Sunday, August 14, 2005


When a stranger does something to you or for you, it is always different than if an aquaintance or friend did the very same thing.
I remember once sitting at this very spot in the coffeeshop, the same one, same spot and shop as I am in right now. As I sat here reading my book my nose began to run.
By run I mean leak. All of a sudden I began exhibiting several symptoms of an encroaching cold. Gradually, within the half of an hour, these symptoms became somewhat socially unacceptable, or so I was soon to find out.
A big burly John Goodman-like guy was sitting close by. I guess my sniffling was getting to him. [I am reminded of this incident in its entirety because the same man is sitting a few tables down from me right now as I type this. Same coffee place but years in between...]
So let us return to the scene of my mucilaginous proboscis and my feeble attempts at stemming the tide with an already saturated napkin.... there’s me swabbing away and not quite realizing the inner turmoil and distress I am imposing upon King Ralph next to me. Admittedly, with each inhalation certain portions of my entrails would have been seen retreating into the nasal cavity from which they had been previously dangling. It was probably a little unpleasant.
He gets up and walks away.
Returns in about three or four minutes with enough fresh napkins to thoroughly clean a Boy Scout troop after a KFC picnic!
Throws these down in front of me and says “I cannot stand it when someone’s nose is running. Blow!”
And smiles.
I humbly eeked out a “thank you” and peered up at him with my reddened eyes and I huffed and I puffed until the walls came down!

I would never have done what he did.
If I were him, and a stranger next to me was content to have the ol’ snotfaucet half open, I would probably just relocate, if it was really bothering me. I would have felt that actually voicing my displeasure would be perceived as being rude and/or intrusive.
Yet, I did not see what he did as being rude. I saw it as him being caring and friendly, albeit in a rather direct and straightforward way.
And so it is that I just recall the event now, and sort of marvel at how, with so few words, he unequivocally gave me the time of day, so to say.
In just ten simple words, he essentially said:
“What’s happening between us right now is really bothering me and while we’re at it, it’s probably really bothering you too and we both are fully aware that we don’t know each other from Adam, but for the love of God, we both are rational beings who understand the same language and so I am going to use ten of the words of that language to encourage you to seriously do something about the problem with gravity you are currently experiencing and I am quite sure that if you follow my instructions this present seating arrangement does not have to be altered in any way whatsoever and later we can go our separate ways as if none of this ever happened, and so much so, that years from now, if you see me here or elsewhere neither of us even has to mention what has gone on here today, I swear, you owe me nothing, nothing... the napkins were free.”

In a related incident, here’s me on the airplane the other day.

Well, two weeks ago now. I was flying to Vancouver Island. When people use that phrase “packed like sardines” that is actually misleading, because sardines are at least decapitated. They are not even aware of their cramped conditions. But here in the airplane we all have our dangy heads on, and we are fully cognizant that whoever designed these seating arrangements was some sort of sadist. It’s far worse than being a dead sardine.
So I am cramped together with this lady to the right of me, we’re like Siamese twins, joined at the elbows. Things were going OK until just after the meal-thing. I swear that what I am about to say is not even slightly exaggerant. I was calmly reading my book and all, poising it delicately above the fold-down table that still had all the scraps and plastic utensils on it.... when my twin quickly raised a napkin up to her face and sneezed MOST horrendously. Let me describe for you the only thing that the napkin accomplished, in this instance.
Whatever was within her head and lungs (or wherever else) shot out horizontally. The napkin absorbed nothing, only redirected it. And I was pelted with a flotsam of whatnot!
It was extremely startling.
I did absolutely nothing. Just stared straight ahead at the tweed fabric of the back of the seat in front of me, itself a bit flecked with whatever missed the side of my face.
Oh yes, only a bit later did I nonchalantly pick up my own napkin and wipe away what my pores had not by then absorbed into my blood stream.

There is a price to be paid for such circumstantial reticence.
On a molecular level, I am still carrying within me, if even in an atomic sort of way, some organic aspect of that woman’s meal! And airline food is bad enough when you’re only eating your own portion of it!
The pro-active approach is the better one.... like King Ralph did with me.
Gentle, forthright. Direct, but with a smile.
In the airplane incident, I could not have prevented what happened.
It was all too sudden and terrible, as airplane incidents are prone to be.
But I could have at least begun the cleanup stage of the thing a little earlier, like immediately maybe even [see, already I am hesitant to just get on with it]. I am hesitant to turn toward the lady and have her acknowledge that she just spewed breakfast all over me, I really am. Yet, I should have instantly got on with the issue of collateral damage.

The problem for me is along the lines of what I began with here, in this blog.... When a stranger does something to you or for you, it is always different than if an aquaintance or friend did the very same thing.
If my friend or my sister had sneezed all over me, I would have instantly said “What the hell is the matter with you?” and would have commenced laughing and hitting them and wiping my face.
But strangers?
I don’t really like strangers. I don’t like talking to them, and honestly, I typically don’t like them talking to me. So I really try to minimize that sort of interaction.

I wonder if the lady in the airplane ever thinks of me. Is she thinking of me right now?
She’s holding out a carafe of coffee and filling her friend’s cup, and saying, “My God Bernice, two weeks ago I was on the plane and this guy was crammed in next to me and I felt a sneeze welling up inside me. Like from my toes upward, gathering strength the whole way.”
“Go on... do tell” says Bernice, on the edge of her seat.
“Well seriously, I have seldom in my lifetime launched more spew in a single burst than upon this poor hapless bloke. It was surreal, if anything. The napkin I had quickly held up to my face did nothing but assist in redirection. It was even geometrically interesting.... went completely sideways like. Splat. Right into his face. I was inwardly mortified.”
Bernice laughs while taking a sip, and nostril-air causes wavelike ripples in her coffee. “My goodness. Did he say anything direct and forthright to you?”
“Not a word. It was like it never happened. Just stared straight ahead. Dead-like.”

I doubt very much that the above conversation has ever taken place.
People forget things. They move on. Memories become vague, clouded over and displaced with more important things.
I am profoundly convinced of this because a few minutes ago King Ralph and I happened to glance at each other. And I could tell. There was perhaps half a second of recognition, then it faded. Even though there was once a time when he saw my pancreas dangling from my left nostril, he has mostly forgotten. Like every distant memory. It’s here for half a second, then it’s not.


1 comment:

  1. Jeeesh! This was actually an awfully sweet guy, seeing how much you must have bothered him. ;-)))
    Still have to read the Sardine story to its very end. Time's run out right now. Thanks for the link. :-)))


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