GAMBLE: How I lost my wallet and found the nice guys

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I had a good weekend. And for no other reason than this: it could have ended so much worse.

After checking out the Sound Opinions show at the Pabst Friday night, I went to a downtown bar with a few friends, where I ended the night by losing my wallet. It held my debit card, Illinois driver’s license and Marquette ID. Overtired and completely panicked, I was in rare form as I choked on tears.

By Saturday morning, my puffy eyes and I were on I-294, headed home to Chicago for a duplicate license. But I hadn’t even hit Racine before my mother called, saying that a “Mrs. Sullivan” had just called and said her husband found my wallet last night. When I went to their house, they welcomed me in, handed me my wallet and declined the 20 bucks I tried to offer as a reward. Mr. Sullivan, a fifty-something-year-old man with a bald spot on his head, just shook my hand and said, “Nah, you keep your money. You just pass on this act of kindness to someone else. That’s the only reward I need.”

As I walked back to my car, I felt like I was in a movie. Everything was intact and untouched. The only thing missing was a smidge of my dignity, lost when I had to call U.S. Bank to check my debit card history — and ensure my last purchase had indeed been at a rock lounge called Bad Genie, home of the “Scorpion Shot.” I confirmed that was correct and quickly hung up. I’ve wondered since then what brought Mr. Sullivan from suburban Milwaukee to Bad Genie, where smoke strangles oxygen and tattooed hipsters gulp baby scorpions soaked in vodka. But I guess that’s neither here nor there.

On Saturday night, I scoped out a concert at the Cactus Club. A guy named Timothy Showalter, who goes by the name Strand of Oaks, stood on the stage with his guitar and said it felt good to be back in the Midwest. He now lives on the East Coast and says he doesn’t fit in. He speaks too slowly and always finds himself holding doors for people, which is apparently not a national custom. He went on to thank us for listening to him, because, as he said, “I know I don’t always want to look at a guy that looks like me.” When introducing a song for his beautiful wife, he said, “Believe it or not, I actually got someone to marry me.”

“Good God, what’s next?” I thought, half-expecting him to stop right there, take out a pair of scissors and hack off his luscious 8-inch tresses to donate to Locks of Love. That’s just about the only way he could have been any kinder — and it felt so alien. A musician who isn’t a completely pretentious, arrogant jerk?

During the Sound Opinions show, rock critic Greg Kot said the most remarkable people are usually a combination of jerk and genius. He’s right. But for all the attention we pay to the jerks and geniuses of the world, I often find myself forgetting a major player in the game of life: the nice guy. It was so very reassuring to get acquainted with them again last weekend.

While celebs like Kanye West and John Mayer shoot off their fat mouths and faux-geniuses ramble about oligarchies, postmodernism and “finding themselves,” the nice people out there are picking up wallets and holding open doors. They don’t stop the world in its tracks with controversy or create so much chaos that it whirls off its axis — instead, they just keep it spinning.

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