“Hey brother, can you spare a dollar?”
I’m sitting on a rock between the Fillmore and Wendy’s, hiding in the shade, waiting to meet my date for the day. She said she was less than four minutes away, and I perform the ritualistic modernist tic, pulling out my paradox machine, mindlessly (hopelessly?) checking in on the virtual universe I’m god of, checking out of the physical world I currently occupy.
A man approaches on a cheap Chinese-made box-store mountain bike and calls out to me.
I’m annoyed. Unusually (for me), I’m carrying quite a bit of cash. The Taste of Denver requires cash. My date and I have planned a lovely afternoon, eating Americana, the price of which is cash.
I decide to lie. Maybe he’ll go away.
“Sorry man, I don’t have any cash on me.”
He doesn’t go away.
“Can you at least buy me a burger then? I’m starving…”
I don’t hear the rest because my mind is wandering but quickly. My date will be here any second; a cashless transaction appeals to me — I hate cash. I appreciate the irony of buying Wendy’s for this man; I haven’t eaten Wendy’s since my disastrous experience with the Wendy’s Challenge years past.
“Sure, let’s go.”
I am concerned for the man’s bike; I see no lock. I’m a cyclist too and I don’t want his to get stolen. That wouldn’t be a very good trade: Wendy’s for a bike? Ugh.
“Do you have a lock?”
He’s already angling it through the door.
“I’ll just bring it inside.”
So practical. I’m impressed.
I look back and see my date standing outside the Fillmore, looking for me, looking confused because I told her I was there, waiting for her.
Her hand raises to her ear. My pants vibrate. I sigh.
“Would you mind if I made it a meal?”
I was going to suggest a meal to him anyway, but his lizard brain is going full-tilt in the presence of food and my neocortex is rather preoccupied at the moment. I regret making him ask for more, forcing him to prostrate himself further to me. It’s not what I’d planned.
Besides, Wendy’s fries are pretty good.
The man tells me he wants the #1 meal. He’s mumbling quietly. I don’t want to be this man’s proxy any more than I already am. He doesn’t need me to order his meal for him. I smile (why do I think a smile is appropriate?) and tell him to order directly from the guy behind the counter.
The wheels of modern commerce roll smoothly, and in less than 20 seconds, my card is swiped, the transaction is approved, and I’m trying to leave.
“Thanks man, I’ll pay this forward when I get a chance.”
Oh boy, I like Kevin Spacey, but that movie was terrible. I mean, the trailer was terrible, so I never even watched the movie. That is literally my internal response to this man’s genuine appreciation. What is wrong with me?
“Just do whatever you can.”
I’m pleasantly surprised that my external response doesn’t suck. Has my ego any bounds?
I shake the man’s hand, and wish him good luck. Conservation of non-sucky responses, I guess. In any case, he looks happy. Of course, now the man has to deal with the horrible Wendy’s service, but that is his problem, not mine.
I rush back to the Fillmore and apologize to my date. She seems confused, seeing me come out of the Wendy’s, but it doesn’t seem appropriate to really explain, and in an instant, it’s forgotten for the rest of the day. I’m too busy doing the complicated dating dance to dwell.
We’ll go on to spend more than $60 on wild boar bratwursts, beer, deep fried strawberries, deep fried cookie dough, and the Gravitron.
Now it’s hours later. I don’t have a stomach ache — I don’t get stomach aches — but the memory of the man is keeping me up. My ambivalence is deep and I feel lost.
I’m weaving quite the conceit here, but don’t have an endgame in sight.