Brotherly love

I had to make a decision involving one of the most basic of human needs: use the bathroom now or chance a long ride?

We — my siblings and our respective spouses — were on the upper northwest side of the island of Oahu, about to make our return to our vacation rental, a fair trek south in the direction of Honolulu. The public park, where we had just finished picnicking, offered an unequivocally beautiful view of the sand and surf. It also offered what you would expect for a public restroom in a beach town.

So the dilemma before me: Do I brave the germ-infested latrine or gamble on making it back home? I erred on the side of caution. Besides, brother Gene, who had just returned from said facilities, was still alive.

When you gotta go, you gotta go. So I notified the other members of our party of six that I was on my way.

“Hey,” said Gene. “Ask that guy over there what year his Chevy Blazer is.” I looked out to see a white vehicle parked right in front of the restroom. I never knew Gene to be an auto enthusiast. His first car was a Rambler station wagon. From then on, it’s pretty much been pickup trucks. But, no problem. I could do my younger sibling a favor. I assumed he had just had a conversation with the owner, and forgot to secure this one key data point.

As I approached the vehicle, the Blazer’s owner was standing on the running board and assiduously wiping down the top with a cloth. I bade him “hello” and asked the relevant question.

He jumped down immediately to greet me.

“It’s a ’96, he said. This thing is old.”

I looked directly at him now and realized he was about my age. He sported a wispy, gray beard and shaggy mane of hair.

“Well, looks like it’s in good shape,” I said. He smiled, revealing a few missing teeth and many others held together with gold crowns. His face was creased and tanned by the elements.

I said goodbye with a wave and went to the restroom. But as I returned, I had to walk by him again. He was back in his position on the running board and I figured there was no need to continue our conversation. But he spotted me and jumped down.

“Hey, what’s your workout regimen?” he inquired.

The question took me by surprise and it took me a moment to process. Sensing my confusion, he posed with his arms flexed.

“You know, like, what do you do, weights? You look pretty fit, man.”

“Oh, yeah. I do some weights,” I said, a little embarrassed that anyone would notice but admittedly a little “pumped up,” too.

Before I knew it, we were in a conversation that transitioned to a number of other topics, including getting old, retirement, his disdain for those who did not respect the beauty of the island, the best Chinese restaurant in town, among others subjects.

I glanced at my party at the picnic table in the distance. They were intensely observing the entire interaction.

I saluted him with one final adieu and returned once again to my group.

“So did you ask him about the Blazer?” Gene inquired.

I nodded affirmatively.

“A ’96 right?” he said, with a smile. And then the rest of the group erupted into laughter.

Gene then confessed he had no interest in the car. He explained that he had overheard our new friend discussing the Blazer and his request of me was just a joke. Gene had set me up. My own brother had pranked me.


At this juncture in this tale it needs to be noted that brother Gene is a gentle soul, and has possessed this character as long as I have known him.

“I didn’t expect you to actually listen to me,” Gene said, laughing. He underscored this claim by averring that his older brother had never heeded his requests before. And then, he asked, “So, are you going to get me back?”

The words on the tip of my tongue were, “You just wait!” But I refrained from resorting to such a childish response. I took the high road.

“Let me just say that vengeance is sweet,” I said. So much more mature.

We made the drive back to our house. And after dinner, we discussed the day’s events and this episode in particular. We laughed again. But as I thought about my new Chevy Blazer BFF, it dawned on me: I had unwittingly made the guy’s day. I was the second person that afternoon who had asked him about his vehicle. It made him feel proud that anyone would notice, let alone two people in one day.

In his groundbreaking work, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Abraham Maslow said that we all need food, water, shelter, warmth, as our most basic needs. But above that, he posited, we crave a sense of belonging, of being respected by others.

We are all, after all, part of the same fraternal, sisterly, familial, order. We all desire the same things.

Mr. Chevy Blazer’s spirits were unexpectedly lifted on that day. And that’s not a bad thing. And, with his spirits lifted, he sought to repay the gift by complimenting me. And it worked, quite frankly.

Imagine if seven billion people on this planet did this maybe once a day with a perfect stranger. Could it hurt?

It was then that I realized my younger brother was off the hook. You don’t get any sweeter vengeance than this.

A reluctant act of kindness

I was leaving the post office and in a bit of a hurry since I was late to a phone call and I still had one more errand to run. I was just slipping my bike helmet on for the ride to my next destination when I heard someone say: “Excuse me sir. Excuse me, sir?”

