I am a thief of moments, a felon of time.
Today I stole a short-shorted young tight-bod’s moment on the No. 66 bus. She chewed McDonald’s and lazily told strangers about the methadone clinic.
I stole that moment, took it home, chop shopped it up and sold it back to you just now but in my words.
On that same bus ride, I stole a moment between a heavyset lady shuffling down the aisle and a young, sitting and very pregnant woman.
“Having a girl?”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” the heavy woman said, explaining the joke in words quiet and mumbled enough to escape my burglar grasp.
I call myself a thief because every writer is, whether they write reality like I do or change the names and facts, put their stolen moods and moments in outer space or something and call it fiction. The best are taut and subtle cat-burglar heists, but a smash-and-grab job will do if the moment or mood swiped from reality has enough emotional resonance to be worth a damn.
Here’s the swag from this morning’s first haul:
On the north side of that section of Chicago Avenue by the Mag Mile, on that stretch where developers conspired with trees and signage to give the block the feel of a suburban downtown, a taxi-bike pulled alongside the curb.
The taxi-bikes, basically rickshaws on Schwinns, were the latest fad, a year or two new to Chicago. Also less than a decade new to the city was one of the cab’s inhabitants, a little girl of maybe 5 or 6, nestled in her mother’s arms.
As the little girl played with a tuft of hair on her clearly new Ty Beanie Baby, she looked up to her mother with a sleepy smile that said…
OK, that’s not working. Let’s try it again:
The bike-taxi driver with the young hipster beard pulled up alongside the Starbucks to check his phone for directions. Traffic was heavy for a Tuesday mid-morning and the fare had asked to be taken to the subway instead of the normal slow pedal around tourist areas that usually filled the young man’s piggy bank.
He looked back on the fare, a mom with a cigarette and a little girl who smiled like…
Hmm. Maybe like this:
Class went great, despite a lack of caffeine making me meander a bit in my lecture. But now I had coffee, or at least what Starbucks calls coffee, and had found a shady spot to wait for the No. 66 home.
I took a sip as up pulled one of those taxi-bike-rickshaw things, this one pulling a mom and a happy little girl with a smile that…
It’s the little girl’s smile that gets me, the one I can’t steal to describe.
She was happy, of course, but it was more than that. The smile was safe and content, the smile of a little girl surrounded by a world of love, from her mother’s soft caress to the feel of the sun and a light breeze on her skin as she stroked the hair of her new toy. I can’t capture the love and peace and security and joy that little girl felt at that moment, no matter how many words and hours I waste.
I’m not a thief, of moments or anything else. I am a clown for thinking I could be.
Every moment I’ve described in these tales of Chicago had always been and had always stayed with the people who held them, not to the little writer-witness peering from the side.
A little girl bested me. I hadn’t stolen a goddamn thing.