A Moral Dilemma

I have a story to tell you. But before I do, I want you to know that I have tried my hardest not to embellish any of it and tell it as clearly as I remember it, with all of my thoughts and statements written as accurately and truthfully as I can. This is because it is a story that really needs no embellishment and can stand on its own merits. Although I’d had two beers at the time it occurred, my memory of the events that transpired is crystal clear because I retold it a few times through the course of the evening, and reinforced the details in my mind with each retelling. So without further ado, here it is.

Last night I went out to happy hour to meet some friends at a small brewpub downtown in the University district, a predominantly white part of town in a predominantly white city. I’d gotten there a little early, and the place was surprisingly empty. I sat down to try a couple of their ales and pass some time on the left side of the bar, which could seat about 8 people on the front and 3 more on the left end. In the middle was the serving area, with six of the taps in a large fountain that arose from the center of the bar and four more on either side. Can’t quite envision it? It looked like this:


In front of it was the tip jar, an ornate hourglass-shaped opaque vase nearly a foot and a half tall and roughly six inches in diameter, presumably for the bartenders to share the spoils among each other equally.

Two ales later, a few more people had entered the bar and were sitting at the far right side of it, while I sat alone on the left side. Then around 5:15, in walks bling-bling homey G, about 5’10 and 220lbs with a bright red jumpsuit, sideways ballcap, gold-rimmed wraparound sunglasses, gold hanging from all the usual places, and the practiced swagger of a hip-hop star. A very black guy in a very white neighborhood. He goes up to the serving area in the middle of the bar, and positions himself to the right of the fountain. He asks the bartender for two drinks of some kind that require him to go down to the far end of it by the clock in the picture, where the other two patrons are sitting.

He says something about his girlfriend coming over soon as he watches the three of them closely, and when nobody is looking, sneaks his left hand into the tip jar. Sitting a few feet down to his left, he apparently didn’t notice me, and I caught his suspicious movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked over at him as he pulled his hand out of the jar and couldn’t see anything in his palm, and I hoped at that point he simply mistook it for breath mints. I thought to myself “Ohhh, he didn’t just do what I thought he did, did he?” But then I was stunned as he casually slipped that hand into the left pocket of his jumpsuit and quickly removed it. “Yeah, he did,” I thought.

I continued to look at him until he turned to look at me, and then I stared him down until he knew I had caught him red-handed, and he finally looked away. He said to the bartender that he came here all the time, but the bartender said “I’ve never seen you here before, but I don’t usually work days so I don’t know.”

Now I was faced with a dilemma. I’d never been to this bar before and the bartender didn’t know me any better than this guy. If I were to accuse him of the theft I had just witnessed, would my word be any better than his? Would I simply embroil myself in the middle of a pissing contest that ultimately ends up with chairs being thrown about the room, bodies going through glass picture windows onto the street, and a headline in tomorrow morning’s news? I looked around the room to see if anyone else was nearby that might have seen it, but no one was. I checked the ceiling for security cameras, but didn’t see any that would corroborate my story. My confusion with the situation turned to anger that this person, so obviously trying to convey an image of wealth, had the temerity to steal a couple of dollars from a bartender’s tip jar. I remembered my own situation of a few weeks before, when the bartender had used a shot glass to give me my bar tab. I put the cash in the glass next to it and then went to the bathroom. When I returned, my entire $38 had been stolen from it while the friend with whom I was there was engaged in conversation with someone else at the bar.

As these thoughts go through my mind, I could see him looking over at me frequently, watching to see what I was going to do. My facial expression must have clearly communicated the anger I was feeling because he came over to me and asked, “Hey man, can I buy you a drink?”

I looked him squarely in the eye and said, “You know, you’ve put me in a moral quandary here.”

“What?” he asked.

“You have put me in a moral quandary,” I repeated.

“What are you talking about?” he asked.

“You know what I’m talking about. You know I saw you.”

“Oh yeah? What did you see?”

“The things you do reflect on your entire race, and you should consider that before you do shit like that,” I said. “This is how stereotypes are made.” The bartender later told me this was the statement that grabbed his attention away from making his drinks.

“Oh. So you know how to fight?” he asked.

“Yeah, I do.”

“You wanna step outside?”

Still looking him squarely in the eye, I said “I ain’t afraid of you. But I’m not taking this outside because this isn’t about you and me. This is about you and your problem.”

