Thursday, January 26, 2006

I made a new friend all by myself

Yesterday I felt ill and didn’t want to germify my office, so I stayed home, slept, and did a little housework. I wanted to get a modicum of exercise, so rather than drive I decided to walk to the apartment office to deliver my rent and get my mail. I got dressed and walked outside into the bright sunshine and stiff breeze, put some trash into my car trunk for later disposal, and then set out only to sense I was being followed. Just as I looked back, a fortyish white guy with buzzed hair emerged from the shadows and began calling after me. I ignored him and continued on my way, but he followed me down the street, around the corner, and up the hill, still shouting things like “Hey, buddy.” I don’t know if I should have run or just continued to ignore him, but either would have been a better choice that what I did – I stopped to see what he wanted.

Before you all start shaking your heads and clucking your tongues (or doing whatever it is you do when you disapprove of someone’s actions), let me provide a little history. I’ve always promised myself that I wouldn’t be the type of person that would refuse to help a person in need, no matter how many negative experiences I have. I don’t like the thought of assholes guiding my actions. Helping people is not about receiving thanks or being honored for your good deeds. If those are your reasons for doing any kind of charity work, you might as well give up now. Even though every person I’ve ever helped was just trying to take advantage of me (except one – a woman who’s battery died on Christmas Eve who didn’t bother to thank me), I still refuse to walk by, pretending I don’t see them or their plight.

Personally, I’m starting to feel like a grand idiot after all these years, like a child who sticks his fingers into his ears and goes “la-la-la-la-la” in an effort to keep stark reality from intruding upon his precious fantasy world. But I am nothing if not stubborn, and so I persevere.

Also, the last few times people tried to flag me down didn’t turn out so bad. One was an old man in the car next to mine who insisted I knew him and wouldn’t be persuaded otherwise. Fortunately, I was in the left turn lane and a green arrow ended the conversation. Another time, while driving out of the grocery parking lot, a guy tore after me in a little import, flashing his lights, honking his horn, and trying to pull in front of me like a cop trying to route a fleeing suspect. I tried to ditch him, but eventually got cornered by the Atlanta traffic. He pulled up next to me and shouted “You left your cell phone in the grocery.” To which I rolled down my window and replied, truthfully, “I don’t have a cell phone.” To which he wittily responded “Are you sure?” I also had previous encounters with my former redneck neighbor, which resulted in nothing more than loss of sleep, some light harassment, and a stranger calling me demanding to know who I was. So, it hasn’t been all bad.

Back to this guy, I stopped and waited for him to explain his business which he did only after laboriously climbing the hill after me. When he drew close, I noted he had weather beaten skin, squinty eyes, and an extremely slow and country drawl which he used to ask me for a ride to the store. I considered saying “What, by piggyback? I’m on foot.” Still, I thought of the time a young woman asked me for a ride to the store to get baby formula, so I agreed. I didn’t remember until later that, once in the store, the woman tried to get me to forge my signature to pick up a Western Union telegram for a split of the profit. I blame the cold and Dayquil for my lapse.

We turned back to my car and he immediately started chattering. Despite the drawl, he managed to get out several hundred words/foot. He told me his name, said he was an Airborne Ranger just back from Iraq and that his car, an H2, was in quarantine at Fort Dix. I didn’t believe him, but it wasn’t impossible. I don’t know if any Army Rangers are in Iraq, or why his vehicle would be stored at Dix since it’s primarily a post for MP’s, but I kept quiet, just intending to get this mission of mercy over with as little pain as possible. He had other plans. He put on an expression of deep concern and kept asking if I was mad at him. I told him I just wasn’t very chipper because I had a cold. We made it to my car and I started driving toward the main road, only then thinking to ask which store he needed.

“Just the local convenience store,” he said. “I just need to pick up some cigarettes and beer and a Pepsi.” I told him if that was all he needed, he should go the opposite direction to the liquor store which was cheaper on the things it sold. “Well, hell, take me there,” he said.

I could fill pages with everything this guy said, but I’ll just cut it down to the basics. As we drove, the inside began to fill with his fumes and the smell of stale beer penetrated my stuffed nose. He told me about his job (he’s an Airborne Ranger just back from Iraq and a CI with the Federal Marshal’s office and also working with the Kentucky State Troopers on assignment in Georgia for a few weeks and an untrained but highly sought-after auto mechanic), his car (an H2, then a Hummer, then a Tahoe), his family (he showed me a picture of who he claimed was his daughter and told me his older/younger brother and/or uncle was a top IT person with several banks and/or Lexmark, in case I wanted a job – he saw my IT badge for my company in my car), and he constantly introduced himself, shook hands with me every fifty feet, repeatedly asked for my name, and punctuated every sentence with something like “that’s the God’s honest truth” or “I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true.”

