Saturday, April 10, 2010

Actually, I Wasn't Having a Bad Day...

I stepped out of the pizza place holding my second slice on a paper plate and chewing the crust from my first. Immediately a dude approached and said, "Sorry to bother you. I know you're probably having a bad day. But could you give me a quarter? I need to make a phone call."

He was late 40s, jeans and a t-shirt, not homeless-looking or anything. Still, I didn't buy it.

"I don't buy it," I said. I walked away.

A few questions came to mind as I bit into slice number two. Was he telling the truth? Perhaps he was. Perhaps he truly needed to make a phone call, but he didn't have a cell phone. There were a number of plausible scenarios that could have driven him to ask me for two bits.

Maybe he dropped his phone on the subway tracks and instead of jumping down and trying to retrieve it before the next train came, he wisely decided it was safer to tell the attendant at the booth that he dropped it. Except when he got there, the booth was empty. No problem, he thought, I'll just go above ground and call the MTA from a pay phone. But when this responsible citizen reached the nearest pay phone bank, he fished through his pockets only to find that he was twenty-five cents short. He only had a dime! Undeterred, our intrepid commuter decided to take a page from Blanche DuBois's book; he would depend on the kindness of strangers. This probably hurt his pride a little, but he knew this was no time for emotions to get the better of him. Of course he would be polite. He would put others' feelings ahead of his own and not assume that his misfortunes were worse than whatever they were going through. For all he knew, the next person he asked for a quarter was on the way to a funeral, or had just been fired and didn't know how he would provide for his family now. And he wouldn't judge people if they didn't believe his need was genuine. I probably wouldn't believe it either, he likely told himself as I strolled away, happy with a pocket full of quarters.

Or maybe he had a phone in his pocket, but he had a pre-paid plan and he was only three minutes away from exceeding it. Any minute now he was expecting a phone call from his son-in-law, telling him that the delivery had gone swimmingly and he was a grandfather! He knew that that phone call would eat up his minutes, so he would be unable to call his drinking buddy, Amos, and tell him the good news. Well, good for him. Bad for Amos, because Amos had picked next week as the baby's due date in the office pool, and that meant he would lose upwards of fifty bucks. Oh, to hear the regret in Amos's voice. What satisfaction! He'd finally get Amos back for the time he lost that Superbowl bet. But how could he hear it if he couldn't call Amos? Hence the quarter.

Then again, the quarter might not have had anything to do with telecommunication. Maybe, like me, he had just eaten a slice or two of pizza. The blind date he was meeting in five minutes around the corner at the bar (just drinks, casual) wouldn't like it too much if he spent two hours breathing garlic breath at her. He found the answer, of course, at a deli two doors down: a gumball machine! Only problem was he only had credit cards on him, no cash at all (why hadn't he gone to the ATM?). He couldn't ask the clerk to change a bill he didn't have. He'd have to beg for money. But he couldn't tell the truth - that would seem weird. He decided a little white lie couldn't hurt. Enter pizza-munching Steve, a man who surely could spare a quarter. Here was a way to turn an evening of garlic words into a night of passion-fruit flavored passion. Except I kept walking.

But probably he wanted money because he was just 25 cents away from a cool fifth of Mad Dog 20/20.


Craig . Kate . Xavier said...

I shudder to think of the chaos that must be swirling around in your head at any given moment.

Steve said...

And I'm not even drinking the M/D.

Susan theiss said...

My favorite yet - but my, how cy
nical you've become. New York or New Jersey?

Ryan said...

I love that you said "I don't buy it" haha.. People in my hood always say "excuse me sir, I have a question" Or "Can I ask you a question?" I don't stop and say " I don't have any money"

Does that make me worse than you?

Steve said...

New York. In the improv district (a label you will not find on any taxi maps, but that doesn't make it any less real).

Ryan, it doesn't make you worse than me. It makes you more clever. I'm surprised I haven't been devoured by this urban leviathan yet. The only thing keeping us alive is cynicism. (I think that's a Kennedy quote. Not sure which Kennedy.)