Monday, September 19, 2011

Ding Dongs

The other night I stopped at a gas station, paid for my gas inside, and when I came back out to my car, I was approached by a man--an older gent with a sharp haircut. He was from South Carolina and was trying to get back to I-85 via 106, but first he and his wife wanted to go to the movie theater over on Lexington Highway because she wanted to see The Help. The theater (he pronounced it “thee-ay-ter”) in their town wasn't playing it anymore. They were playing Contagion instead. His wife was sitting in the passenger’s seat of their beige minivan, blinking furtively at me from behind thick, oval spectacles. I imagine she was wishing he had asked somebody who was not sweaty and wearing stupid workout clothes.

The thing about me is I'm a sucker for, a) giving people directions, and b) people from the country. So, I started pumping my gas and then came around the car and took the map the man offered me. It had been printed from MapQuest on a color printer that had run out of all but the cyan ink cartridge; it didn't show any streets--just names of roads following invisible, crooked lines.

Oh, and another thing I love? Being a hero.

So, I set that guy straight. I asked him if he preferred a map or driving directions. I considered landmarks that could be recognized by two elderly people in the dark. I gave him road names and approximate distances. Before he went back to his wife in the minivan, he told me I was a very helpful young lady. I smiled winningly at him, and with a spring my step, got into my car and drove away.

And of course I took the fuel pump nozzle and hose with me. Broke it slap off.

Now, I have never done this before, but it's totally something my mom would do. Last weekend, Mom crushed a hole in the bumper of my car, backing her truck around in her rather spacious driveway. Once when I was a kid, she filled the car up with diesel fuel instead of regular unleaded, and she had to call a mechanic to come drain the tank. I believe that time we were on the way to either the circus or the airport.

I think because this stuff happens to her so often, Mom deals with these situations with a lot of dignity and panache. And it’s not like she uses her feminine wiles to sucker some poor dope into helping her out—she’s actually a fairly butch lesbian lady approaching 70 who works with adjudicated youth. Mom’s just very good at acting repentant, a little flustered and utterly helpless. In short, my mom is a total ding dong, and she makes it work for her.

So, I’ve worked for 33 years to override this little lead nugget in my genetic code. But it’s hard to get around. I’m just a ding dong at my core.

Anyway, the gas station attendant had no idea what to do when I brought him the dismembered nozzle and hose. Earlier, when I paid for my gas, I’d spent an extra 20 seconds talking to him about why he was so sleepy: he had helped a friend move out of his apartment at 6 in the morning.

“I don’t know why I always help people move,” he said. “It’s not like anybody ever wants to help me move.”

“It’ll come back to you one of these days,” I said. “I think that’s the way karma is supposed to work.”

While I stood there under the florescent lights of the convenience store, holding the whole gas pump apparatus like an anaconda I had just killed with my bare hands, the attendant called his supervisor. I had been genuinely repentant and flustered as I told him the story. So as I stood there waiting, I realized I probably looked just like my mom would in the same situation—kind of helpless and uncomfortable. Because frankly, I was pretty sure I was going to end up paying for damn fuel pump.

While the attendant waited on the phone for his boss to answer, he looked at me vacantly, like people always do when they’re waiting on the phone. We made eye contact for a couple seconds, and he kind of grinned and rolled his eyes.

“Go on,” he said. “Hang that thing up on the pump before you leave.”

“Oh my god, thank you,” I said, my shoulders sagging under the weight of my quarry. He waved a hand for me to get out because his boss had just answered the phone.

As I backed out the door, I heard him tell his boss the customer had already driven away.

And then I got in my car and drove away, grinning like a fool. Just like my mom always does when she gets away with being a total ding dong.

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