Monday, August 3, 2009

Zia's Fables in Two Tales, or Lessons Learned

On "Trying To Do The Right Thing:"

Yesterday, we finally, finally cleared the last bits of leftover stuff from the basement, remnants of the moving out the renovation, the moving in, the thinning out. Seth loaded them all up in the Jeep so I could take them to Goodwill. A few boxes of books, a box or two of clothes and odd housewares, a lamp, two maple barstools.

It was drizzling when I got to Goodwill. The folks there helped me sort out the boxes into their proper places, and pointed me around the corner where I could take the furniture. I pulled up, and a guy with a not-happy expression looked up at me. "Hi. I have a few pieces of furniture? I have these two barstools..." I pulled them out of the car. Now, the barstools were maple with woven rattan seats, and were in near- perfect condition: not a mar, not a scratch, not broken, not damaged in any way. They had, however, been stored in various spots around the house during the renovation, and there was some dust on them. Seth had wiped some of it off when we loaded them in the car, but yes, they were still a little dusty. The man eyeballed them with a look of disgust and delicately touched the dust on one barstool seat with a finger. I said "It's just some dust. They've been in storage." He said, his voice increasing in volume with each word, "We can't take things like this. I can't believe people bring things like this to us in this kind of condition. It's disrespectful to the people who are going to get it. I don't know if we can take these, I mean, you're lucky we have this truck here (gesturing to a moving van) so maybe I can take them and throw them out. Maybe this one time I can take them, but you can't bring things in this kind of condition. It's disrespectful." I stood there with my mouth open, and finally managed to stammer, "I'm sorry...I didn't's just some dust...I didn't know...." I almost started rooting around in my car for a rag, to take the 30 seconds to wipe off the dust that it would have taken to put the chairs in pristine condition. "And we can't take that lamp," he added. I got in my car, and almost hit a post trying to drive out of the Goodwill lot, because my hands were shaking. I took a wrong exit going home, because my stomach was knotted up and I felt like crying. What had I done wrong? Had I really been disrespectful? I thought of the beat-up furniture I'd gotten in thrift shops and from the newspaper in college and law school, and the elbow grease and paint it had taken to put some of it in usable condition. I'd used some of that furniture for years, before I could afford better. I thought of the dust on the upper floors of some of the "antique" shops on Magazine Street in New Orleans, where you were welcome to hunt through the maze of mismatched bedframes and battered dressers for a prize. I couldn't believe I had just been chastised, belittled, dressed down, for giving something away that was in very good condition.

I have concluded that my mistake was in trying to do something charitable, to give away something in good, usable condition, to just give it away for no money. Next time, I'm braving the nutballs on Craig's List, and having them come to me and give me cold cash for my perfectly good stuff. No good deed goes unpunished.

On "Very Stupid Stupidity and Restoring Faith In Humanity"

This morning, I drove to a local running path along the Potomac for a change of scene. Helene fell asleep on the drive. Trying to be quiet, I got the jogger and all my gear out of the car. I then gently lifted the carseat out and snapped it into place on the jogging stroller. I hit the "lock" button on my car key remote to lock the doors, and started my run, moving smoothly out of the parking lot to keep the baby lulled to sleep.

It was refreshing to run somewhere different, and I passed other jogging stroller moms, regular stroller moms, women running with dogs, cyclists, and whole families out for a walk or a bike ride. It wasn't too hot yet, though the humidity was starting to creep in from the water. I reached my turnaround point, and ran back towards the car. Perhaps half a mile from the parking lot, a fit, middle aged woman with a long blond ponytail and an American bulldog on a leash passed me. I remembered her from the way out, and remembered how the jingle of her dog's tags was as good as a bicycle bell for letting you know someone was passing. She passed me again, and I thought enviously that she was probably a woman who could somehow afford to stay home all the time, since she was out running with her dog at 10:30 am on a Monday.

I got to the parking lot, and realized the car next to me was running, so I approached cautiously, so the driver would see me. To my surprise, he called out to me when I got to the car, "Hey, ma'am, I think you left your door open!" And indeed, the rear driver's side door was wide open. Me: "Oh my gosh, I did. I completely forgot. I'm sorry - let me close it and get it out of your way. I was just thinking about too many things." He said, "I was worried about whoever was in this car, because the door was just open, and I didn't know what happened." Then the woman who'd been running with the dog pulled up in her car, and said "He's been waiting for you to come back, to make sure you were OK." I was almost speechless. "Thank you." I said to the woman. Then the man in the car spoke again. "I could see that you had a baby, because of the carseat. I was worried. I was asking people who came along if they knew whose car it was, if they'd seen someone with a baby. Then that lady back there came along, and she said she'd passed someone with a baby about half a mile back. So I decided to wait for you. She said maybe you just forgot to close your car door." I thanked the man again, profusely, explaining that yes, I had just forgotten to close the door. "Thank you so much. That was so nice of you to wait. I was just thinking about too many things. Thanks."

The man finally pulled out, waving at me. I couldn't believe I'd been so stupid, so preoccupied as to leave the car door open. I even locked the car with the remote with the door standing open. Oh well - if someone really wanted my diaper bag (containing diapers, nursing cover, pink onesie, Desitin and hand sanitizer), a canvas shopping bag, a yoga mat, some jumper cables, or a bungie cord, they were all set. But amazingly, no one had taken anything from the car. I had been gone for forty minutes. I don't know how long that man sat there, waiting, watching. I don't know where else he had to be today. I just know I am grateful and surprised and amazed and delighted at how people can do the right thing when you least expect it.

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