I’m wandering through a shopping mall with Bender, the robot from Futurama, who at some point changes without explanation into my friend Stu, currently residing in Austria. Bender-Stu spies a vending machine that dispenses toy battleships and decides he wants one. The machine has four chunky buttons depicting four progressively more elaborate and expensive models of battleship. Bender-Stu chooses the most expensive one, priced at forty-two dollars. He feeds three twenty-dollar bills into the machine.
The machine whirs and trembles and a toy battleship clatters down into the dispensing tray, along with eighteen bucks of change in loonies and toonies. The battleship is about a foot long, made of cast iron and die-molded plastic, with googly eyes glued on either side of the bridge. Before we can remove it from the tray, a strange man walks up, reaches between us, grabs the battleship, and bolts.
Bender-Stu, who by this time has morphed permanently into Stu, takes off after the thief. I hesitate. Should I join the chase? There’s still eighteen bucks sitting in the vending machine, and I don’t want to abandon it. Moreover I don’t really expect Stu to catch the guy. Still, I have a niggling sense of cowardice as I scrape the coins one by one from the shallow dispensing tray.
Another stranger approaches. “Your friend is asking for you,” he says, pointing. Coins clinking in my jacket pockets, I jog through the mall in the direction of the chase. Stu is lying in the middle of the corridor. “You bailed on me,” he says, as I pull him to his feet. He has no injuries but he’s been roughed up.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I wasn’t sure what to do.” There’s no point trying to explain. I scoop a handful of coins from my left and then my right pocket into his cupped hands.