I hadn’t heard from Ben for weeks, so I didn’t know whether he still wanted to buy the old car I have sitting at home. I haven’t driven it for three years, but I kept it for a long time simply as a backup. Eventually, I kept it simply because I hadn’t gotten around to doing anything with it.
Ben caught me one day a few weeks ago as I got home. He wanted to know whether the car was for sale. We talked and he agreed to come back some evening before dark so he could try to get the car started. We wanted to coordinate our schedules by phone in the coming days, but he didn’t have a cell phone.
I finally saw Ben again this evening. It was after dark, so we couldn’t look at the car tonight, but he told me I could call him on his cell phone now.
He still couldn’t afford a phone, but he explained that someone he knew traded a “free government phone” to him in exchange for $8 worth of beer.
I thought this sounded like an odd trade, but Ben explained.
“He didn’t need the phone,” Ben said, “but he took it ’cause it was free. What he needed was some beer, so we made a trade.”
I asked him if he could get into trouble using a phone that was a federal benefit to someone else. He told me the government doesn’t know who uses the minutes.
“Besides,” he said, “they wouldn’t care none. Nobody pays for those things. They’re free.”
I explained that everybody else pays for the phones, because nothing’s really free. I told him about a government mandated tax called the “universal service fee.” I told him that everybody who pays for a cell phone has to pay that — and those phones are paid for by users who pay bills.
Ben looked genuinely puzzled.
“But they’re free,” he said again. “The government pays for them. When you get stuff from the government, nobody pays for it. It’s free.”
Ben sounded as though he thought I was a bit slow for not being able to understand this obvious truth, so I dropped it.
All he understands is that the government handed a phone to a man who didn’t want it. He said the man who gave him the phone was just happy to have some beer instead.
So if you’re one of those suckers who pays for your own phone service — that would be people like me, too — I guess I should thank you. Without you, I might never have been able to communicate with Ben enough to pursue a deal for this old car.
I’m thankful Ben didn’t drink up all his beer so he had $8 worth left. And I’m glad you guys bought his buddy a phone he didn’t want. Maybe I’ll sell this old car to Ben and at least one of us will get some of our stolen money back.