At this point, the bartender intervened and told him to leave. He said “Yeah, I wanna step outside with this guy. He’s done with his beer, he can come outside so we can talk.”

“I’ve got nothing more to say to you,” I said. The bartender told him to get out repeatedly until he left. Then he looked at me and asked, “What the hell just happened? Did he steal from my tip jar or something?”

“Oh yeah he did,” I replied. “And I caught him red-handed. But I couldn’t figure out what to do about it.”

“I heard you say ‘things you do reflect on your entire race’ and I thought, ‘How did the conversation get to that point so fast? Something’s up.'”

“Well yeah, it sure was. I was trying to figure out whether you would believe me or if it would just make a bad situation worse. Do you have any security cameras in here?” I asked.

“No, we don’t.”

“This has happened before, hasn’t it?”

“Not that I’ve known about, no. I knew there was something suspicious about him as soon as he came in, talking about his girlfriend being here any minute like that meant anything to me. I should’ve kept my eye on him closer.” He grabbed the jar to see how much was missing from it.

“Okay so put yourself in my shoes,” I said. “If you were sitting on this side of the bar and were in my situation, what would you have done?”

“I really don’t know. But it looks like he didn’t take more than a couple bucks.”

“What was the point of it then? Why would someone dressed up like that with all that bling steal a dollar or two from you?” I asked.

“I dunno that either. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I’ll have another beer.”

5 minutes later, everybody started arriving and I related my story to them, corroborated by the bartender. Had they been a few minutes earlier they’d have seen the whole thing.

So imagine yourself in the same situation. What would you have done?

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10 Responses to A Moral Dilemma

  1. Ron Nielsen says:

    Despite how people may attempt to portray themselves, our appearance is simply an outward facade masking whatever personal baggage or issues we are dealing with. Not knowing what this guy’s motivation was whether because the few dollars helped buy food for his starving child or just because it makes him feel cool, I can say without reservation that I would not have made this about racial stereotypes or even about good vs bad.

    You began this story by describing the man as “G Money� which in itself is a stereotype. I would think that everyone, regardless of how they dress, their race, or even their initial demeanor deserves the right to be regarded as equals. In the instance that you mentioned, specifically the ALLEGED theft, you saw something but still had no definitive proof that any crime actually took place. Your concern for the bartender’s tip could have been easily offset by informing him after the incident and increasing your tip upon your departure.

    We all have to do what we can to have each other’s back and help whenever possible but that does not necessarily mean start a fight or even take aggressive measures unless of course he was in need of such aid, i.e. the man started a fight with the bartender. Throwing the bartender a few more dollars from your pocket on the way out would have showed so much more class, and reverence that this situation could have gone totally different.

    In the end, what’s done is done. I’d recommend the tip jar be moved behind the bar.

  2. Matt says:


    I think I would have also said something to the guy, leaving the race part of that out, but I would have done it RIGHT when he took the money. If I had waited until after that I think I would have minded my own business and kept my mouth shut.

    Unless I was drunk, I probably would have passed up the offer to “step outside” 🙂


  3. Nancye says:

    Good Question!!!!

    That’s a really tough one….not sure what I would do in that situation….being a woman, I’m sure I’d be concerned for my personal safety, and that would probably affect my decision, for better or worse…..

  4. Kerrie Anne says:

    Ok, you know my hot headed irish temper. I am learning quickly to vocalize my opinion. My first reaction would be to get all up in his face. Then my hubby would have to step in and have a nice chat with the guy.
    But you are right, what would that solve.
    Good question though.

    We miss you Dave 🙂

  5. Bob says:


    1. His hand had absolutely no business being in the tip jar… it’s not his… whether it is an alleged act or not is completely irrelevant

    2. I’ve worked in many establishments such as this and always look out for the safety and well being of those that provide the service for us to have fun and let our hair down… Let’s face it, the staff are working stiffs and have to push a lot of ales to be able to pay the rent. Whether it’s a buck or two, or $1000 makes no difference. It’s a hard way to make a few bucks… Revert to #1

    3. Being slightly confrontational about the situation is a very powerful tool. Had nothing been said, I’m quite sure the hand would have been in the tip jar again, that very evening. Is that accusational? Sure, but really, if no one stopped him before, what’s to stop him from doing it again?

