Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Wandering through Chicago afternoon heat not long ago, smoking a cigarette, I saw a woman on a bicycle staring at me. I blinked at her and continued walking on the sidewalk. I was a little surprised when she pulled up off of the street and headed straight for me.

She had that look in her eye that suggested she was about to ask me for something. My guess was a cigarette. I reached toward my pocket to retrieve one.

"Can I use your phone?" she asked. I continued to fish for my cigarettes. My brain told my hand "not cigarettes" and made me cock my head to the side.

"Excuse me?"

"Can I use your phone?" She explained in detail how she was working for a promotional agency but using her own phone, had gone over her limit and the phone had been disconnected. She wanted to call her father in California and have her service restored. She asked if I had free national calling, which I do, but pretended to be unsure about while I made my decision.

I cannot reconstruct in my head why I agreed to let her use the phone. I took it from my pocket and handed it to her with a look that I hoped said "please don't run off with my phone." I suppose it was the notion that I would want someone else to be helpful if I had a similar problem.

She placed her call and walked several steps down the sidewalk away from me. My eye went to the bag and bicycle she had left next to me, trying to ascertain if I could sell these items for as much as I had paid for the phone should she break into a sprint. I had already decided not to chase her if she decided to betray my kindness. I was already too sweaty, and I figured I could have the phone shut off in less than a half an hour. All I would really lose was my settings and contacts contained within the phone. Unless, of course, there is some huge scam involving stolen cell phones whose machinations I am unaware of. I tried to imagine how such scams might run as I appraised the items next to me.

The bicycle would maybe fetch $50, tops. The bag was more of a mystery. She had her purse with her, so I knew not to expect it to contain her driver's license or credit cards. It didn't seem heavy when she put it down, so gold bars was unlikely as well. Paper money was a possibility, but the mere fact that she had left it behind made this possibility seem remote.

I puffed on my cigarette and shifted my gaze from the possessions which would become mine should she flee to the woman herself, speaking into the telephone with a measure of agitation. She was at least as old as I am, and her face suggested she had a couple of years on me. I was a little concerned that someone might reach this age and still be dependent upon a parent to keep her phone alive. But such things are certainly not unheard of.

She finally finished her call and walked back to where I was standing, wiping what I presumed to be sweat or grease from her face off of the shiny surfaces of the phone. She thanked me several times, repeating the story about the promotions agency and her father.

"Thanks for not assuming I was a psycho who was gonna run off with your phone," she said.

"Well, I was prepared to sell your bag and your bike," I admitted.

"So, this thing...I'm promoting this show next Friday. A couple bands and a burlesque show." She reached into her bag, which I could now see was filled with small glossy cards advertising her event. "I'll put you on the list if you want."

I took possession of the cards she pressed into my hand.

"Seems like if I decide I'd like to go, I should pay my way in to increase the chances of you having continued cell phone service." She didn't seem to find this as amusing as I did, and pedaled off soon afterward. She said she would put me on the list anyway, under "phone man," should I opt to attend.

I walked home, thinking about the youth who had offered me a shot of what seemed like vodka on the street several months ago. Is it weird that I am more likely to give something to someone who asks on the street than to take something which is offered for free? I eye both groups of people with a certain amount of suspicion. I suppose that's something.


Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

You've described pretty much what my thought process would've been in that situation--and wonderfully so. I'd also have felt tangible pangs of guilt for not trusting her to come back and mentally envisioning what she might have had in the bag and how much I could get for (or use) the bike.

But I think you have a pretty good feel for things--the adage says "Never take candy from strangers," not "Never give candy to strangers."

Glad she didn't swipe your phone, but, um, the burlesque show? Anything, Phone Man?

Nikki Neurotic said...

You do realize that now on I will think of you as Phone Man.

Oh well, hopefully you have good karma coming your way.

Reading the Signs said...

Mr. Moon (but Phone Man is rather good), if you were writing this as a story what would your take on this be? Yes, it's a Mystery with strong Love element thrown in. Or perhaps it's just a Love story. Perhaps Vodka boy could also be written into it somewhere.

I'm jealous of the cigarette you were smoking.

Unknown said...

And you would have given her a cigarette too? You are the epitome of generosity Mr Moon Topples. I give away cigarettes too, but of course I always think afterwards that if they can't buy their own they shouldn't be smoking!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting story. I really enjoyed it. I'm not sure what I would've done. I probably would've given her my phone and she would've run away. I don't know.

You should attend the show just so you can blog about it, you know, closure for your readers. :)

Reading the Signs said...

Actually, I'm not jealous of the cigarette (that would be silly as I have no wish to be smoked) - I am jealous of you for smoking it. And somehow, the above story would be different without it.

Pants said...

Hi Maht




Unknown said...

Bet you wouldn't have given her one of your tomahtl's.

The Moon Topples said...

Sognatrice: For the record, you shouldn't give candy to strangers either. That's just poor management of your candy. As for the rest, I did not attend the event. And there was simply no way I could have said "I'm on the list. Under 'Phone Man.'"

SilverN: Think of me how you will. Since starting this blog, I suddenly find myself being called Moon on a regular basis, so Phone Man isn't gonna freak me out, I guess.

Signs: I'm not sure how I would approach this is I were going to fictionalize it. I suppose it would have touches of romance, or maybe Vodka Lad could be the person who ended up buying the bike.

Ver: Yes, I do tend to give away cigarettes when asked. Not sure why, though, as your reasoning is fairly sound.

Struggles: The event has passed. I did not attend. I am so bad to you guys. Apologies.

Signs: Thanks for the clarification. I thought perhaps you meant you were jealous of the slender, pale aspect of the cigarette, or perhaps some sort of pun about a butt. Glad I was just reading it wrong.

Pants: Guess I should have blogged this story before the show occurred, huh?

Minx: I certainly would not have. Under no circumstances. Those are (were) mine, and mine alone.

Lane Mathias said...

Only a man would give away fags to a weirdo stranger. A woman would say sniffly 'Oh no I don't smoke actually' even though there's 40 stashed about her person.

Impressed at how fast your brain calculated the upshot of the scenario.

Realise 'fag' may have a differential in Americano.

The Moon Topples said...

Lane: I submit Verilion as evidence that women will also surrender their cigarettes to strangers.

basest said...

i think if it were me, I would probably have secretly hoped my phone would be stolen. I could have more fun on a bicycle than speaking on the phone...and often, the words that come out of my phone are shrill and annoying.

Taffiny said...

Giving strangers candy, probably not ideal, they may follow you home, perhaps true with cigarettes as well. (waaay back in college a friend made me take her sandwich out to give to a homeless person, she did this regularly, but had no time that day. No one would take the sandwich from me. I felt rather insulted. I do not have cooties! And I am sure her mom packed her a good lunch)

Honestly I didn't know people were still smoking. I mean I had heard of such things, but actually seeing people walking freely about and smoking, I don't think I have seen that in years.

Are you extremely approachable? Or is life, that much, different in the city, compared to here where the burbs kiss the countryside?

I would have done the same thing. Whenever someone throws something at me, I am not expecting (like a request), I get flustered and tend to do what I think is kind, rather than what I actually would prefer to do.

sexy said...