My Phone and George

I might have failed my first #woke test in the George Floyd era. Debatable. I don’t feel bad about it but am open to your take.

I was standing on what we opportunistically adopted as our front lawn, a patch of grass at the front of our alley that faces the main street.

Someone was approaching on the sidewalk over my shoulder. I opted not to turn, fearing pleasantries would escalate into conversation and challenge my Covid-reduced tolerance for idle social interaction. (I’ve responded curtly to enough how-are-you-holding-up text messages that this problem appears solved.)

As the pedestrian passed though, I did a little sideways look-look away-look back sequence, the kind you do when willing to risk eye contact but not seeking it.

The 20-something guy must have been trying to catch a glance because he immediately stopped his brisk walk and asked if I had a phone so he could call his mom. Without hesitation, I said sorry I didn’t, and he mumbled or nodded and resumed walking.

My phone was in my pocket. I probably had just checked my stocks. I was wearing my signature faded peach shorts, so translucent, thin and tight that my sister-in-law has trained herself to keep her gaze upward when around me to avoid being startled by a python sighting. The outline of my phone in my pocket was clearly visible, along with additional treats given his upward angle.

Oh, and I also answered his question with effing AirPods sticking out of my ears, the visual equivalent of a buzzing lie detector.

The guy was wearing a backpack, lots of tattoos and dark skin — all accessories that do not define a person. Is it OK to say dark skin? I need to run that by the Twitter zombies, arbiters of truth.

I’m simply trying to describe skin, the largest and most prominent organ, as I would shirt or eye. And it’s material to my story.

I don’t think he was Black. My guess would be Hispanic or mixed. Is it OK to guess someone’s race? I need to run that by the Facebook puppets, guardians of moral high ground.

I wouldn’t care if someone guessed my race, right or wrong. Hey I guessed the guy’s age too, which might be more offensive to some people.

Do me a favor and suspend any thoughts of taking offense, and help me through a more productive thought experiment.

Suppose the pedestrian looked like George Floyd, Black and 6-foot-7. Would I have offered my phone in light of everything that’s happened this month? Would that have been necessary to avoid cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy?

What if the pedestrian were Black, 6-foot-7… and a woman? How about a hot Scandinavian blonde? I feel like the right thing to do would be to help and schedule a Zoom follow-up because social interaction is important during this #allinthistogether time.

Is it racist to make a joke about hitting on a hot blonde and not the 6-foot-7 black woman? What if he were Asian, 5-foot-7… and wearing a Hello Kitty backpack? Honestly that would be the scenario eliciting the most caution if we’re talking about a grown man with a Hello Kitty backpack.

I put this all in question format because I don’t know. I can’t discern what was running through my subconscious when I instinctively lied about not having a phone on me.

The narrative in my conscious was we both weren’t wearing masks, and it felt weird to give him something that spends so much time in my hands and near my face to put in his hands and near his face.

This could be revisionist history though, my brain helping out my conscience. Continuing the thought experiment, had we both been wearing masks, I still likely would say no.

It just felt weird, how he was walking the opposite direction from an intersection a few blocks away with 7-Eleven, Shell, Starbucks, McDonald’s and strip malls where it would have been easier to borrow a phone and get picked up. He also seemed content to pass if I hadn’t looked his way, so it didn’t seem like a pressing need.

A little more context could have altered my response too. Maybe hold up your phone and say it died. Maybe summarize why you need to call your mom.

I don’t know. I just didn’t want to hand him my phone. I wouldn’t be able to chase him down while holding the baby. (I was holding the baby by the way.)

Then again, it’s hard to imagine someone stealing from a baby on the side of a busy road in daylight, let alone my boy and me.

It may be pertinent to mention I was shirtless and hadn’t shaved in five days. With an early-puberty goatee and a strip of my wife’s old shirt tied into my hair to keep bangs out of my eyes, I looked like the bad guy in Bloodsport who always had to play a bad guy.

My giant-head 11-month-old has the countenance of a Chinese real estate scion with close relationships in the triad. In short, we don’t look like two mother effers you want to eff with over an iPhone 8.

I took this selfie minutes after the incident with the phone I didn’t have:


He surely wouldn’t have tried to pull a fast one on these tag team champions. Does it even matter? Like I said, I answered in a split second so no fair analysis was completed. I made a snap judgment.

Was I racist? I think ageist would be more appropriate because I wouldn’t have turned down an old man or child, but if the same young adult in white skin asked, I would have had the same answer.

How about Asian skin? I could see myself offering the phone, which sounds bad. Here’s an interesting counter though. Shanghai is an overwhelming place to me that makes New York City feel like Plano, Texas.

If I were drowning in that swell of humanity in China, lost and bewildered on some jostling street corner, a Black American would be the most wonderful sight. I would cling to him like my mother — not the people everywhere who looked like me. Country and culture would override race.

Yet in Southern California, I wouldn’t necessarily give him enough benefit of the doubt to borrow my phone. Why didn’t I just put it on speaker and hold it for the guy? Would that have been like following a Black teenager around a store though? Is this even relevant if he wasn’t Black?

In what appeared to be a non-emergency, should the desire to be an antiracist have superseded my gut feeling even if that feeling wasn’t entirely based on race?

Is it annoying to ask question after question on a normally opinionated blog? I’m trying to calibrate.

Two days ago, I was walking my best friend Piper when a young Black man with dreads opened the window from his parked car. He asked with such enthusiasm about Piper, I got the feeling he sensed her special powers. It was one of the high points of an unusually stressful week for me.

And it’s a bit uncomfortable to realize I wouldn’t have let him use my phone.


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