    Now, there’s the race thing…. There was a certain image that was being projected by the individual, for better or worse. Is it fair to call it exactly what it was? This is very touchy for many people. Myself, I would have left the race thing out, even though he projected the image to illicit a response. White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc… makes no difference…. Refer to #1… But you are right about 1 thing, it DOES reflect upon his race in a perceived fashion, based upon the image he was projecting. I have many friends that happen to be of African descent, that would have created a much bigger issue about his race than you did. So, the question here REALLY is, “Is it OK for a white guy to bring attention to an image that is being projected by an individual, that is clearly ethnic, and is commonly associated with negative behaviors?”

    Bottom line, I would have jumped his shit…. Most likely in a more confrontational way ragardless of what his ethnic background is… makes no difference…. Refer to #1

  6. FieroLT1 says:

    I think you handled the situation beautifully. I would have also said something to the bartender. But when confronted by that person, my nature unlike yours, is unfortunately much more violent. I would have led the way outside where I would have shoved all that bling where it won’t shine any more.
    Don’t get me wrong, I do not condone this type of behavior, but it is the way I usually handle things of this nature, for good or for bad, most of the time for the bad so no, i’m not proud of it.
    These people make me sick to my stomach. And by “these people”, I do not make any reference to race, but to the ones that go out every day with the sole intention to attract notice and impress others with something they probably don’t have.
    The ones that think the world owes them something or that they can behave anyway they want because no one is going to do anything about it once they have “made the scene”.
    But you did do something about it, and he was not counting on that. Kudos to you my friend!

  7. dave says:

    Thanks for all the comments so far. To Ron’s comment about calling him “G Money” and that being a stereotype, I’m not sure what that means and it wasn’t what I said, but what I did say was probably no less stereotypical. I don’t oppose stereotypes though – they’ll always be there anyway, so if you’re going to be stereotyped you might as well make it a good one. The hip-hop star was presumably this person’s stereotypical ideal he was trying to achieve, and it simply helped me to convey his appearance in words when no images were available. This was intended to be a discussion of real-life morality problems rather than about stereotypes, but as stereotypes go they are a fundamental part of human psychology. We as individuals would be overwhelmed with information and very gullible if we didn’t have stereotypes to help us make decisions about our safety and other things we do just in the routine course of our daily lives. Each of us is faced with decisions about whether we trust a particular person based on limited information we know about that person. Sometimes these decisions are trivial, but other times they can have severe consequences for making the wrong choice. Like whether you trust the waiter at the restaurant not to replicate your information when you hand over your credit card. Like whether you walk on the sidewalk the long way or take a shortcut through a dark alley. Or whether you take a cab, bus or train in the city at night.

  8. G-MONEY says:

    #1 I stole the money because; I’ve stolen money before. (I learned it from early American settlers)

    #2 I dressed like that because the hip-hop culture says I have to in order to be cool. However others and myself are only hood rich, which means my wealth is only wealthy in my neighborhood, not the bank or the world.

    #3 I don’t mind you snitching on me it has happened before. Just know that snitching can get you killed or beat to a pulp or both.

    #4 I don’t think you are prejudice or that you are playing the race card. Hell I realize that a lot of people are criminals and they range from a variety of shades and colors, and genders
    George Bush (white), Kim Jong (Asian), Vincente Fox (Mexican), and list gets even more colorful when talking about corporate thugs, well maybe not; most corporate thugs are white male and some female. (Anyway enough of that)

    Well anyway I got to go beat my hoes and sell some crack cause I’m G-MONEY Bitch


  9. dave says:

    Preach on brother D! I’d recognize that IP address anywhere. 🙂

    The last comment was by a former coworker of mine who lives on the south side of Chicago. He has a great sense of humor about racial subjects and I’d been looking forward to his comments on this post.

  10. Chris Chudik says:


    In reading this and reflecting on it, this famous quote comes to mind:

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.â€? — Edmund Burke

    Perhaps that sounds over-dramatic, but I don’t think so.

    It has nothing to do with race, or dollar amount. It has everything to do with the fact that some people have NO VALUES.

    That guy has probably done that for years with nobody saying anything to him. Maybe you were the first person that had the cojones to confront him.

    Way to go. Hopefully our paths will cross soon!! —Chris

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