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.