My friend the federal judge and I are walking north on Dearborn to grab a drink at Trattoria No. 10. Just past Monroe, a young guy in a navy blue gas-station-type jacket sidles up to the judge: “Hi,” he says. “Hi. Hi.” The judge looks at him coolly, wishing he’d go away.
The guy persists. “Hi. Hi. Hi.” Finally, the judge says, “Do I know you?”
“You don’t remember me?” says the guy–half question, half statement. “You don’t know who I am,” he says, slightly mocking.
Oh God, I’m thinking. The judge probably put this guy in jail. Now he’s going to pull out a gun and get even with him. And then he’ll probably shoot me too.
I pick up my pace and edge away slightly.
“You don’t know me, do you?” says the guy again. “You really don’t know me.”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t,” says the judge. He’s becoming slightly more cordial but increasingly perplexed.
The guy continues: “You work over there, right?” He points over the judge’s shoulder, south on Dearborn, in the general direction of the Dirksen Building.
“Yes,” says the judge emphatically.
“Well, I’m Jimmy.” The guy pauses. “Jimmy from maintenance.”
“Ho-o-o–ho!” says the judge cheerily, like Santa Claus, relieved that Jimmy has solved the mystery. They shake hands.
“Jimmy, of course,” says the judge. “I didn’t recognize you without your uniform. You look different without your uniform.”
“Listen, I have a problem,” says Jimmy as the three of us begin walking more briskly up Dearborn. “Can I ask you a favor? My car got towed.”
“Oh-h-h-h. That’s not good,” says the judge. “Not good.”
“Well, see, I need $12.70 to take the train home. I promise I’ll pay you back tomorrow. I’ll bring you a $20 bill, I promise I will. I just don’t have any way to get home now. Can I borrow the $12.70?” His speech is clipped.
The judge stops. Then he reaches into his pocket. He has a ten, three singles, and a five. All folded up. He opens the bills and hands Jimmy the ten and three singles.
“Hey, thanks. But I need another $1.80,” Jimmy quickly adds. “To get to the train.”
We’ve arrived at Madison.
“Where is the train?” the judge asks a bit gruffly.
“Over there. Just over there.” Jimmy points weakly southeast. “It costs $1.80 to get there.”
The judge, who seems to be getting annoyed, goes into another pocket and pulls out two singles.
“I promise,” says Jimmy, “tomorrow I’m gonna bring you a $20 bill. A $20 bill, I promise I will.”
“Well, that’s all right,” says the judge. “You don’t have to do that. Just pay me back what I gave you.”
“All right. All right. I will. See you tomorrow. Thanks a lot.” He turns around and quickly goes south on Dearborn. We cross Madison.
“So do you think he’ll pay you back tomorrow?” I ask the judge.
“I think so,” he says.
“You didn’t recognize him at first, huh?” I ask. “Without his uniform?”
“Actually, I never saw him before in my life.”
“You’re giving $15 away to a complete stranger? A liar! You didn’t really know this guy from maintenance? Are you crazy?” I’m shrieking now. “I can’t believe you did that. Let’s go back and find him. Let’s call the cops. We’ll get him. You were conned. The guy’s a scam artist. And you fell for it. I can’t believe it.”
By now, we’re in Trattoria No. 10 and I’m saying under my breath, “You were too chicken to say you didn’t know who he was and you threw $15 away!” The employees are staring at me, and no one offers to seat us.
“I think it’s always better to err on the side of charity,” says the judge. “A priest once told me that.
“But let’s wait and see,” he goes on. “I think I’ll get the money back tomorrow.”