A guy, vaguely skaterish dude, came up to me. He asked me if I had the time. I looked at him suspiciously, annoyed that someone was talking to me while I had been lost in reading, also sensing some scam, some trouble. 99 times out of 100, when someone approaches you in New York, it is not anything you want to hear. And so I have learned to deflect, to avoid. They usually want something, your time, your money, your sanity, your phone.
I was about to tell this guy that I didn't know what time it was, didn't want to take my phone out of my pocket. It's a defensive crouch that I have taken so many times on desolate streets in sketchy neighborhoods when at an hour no one needs to know the time, someone asks it of you. It comes from some not entirely ungrounded fear of being mugged. Instead, when this guy asked me, I did pull out my phone, but accompanied by an audible sigh, vaguely annoyed, and told this guy the time.
He heard my annoyance. He apologized, said that he had just lost his phone yesterday and how much it sucks not having a phone. I felt like a dickhead. I probably am a dickhead most of the time. I don't mean to be. But there are so many moments that I have closed myself off to by always being in some figurative crouch, hoping to prevent any sort of crazy from even coming near me.
The guy was really cute and really friendly. I wanted to know him, imagined that we could hang out and get a drink because it's not like he had a phone to contact any of his friends to meet up, that we could have fallen in love as we wandered Brooklyn and the night talking about phones and how sickeningly dependent we are on them and life in general. And yet I closed off to this fantasy from every even having whatever small chance at reality it may have had on some fantastical faraway land. Once I actually looked at this person, looked at his eyes, saw this human being, bothered to look away from the magazine in front of me, I saw this beautiful person, this human being, vulnerable, open, and looking to make a connection.
On the train ride home, I mulled further on my assholeness and also pondered these social changes that have occurred in my lifetime, that this person apologized for a casual approach to a stranger, something that in the time before smartphones used to be such a common occurrence, people asking other people with watches what time it was, the asking of people for directions before we each began carrying a GPS in our pockets. This is a fairly recent change. How many chance encounters have we closed ourselves off to with these technological changes? How many people will never know a happiness they may have because they never met that person who in not too far off times, would have asked them if they happened to have the time?