was a coronary blockage.

"Okay," said 4-year-old Joe, not understanding. "What time's she coming home?"

She had given birth to three boys and a girl, and the boys all went into law enforcement: two detectives and Joe. He wishes she were around to see her grandkids.

His dad was single for years before he married again. Her name is Diane. She's living in Port Richey now, and Joe sees her frequently and considers her his mom. He says he grew up feeling like the luckiest kid around. He had two of them.

* * *

Kurt P. Lambert's wallet, like its owner, is bone-thin and getting thinner by the year.

Every day, if he has the strength, he walks the few blocks from his St. Petersburg apartment to BayWalk for lunch. He sits in a T-shirt and jeans on the bench in the courtyard, smoking Hava ultralights, which he buys for $1.25 a pack at a discount store.

There is no smiling family in his wallet, no wife or kids. He keeps a business card of the local art gallery he runs with his brother. Plus a lawyer's card, because for the last 12 years he has suffered from Crohn's disease and is trying to get disability payments.

"I'm so sick, I can barely make it down the street, to tell you the truth," he says.

For emergencies, he carries a Visa card he has never used. "I think we're way overteched," he says, proud that he has never turned on a computer. "I'm the only 48-year-old person you know who's never used a credit card."

For ID, he keeps a driver's license, though he doesn't drive. He gave away his 1975 MGB about five years ago. "Happiest day of my life," he says.

He keeps a Yellow Cab card because he needs a taxi when he's not walking or taking a bus.

It used to be thicker, his wallet, full of the world's things. He used to chase girls, so he carried condoms. "No sense in bothering anymore," Lambert says.

He's into simplicity now, cutting out the clutter. After getting rid of his car, he sold his condo. An apartment's easier.

He's scaling back in ways large and small, detaching himself from the world he expects to leave soon. "I'm preparing for death," he says. "I'm looking forward to it, I'm so sick."

Watching CNN, he believes the world may end before he does. He sees the storm gathering in the Middle East, the approach of the End Times.

"The s--'s gonna hit the fan, and Jesus is gonna come back," he says.

He accepted Jesus when he was 5, so he'll ascend with the faithful, when the Rapture comes. Why weigh down your pockets with even one extra ounce? "It's all gonna burn up in Armageddon anyway," he says.

* * *

Marlon Lumpkin, a prep cook at TooJay's Gourmet Deli in St. Petersburg, is lounging on his break in baggy shorts and old sneakers. He's 25. He has had this plain brown wallet for three months. He seems puzzled when a reporter asks to look inside. Who wants to read about how he's broke?

But he smiles, opening the cashless maw. "Out of that three months, I've had money in it about three times," he says.

Its nooks are stuffed with pay stubs, plus frayed, bunched-up paper scraps scrawled with names and phone numbers. "Homegirls and homeboys," he explains.

He can't explain why he carries an Albertson's discount card, because he shops at Publix. His Social Security card has gone through the washing machine, and his baby daughter took a bite out of it.

Here's a business card of a guy who burns CDs, the guy Lumpkin will go to when he has stashed away enough money to launch an album. "Soul music," he calls his style. He sings karaoke at Wet Willie's. His hero is Tupac Shakur.

"I'm a solo artist," he says. "I'm working and trying to save up (so) I can put my own music out there."

His stage name is Eyes, and he calls his album My Life, Y'All's World. He plans to have the title of one of his songs, Suffering Days, tattooed on his stomach, with a pair of eyes on his chest that drip blood.

He sings about "police, racism, black-on-black racism, fraud preachers" who drive fancy cars, about growing up poor in St. Petersburg without a father around. "No water in the house, no lights in the house," he says. "It was terrible for us.

"Certain people say it's too dark, it's too deep," he adds. "I'm talking about the truth, and that's it, yo."

He dealt drugs, drank too much, ran the streets. That was before the little girl who rescued him. He flips to a photograph of his 15-month-old daughter, Shaniya. A daughter sleeping against your chest makes everything look different.

"Now I go to TooJay's, and then the studio, and home. That's it, that's all," he says.

He cradles the photo. "This is the beautifulest thing that ever happened in my life," he says. "I'm her father and not her daddy, 'cause I'm always in her life."

He returns his wallet to his pocket and heads back to the kitchen, his break over.

- Christopher Goffard can be reached at 813 226-3337 or

[Last modified June 30, 2004, 08:48:29]

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