My good friend The Hot Italian read my tarot cards for me Sunday. I was asking her about a difficult decision I vagueblogged about last week. I'm not going to write about my reading, because parts of it were kind of hard to hear, but one thing the cards said is that people might be noticing that my sunny exterior has slipped and my hard-won cynicism is shining through instead. I'm going to admit, writing about dating and feminist issues and even vaginas can make me a little testy. I might even slip into a sarcastic tone at times.
Tonight is not one of those nights though. Tonight is a warm, fuzzy story night. My apologies to those of you who are my Facebook friends and read a shortened version of this today on my Facebook page.
My story starts last December. I was painting 12-foot-tall walls and ceilings every day until my muscles gave out, and I could no longer lift the 8-foot ladder to move it even a foot. I would quit, go home, and pack a bunch of boxes to move over the next day when I went to paint. Winter hit hard with temperatures near zero and snow storms every other day. I was paying utilities at two houses, and I had a deadline for moving out of my old house. I was working my ass off 7 days a week, and I had no time for shit to go wrong -- even though plenty did.
In particular I needed my van to run and run well, so of course that was the time I blew a hole in my exhaust system. My 11-year-old van sounded like a jet engine, lost its get-up-and-go, and was using three times as much gas as usual. My regular mechanic found the problem for me, but he couldn't fix it. He told me I'd have to find a muffler shop that does welding, and to be careful because most of them would love to rip me off if they could. He said to have any shop I went to call him if they wanted to sell me an entire new exhaust system, and he'd set them straight.
I was exhausted every day from getting this big old house ready and moving in the bitter winter. So I put it off for several days. Finally the noise got so bad I couldn't listen to the radio without turning it up really loud, so one day on my way to paint, I stopped in at the muffler shop that's less than half a block away, just on the other side of the gate.
I told the owner I was moving into the neighborhood and explained what was going on. He said to bring it in the next day. I left it there while I painted, and when I went back he showed me the bad length of pipe they'd taken out. He charged me $75 for the repair, and said he hoped he could be my neighborhood mechanic.
It seemed important to him that I find him trustworthy. I suspect that's because some people wouldn't, and not just because he owns a muffler shop. He speaks with a strong accent that is possibly Middle Eastern. He's a Muslim, or so his artwork and the prayer rug next to his desk would suggest. I just wanted my van fixed for a reasonable price though, and he did that. I don't care where he was born or what religion he practices.
Fast forward 10 months, and I'm finally throwing a housewarming party. The only problem is parking. I live on a gated cobblestone street with parking on one side. If the neighbor a couple of houses down is taking up his usual 5 or 6 spaces, I sometimes can't find a close place to park my own van, much less 25-30 of my friends' cars. So I walked down the street and asked the owner of the muffler shop if I could borrow his parking lot for the night. He remembered me even after 10 months, and he said, sure, as long as it was after they had closed. Problem solved. The lot was full most of the night, and my friends got to park closer than they would have on the street. They may not have known it, but I'm sure my neighbors were happier too.
After the party I kept thinking I needed to bake something and run it over there to thank him. But I'm a writer. I procrastinate. As I write this, you've been in bed sleeping, or doing what you do there, for hours, and I'm not. If I could get paid for what I do best, I'd either get a job taking tests or procrastinating -- if I ever applied. Weeks went by, and all I did was think about baking that thank you gift.
Then last week I heard another hole in my exhaust system. My van again got loud, doggy and started sucking gas. I'd just had it into my regular mechanic to replace a tire mount and the battery, which cost several hundred dollars. Of course one more thing had to go wrong.
So Saturday I baked some pumpkin muffins (because what else would you bake to take to a muffler shop?), piled them on a paper plate and walked to the muffler shop. The owner was standing outside with a customer, but he came right over to me. I handed him the muffins, and he said, "Please! You don't have to do this. I was glad to help you ... ."
I brushed that off, and told him I needed to bring my van in for another patch. He said to bring it in Monday any time. As I walked away, he was already peeling the plastic wrap off the muffins and showing them to the guys in the shop.
I drove my van there after school today about 3:30. I handed him the keys, and he said it would be done by 5:00. I really hoped I wouldn't go back only to have him tell me I needed an entire new exhaust system. Like most women, I've been burned a few times, so even with a couple of good experiences in the bag, I can't fully trust. I hoped it would cost $75 like last time, and I'd be good for another year.
I walked back over at 5:00, and waited for about 10 minutes in the waiting area. I wish I'd taken a photo, because there was a whole bag of white bread nailed to the wall. I watched Denzel Washington stick something up the ass of some guy who was tied to a car and then blow him up on the ubiquitous little TV while I waited. I kept looking at that bread, thinking I'd ask the owner about it when he came in.
When he finally did come in, he apologized for not seeing me there when I arrived. I started to tell him it was OK and to ask why he had a bag of white bread nailed to his wall, but he handed me my keys, said "Don't worry about it," and rushed back out the door.
I followed him with my hand in my purse, digging out my wallet. "How much do I owe you?" I said, following him to the garage door with its big sign that warns customers not to enter.
"Nothing today," he said, and he kept walking.
"Thank you," I called after him, and he just waved his hand back at me and didn't turn around.
I'm going to admit, I teared up as I walked over to my van. Something about people doing nice things when they don't have to always gets to me. It's these small acts of kindness that keep hope alive, cynicism at bay.
I started my van, and it sounded like it should. It was fixed, just like that. And it didn't cost me anything.
So today, in this month when we give thanks and list on our Facebook walls those things for which we are grateful, I'm feeling thankful for the kindness of someone who is a relative stranger, who touched my cynical heart and softened it for a bit. We probably have little in common except the desire for good will between neighbors, but today that feels like a powerful thing. If only I had a magic spell that would make it grow and spread ... but I think that's not how life works most of the time. We have just these small opportunities, and it's up to us to take them, and appreciate them, and spread the sweet magic they bring to our lives.