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Money for Nothing

STUFF I THINK

By John Rosenthal

THE STORY you are about to hear is true. The names haven't even been changed, because I don't know the names of any of the people involved. Well, except for my own, which you already know, and Steve's, whose phone number is 8-2666. He loves to receive phone calls at any hour of the night from lonely people who walk the streets late at night waiting for the Wursthaus to open. I, however, do not relish such calls.

One day last week, when I had finished more creamsicles than I thought humanly possible during one lunch, I decided it was time to become a public nuisance. Steve had nothing better to do--except to fold and unfold every napkin in the Leverett House Dining Hall--so he decided to accompany me.

Why should you keep reading this article? Because it gets better right around here.

STEVE AND I set off for downtown Harvard Square in the middle of Friday afternoon rush hour. We positioned ourselves in front of the mailboxes outside the Coop, and asked random passersby: "excuse me, would you like to use the mailbox?"

Some people laughed. They even called their friends over to "look at the goofy guys standing in front of the mailbox." Other people were nasty. They felt threatened by having their personal space violated, and even called us assholes. They were probably right. Still others were confused. "What's wrong with the mailbox?" was a common response. So was "what the hell are you idiots doing here?

A firetruck pulled up just as we asked another woman if she wanted to use the mailbox. All of a sudden, she grew cautious and refused to deposit her parcels in the post box. "Is there a bomb in there?" she asked. I told her no, but she asked if I would put her letters and packages in the mailbox for her.

We thanked people for using the U.S. Postal Service, and told them to come again soon. We told people who inquired that our dads worked for the Post Office and that-in hopes of getting an increase in our allowances-we were trying to drum up business for them.

And we did! A woman came by at around 5 p.m. empty-handed. "Would you like to use the mailbox, ma'am?" I asked. She declined. But half an hour later, she returned, laden with three letters.

"Change your mind?" I queried.

"Sort of," she replied. "You guys reminded me that I did have to mail some letters."

Other people were equally grateful. The mailman came by at 5:30 to pick up the day's letters. Meanwhile, we were offering people the chance to use the mailbox before it closed. The trusty letter carrier waved us a fond goodbye after doing his duty, saying "thanks a lot guys, see you tomorrow."

Steve was instrumental in preventing a woman from using the mailbox after last call. He told her that the last pickup had been made and she should use the post office if she hoped to get her letter out before the weekend. She too thanked us and remarked on how helpful we were.

Slowly, we built an audience of people who thought we were either doing a stupid Lampoon prank, or that we were independently stupid. We decided to get out of the mail business, and moved 50 feet down the street to the public phones.

"WOULD YOU like to use the phone?" we asked. No takers.

"Excuse me, would you like to make a free phone call?" we asked, holding out dimes. Still no takers.

Finally, we abandoned the phones and decided to give away money. "Excuse me sir, would you like some money?" we asked. Still no takers.

Then we held a dollar bill out and asked people passing by if they wanted it. "Excuse me, would you like a dollar?" we asked. For 45 minutes, we could not find any takers.

Some people said "no thanks, I already have one." Others wouldn't even stop when we accosted them on the street, even though we had no intention of asking them to donate to wheelchair basketball or the Endowment For John N. Rosenthal.

Others were more confused than our mailbox patrons. "What, a real dollar?" they would ask. "What's the catch?" As we were explaining to one young woman that there was no catch, a destitute-looking man joined our conversation. "A real dollar?" he said in a gruff voice.

We were about to give him the dollar, since he looked like he needed it. But he said "does it look like this one?" as he shifted his pocket flask to his other hand and pulled out a wad of bills. Seeing that he had more cash on him than Steve and I had put together, we decided not to give it to him. He blew it.

But the woman who we originally stopped also refused the currency. She must have thought that the guy with the wad was a shill. Or maybe, she was just like the hundreds of other people we stopped who did not want to look like they needed the money. Maybe they were all too busy to stop for a while and smell the roses. Maybe they were all too accustomed to thinking they can get something for nothing, only to find out that you have to sign up for seven months of Physicist's Weekly in order to get a free gift. Maybe their experience had told them that we were just two jerky college students trying to make fun of them. Or maybe they were just stupid.

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