Monday, October 27, 2008

Selfish-less-ness

Gray and I went to Long Beach in March to visit my family. My dad and his wife live out there, and his whole family is in the area as well. He always has some kind of party when one of his daughters comes to visit (Which is so very, extremely rarely. Damn airfare rates!) These parties are always super fun because the cousins (YES HOT COUSIN) come and bring their kids, and my aunt and uncle make an appearance and repeatedly discourage their photos being taken, and my grandparents always make a fuss about how I'm too thin. Thanks for noticing Grandma! Because I haven't eaten in 6 weeks! (I think they may actually believe there's a food shortage in Minnesota, because I distinctly remember a conversation with my cousins at one of these parties many years ago, right after I moved to Minnesota. They - grown, well-educated cousins that they are - actually asked me if we have grocery stores here, or whether we have to fish and hunt for our food. They wanted to know could they buy freaking hamburger or do they have to just eat walleye and moose.)(Which, we don't even have moose here, but that's hardly the biggest laugh they gave me.)(We even have shoes here, but it took years to get used to wearing them.) Anyway, so we had one of these family gatherings in March.


My grandparents are these tiny old people, and so super sweet, and my grandfather's name is actually Gus, I shit you not. They always have a laundry list of ailments to share, along with the list of their neighbor's ailments and their neighbor's son-in-law's trouble with the IRS, etc. They also stay current with events on Days of our Lives, which is thrilling. But I love talking to them because everything I say is exclaimed about and repeated between them. "Gus, did you HEAR? Catherine got a new APARTMENT! She says it's even BIGGER than the LAST one! Oh my goodness, we're just SO PROUD of you! Have you been eating dear? You're just so thin!"


They were telling us the story of a recent trip they took to one of the grocery stores out there. Apparently, some kind lady had come into the store earlier in the day and left a twenty dollar bill with the cashier, instructing her to "give this money to some nice old couple if you think they could use the help". So my little grandparents come shuffling through he line with two weeks worth of groceries (read: crackers and tuna fish, likely) and wasn't it just amazing that their bill totalled $18 and change? Wasn't it just the sweetest thing you've ever heard, when that cashier pulled the $20 out and told them the story of the kind lady, and said she thought my grandparents were just the little old couple she'd been waiting for, and it was their lucky day? And heck if that cashier didn't give them the dollar and change from that $20! I mean, can you imagine their luck?


I sat listening to this story as they told it, seeing the expressions on their wrinkly, sweet old faces, hearing the way they tripped over each other to chime in a detail here and there. They were so grateful and joyful, it was just the sweetest fucking thing I've ever seen. And all I could think of was how I wish I could find that nice lady who left the $20 with the cashier and thank her for her small act of generosity, and how I wish I could find that cashier who easily could have pocketed the $20 and never given it another thought, but didn't. Those two women not only saved my grandparents some money, and while they are certainly not in the poorhouse, they are living on a fixed income and will be long into the future...but they also gave them the gift of childlike glee like I've never seen before. They were just so amazed and so thankful and so excited to share the story, it was like a gift to me as well.


I would love to do the same thing for others. But alas, I do not have money to just be handing out at the damn grocery store, and so I was forced to get creative. I like to use the drive-through window at Starbucks, place my order, and then when I get to the window, tell the cashier that I'd also like to pay for the car behind me. (I totally stole this idea from a news story I heard where this happened for like 150 cars in a row somewhere. Can you imagine?) Someone once asked me, "But how do you know how much it will cost?" That's kind of the whole point, not knowing how much it will cost and doing it anyway. I'd be lying if I said I don't always HOPE LIKE HELL that the car behind me isn't ordering fancy lattes for the entire office and paying with a corporate card. Because that might overdraw my damn account. But so far, so good. I think the most expensive tab was around $7 when I pulled this stunt at a McDonald's. It works any place with a drive-through, and works best when you have a fast escape route. It is pretty funny to see the confusion on the face of the person in the car behind you. I always wonder if they return the favor by paying for the car behind them. (I also seem to have a pretty awesome day every time I do this. Karma or self-delusion?)


I also try to think of things I can say or do to help other people when I'm just out and about (read: oowt and aboowt) running errands. Like holding the door open for someone with a stroller. Or picking up random trash laying around. Complimenting strangers on kid's good behavior. One time I was pumping gas at a station and noticed a little old man pumping gas at a different pump. He had a WWII Veterans license plate. I could see the curly mop of his little old wife's head sticking up over the top of the passenger seat. I looked at him, and then looked back at my pump, and then looked back at him. I wanted to go say something to him, but am one of those people who, you know, only likes to annoy others on her blog. But I forced myself to walk up to him and said something along the lines of, "I just wanted to thank you for serving our country." He looked pretty startled, like please please please don't have a stroke old man! kind of startled. But then he got all weepy-eyed and straightened his back. He actually squared his shoulders, and I don't think I knew what that meant exactly before that day. He said, "It was my pleasure." And that was that. But I'm pretty sure he had a good rest of his day, and I know it made me feel super good about myself. Which is just what we need, another writer-type with good self-esteem. BLAH!


Aside from the risk of getting a big head, I've found that these kinds of little things are really kind of fun, and in the case of the pay-and-dash maneuver, can get my heart rate up a little bit. It's a thrill of sorts, and one I can feel good about. As I'm writing this, I'm (SHAME) realizing it's been a long time since I've done the pay-and-dash. Or since I've said something kind to a stranger. The last thing I can think of that even remotely qualifies as selfless is offering to hold the doors for some people who were trying to wrangle a mattress into my apartment building. It took maybe 5 minutes, but probably saved them 20.


So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm a total hypocrite and you should rush right out and sock someone in the face, you know, so you don't go all soft.