This was not, Dong-Ping Wong insisted for the millionth time, a prank phone call. No, please don’t hang up. He just wanted to talk about how to clean pool water.
But the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene official on the other end of the line still wasn’t entirely convinced. No, she hadn’t read Wong’s email, but she didn’t need to; she’d spent the past 45 minutes listening to this man, who claimed to be an architect, talk about building a pool in the East River. And filling it with . . . river water?
“Does your mother know what you’re doing?” the woman asked him. Wong was used to this.
“OK,” he said, “let’s assume I’m a crazy person. Just give me one last thing. Indulge a crazy person. Have you seen the video I sent you?”
He told her he’d wait.
She pressed play. Phone to his ear, Wong could hear his own voice in the background: “We’re here because we want to build a floating pool.”
“You do look crazy,” she said finally. And, at least in terms of the video, maybe he did: disheveled black hair, tie-dye-spattered T-shirt, round grandfather glasses. Beside him on a couch, staring into the camera, were two similarly scruffy men, also wearing T-shirts. All three were hunched toward the camera, elbows on their knees. This was a business pitch?
Wong said nothing. A minute went by.
“Oh,” the woman said.
Another minute. Wong heard her clear her throat as the video faded out.
“You know, I’m a bit of an artist myself,” she said. “I understand when people try to do creative things.
“You do look crazy,” she added. And then she told him what he needed to know.
The woman from the health department
was more right than Wong let on. From the beginning, he’d known the floating pool idea was crazy.