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By Thomas Hutchings.
In a week where we’ve watched the video of a woman falsely accusing a Black teenager of taking her phone, we share this story of Thomas Hutchings’ experience in the summer of 2017 (and written in December of that year). Thomas reposted on social media this week.
I came across this note in my wallet today and I guess I feel like sharing the story behind it for some closure.
I’m a guest entertainer on a cruise ship in the Caribbean a few times a year, and this past summer I was at the terminal boarding the ship, passing through security, and noticed a guy freaking out while shouting at security guards about a missing phone.
As I walked through the metal detector to grab my stuff from my bin, I noticed an extra phone in my bin, so I said, “Hey, is this your phone? It was in my bin for some reason.” It turned out he had left the phone in a bin in the empty bin area, so thinking it was empty and being on autopilot, I had unknowingly emptied my pockets into the same bin that he left in the empty bin area. I’d been following the same basic routine for weeks when the ship was in port with no issues, until this happened.
He then accused me of trying to steal his phone, saying stuff like, “Don’t you find it odd that he has my phone?”, to security, then aggressively shouting, “How do you have my phone?” At me, which I then explained about him leaving it in the bin. He was still putting on a real intense show for security and loudly asked them to hold me and call the police.
I clapped back at the guy with, “I don’t need your phone, man! I have my own and I work on the ship!”, starting to realize I’m now being possibly profiled and definitely vilified.
Now I also begin to realize that the phone case in my hand also appears to be his wallet, so I nervously hand it over to security expecting some sort of questioning, but they actually laughed it off! They waved me through, then asked me to move on because this happens often and it’s no big deal. (I should mention I see these same terminal security guards every other day, so we have formed a bit of a simpatico in passing over time. I’ve been working on this ship off and on for a year.)
I thanked them in relief, while listening to this guy frantically trying to get them to stop me and call the police for attempted robbery in an all-out tirade at the top of his lungs. I heard him say something like, “What kind of security is this?”, on my way up the escalator as his raised voice faded into the distance.
I went to my cabin and sat on my bunk in shock for a few minutes, trying to process what just happened, then decided it was ice-cream time and chalked it up to another Life Lessons 101 experience.
So fade-in to that night and now I’m on stage, in the club, on the ship playing my nightly gig with the beautiful vocalist singing her heart out as usual — and who walks in, but this same guy with his wife and child! So of course being my forgiving self, I try to just let it go and play the gig through the awkwardness.
I see them recognize me from the stage and it gets really awkward for me as they begin whispering back and forth for a few minutes, all while I’m on stage performing. Then the wife sheepishly walks up to the stage, all smiley and apologetic, and without a word throws some bills into the tip bucket and hands me the note in the photo, apologizing for her husband’s behavior. I’m thinking to myself, “thanks for the passive, second hand apology”.
So in goodwill, I say on the mic, “Thanks so much! How about I play a song for your son?” He was around toddler age. So I break into a rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow and the little guy falls asleep mid-song! Later I find out from them that he’d been having trouble sleeping. I made a quick joke on the mic about how I usually charge extra for tranquilizing children with my saxophone and the crowd of course loved it, which led to more tips. Yay!
They came by again the following night and tipped us profusely, which seemed to be out of awkward guilt for profiling and vilifying me. The vocalist was so impressed when we counted up tips at the end of the night, she proclaimed, “We gonna eat steaks tomorrow!”. Ha ha ha! I love hanging with professional entertainers because they always find a silver lining within this feast or famine lifestyle
On a serious note, I’ll never forget that feeling of being vilified and possibly racially profiled just for returning someone’s belongings back to them.
Shout out to those terminal guards for their ability to recognize the difference between an actual crime and a misplaced phone situation being over-exaggerated.
Thomas Hutchings featured in Issue 55 of W42ST magazine. Thomas is a professional saxophonist and music producer living in New York City. Before starting Artists Without Labels, he worked in the technology industry for 16 years. thomashutchings.com