I turned around to see a young woman, mid-20s probably, on the platform of a U-Haul moving truck, the metal ramp extended to the pavement of the parking lot.

She jumped down and jogged over to me. “Do you think you could help me?”

“What do you need?” I asked, reticently, all the while thinking that I had better things to do.

“I need to move a table. I’m donating it to the Cancer Society Thrift Store,” she said, pointing to the back door of the shop.

I spied a little end table on the back of the truck.

“That?” I inquired, hopefully.

“No, it’s over here,” she said, waving me on in an attempt to secure some level of commitment for her moving project. “It’s too big for me and there’s just three little old ladies working in the thrift store today.”

“But I’m a little old man,” I said.

She laughed, and nervously flitted her straight, bright red hair. I’m pretty sure she was thinking that I sounded just like her dad, and dads always tell lame jokes.

“You look pretty fit to me,” she said. She regained her composure and persisted with her mission. “Can you help?”

Apparently there was no way of getting out of this. I parked my bike along side the truck and looked inside. The piece of furniture in question was an antique, round pedestal dining table. It was solid oak. It was big. It was, no doubt, heavy.

Reluctantly, I agreed to help and climbed into the moving van. We dragged the table toward the back of the truck and more or less slid it down the ramp. It was unwieldy, at best. We each took a side and lugged it across the parking lot to the back of the thrift store, only to discover that there was no way it was fitting through the door at any angle.

I was hoping this would be the extent of my generosity for the morning. Perhaps we could just leave it on the sidewalk. But then one of the three aforementioned ladies came out of the store.

“Oh, so you found this nice man to help you!”

Clearly my exit strategy was not going to work. Discussions about geometry ensued. But there was simply no way the round object was fitting through the rectangular space. I looked underneath the table. Only six screws held the top to the base.

“Do you have a Philips head screwdriver?” I asked.

The Cancer Society volunteer enthusiastically replied in the affirmative and went to retrieve the tool.

To pass the time, I asked the young woman about the piece of antique furniture that was now at the center of my morning. She explained that it was her ex-boyfriend’s grandparent’s table, which he had somehow inherited. I did not ask for any more information as to what happened to the boyfriend or how the table was bequeathed to her. She was here making a donation for a good cause and that was all I needed or for that matter wanted to know.

The volunteer returned with the tool and I went to work. As anyone who has ever tried disassembling any antique knows, it’s a huge gamble. The screws are usually entombed in the wood, the wood having swelled and then dried repeatedly over years of fluctuation in humidity. And the screws can rust and become brittle with age, snapping at the first suggestion of movement. Remarkably, maybe even miraculously, the six screws complied with the twisting effort with only a slight squeaking complaint now and then.

While I was toiling away at manual labor, I attempted another “dad” joke along the lines of my hourly rate. But the comment went unnoticed as the young woman and the elderly lady engaged in a discussion regarding the need for more acts of kindness in the world. This was a subject of which the more senior of the two felt quite passionate. She relayed that she had called the local newspaper to do articles in an effort to raise awareness for this just cause.

“Really,” she said, “the world just needs more people to do things like this.”

I let my joke slide and agreed with the two of them, making the sentiment unanimous.

With the table top off, the rest of the move was quite easy. I grabbed the base and the two women rolled the top in to the store.

“Is this the man on the bike?” I heard. It was one of the other three Little Old Ladies, apparently, and she was referring to me. In the span of a few minutes, I had gone from an anonymous cyclist just minding his own business to the most famous person in the thrift store.

I reassembled the table and, as I was putting in the last screw, a couple walked in through the front door. The man was looking at the table.

“You want to buy it?” I asked. “Because if you do, maybe I shouldn’t put it all together so you can move it.”

He laughed. “No, just admiring your work.” He helped me flip the table upright and as he did, the Little Old Ladies brought him up to speed on the now famous cyclist’s act of kindness. I considered basking in the glory of the rest of my 15 minutes of fame, but remembered my more pressing engagements.

I shook hands with the young woman and the Little Old Lady № 1. I did not get their names nor did they get mine. But as I was walking out the door, I heard a snippet of conversation between another of the volunteers and a customer.

“How’s Sarah doing?” said one.

“Fingers crossed. In remission,” said the other.

And it was then that it hit me. Yes, I was late to my phone call. But an act of kindness, even one administered begrudgingly, was time better spent.