Yesterday, after facilitating the Science and Philosophy Book Club discussion on Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, at the Centre For Inquiry, I went into the subway to buy tokens for the first time since the new-year fare hike.
As I stood before the dispensing machine, stunned by how little change I could expect back from a $10 bill, a fairly normal-looking human approached me with three subway tokens in his hand – which is all you get for $10 now. He asked, as people rushed around on all sides like a scene out of the cinematic masterpiece 2012, “Are you about to buy three tokens?” I started to say that I’m not going to be suckered out of – how much? He took advantage of my bewilderment and said something about having too many tokens and not enough cash for a burger.
My civil language must have provided him such a window that he had a clear view of my nature, which is so far from doing harm that I suspect none. I dipped into my pockets and pulled a fiver out of one and what may have been $6 in coins out of the other. He took the money from my hands and put the three tokens in my palm as if he was helping me lighten my burden. As I was about to let loose with a ferocious, “Hey…”, he deftly clutched a hefty bunch of low-denomination coins (mine) from his hand and plunked them into my other palm. Now my “hey” was ready. I said he owed me more change than that. He added a quarter saying, “Oh right, sorry. There you are; exact change.” And he politely vanished into the crowd.
When I say “vanished”, I mean he was more determined to split than I was to shout him down and get back what may have been about a buck fifty he’d scammed me out of. I just watched him go. This is “Toronto the good”. I was not offended but simply bamboozled, both that he would go to such lengths for pocket change and that I found myself letting him do it. I was fascinated by both of our behaviours.
How is this “lucky” for me? In the following two ways.
- I had a student from one of those beautiful beachy places in South America which I am privileged to have visited and hope to see again. He described a day he was walking on the beach in his swimming shorts and flip-flops – nothing to steal. Someone pulled a gun on him, in a public place in broad daylight, and said he wanted those stylish shorts. My student said he knew what happens to he who hesitates. He ran home naked and alive.
- For a mere buck fifty or so I got a priceless lesson. Don’t trust anyone ever; every person on this Earth is evil scum and you can never drop your guard for a second! The next person who says, “Excuse me,” to me is going to get a ferocious kick in the balls (oh, he’ll have balls, because it takes balls to be that low.)
That’s me, lucky and still learning.