I thought of ditching him at the store, but I fell back on my “Don’t let others dictate your behavior” maxim and I waited. After a long time, he came out of the store with a bag containing what appeared to be a six-pack, a loose can, and a 20 oz Pepsi product. He said my car started a little roughly and that I should let him work on it. On the way back, he reiterated everything he said before (including the multiple introductions and claims of speaking God’s truth) and added that he was going to give me his cell phone number, that if I ever needed anything I should just call, and that he was the person to know if I got in trouble with the police. “If you’re in the cell getting beaten with nightsticks and you’ve been good to me, I’ll step in and stop them. If you haven’t been nice to me, then I’m afraid I don’t know you.” I guess he wasn’t familiar with the concept of people who don’t routinely get arrested. He kept saying he was going to give me his cell number, but that he didn’t have his cell phone with him.

We returned to the apartments (he claimed to live in the unit above and behind me), but he didn’t want to get out of the car because his old lady (his words) would give him hell for getting a ride and not walking. He gave me a card and had me write various contact numbers on it, but told me not to call the number on the front because it belonged to a record producer/thug (his words) who handled Ludacris and he wouldn’t care to be disturbed. “If you accidentally call him, just say you’re one of Hillbilly’s friends,” he instructed me. He still didn’t want to get out of the car, and I was kind of having fun with all his bullshit, so I invited him to stick with me as I ran my original errands, namely getting the mail and dropping off the rent.

On the way to drop off the trash, he received a call on his “missing” cell phone. I then realized my error in judgment by having him in the car while I stepped out, so I quickly tossed the trash while he took the call. His wife or whatever ordered him back to the apartment to deliver the Pepsi and beer to her. He instructed me to turn back (no longer asking), but I said we would go back after I delivered the rent check. I parked the car, turned it off, and took the keys with me which didn’t sit well with him. “Leave the keys in the ignition,” he commanded. “Turn the radio on.” I told him I didn’t know him that well, delivered the rent, and returned to find the car still in one piece. On the way back to our building he said he respected me for my decision and he just wanted to prove how trustworthy he was and that he can go to any dealership in the city and they’ll give him the keys to any car on the lot once they learn his name (no ID needed) because they know they’ll make 90% more in profit once it’s been in his hands. He introduced himself to me and shook hands again, this time doing a regular and a pinky shake.

We parked, but he didn’t get out. A woman approached and he handed her the Pepsi and a Colt 45 malt liquor (the loose can) through the window, then told her he was taking me to see his workshop. I told him I didn’t have time, but he waved his arms around and shushed me until she left. I repeated that I didn’t have time, that I had company coming and couldn’t leave (which was true), but he didn’t believe me. He introduced himself again and claimed he lived with two women and wanted to know if I knew how he could do that, then answered his own question by telling me that he’s gay. I said I wasn’t (also true), repeated that I had to go inside, and was beginning to calculate how I was going to get this guy out of my car (ignition key to the eyeball was a top choice) when he introduced himself again and did another pinky shake with some other bizarre finger grip I felt was designed to test my grip strength (I only gave him limp shakes not wanting to give anything away in case it all came to blows). He finally shook his head as if to say “you’re lying, but I’ll go along” and slowly got out. He introduced himself again, but no handshakes this time because he was on the other side of the car. He started toward the building, but I doubled back on the pretense of checking my trunk to put a little distance between us. He circled around the car to check my trunk, but I shut it before he could get a look inside. We walked in together, as if I was given a choice, and he parted by saying he’d drop by sometime to have a few beers. Oh, yeah. That’s going to happen.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t embellish or exaggerate a single bit in this anecdote, although I did leave a lot out.

I have a hard time hating people like that. They’re just so pathetic. He’s in his forties and he’s drifting through life as a boozy bum. People like that don’t know the joy of self-reliance.

I still refuse to stop helping people in need. One day I’ll actually help a good person who just needs a hand and he or she will actually be grateful. Just you wait. If this incident has taught me anything, it’s that I need to move to a better area, namely a neighborhood with less white people. The biggest complaint I’ve ever had against my black neighbors is that they are occasionally too loud, by which I mean every three months or so I have to turn the TV volume up from 25 to 28 to hear it over a party they’re throwing. My brown neighbors apparently believe that if they get run over they go straight to heaven; either that or they just don’t understand the concept of traffic. Other than slamming on the brakes when they walk in front of my car, I’ve had no complaints. I don’t have any yellow or red neighbors for comparison. That just leaves the white ones, who seem to latch onto me like lampreys whenever I dare show my face outside.

That does it. I’m declaring myself Samoan.


Valkyrie said...

You help me with your dry observational humor and I thank you. :)

Nobius said...

I hope you don't start stalking this friend like that poor dentist girl.


Anonymous said...

Hmm, you may have just landed yourself a stalker...

That Girl

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

Damn, sounds like you had James Bond in the car...:)

That's crazy...and a little spooky too!

Leesa said...

I once knew someone - not a friend but someone I would have an occasional conversation with. He was "developmentally delayed," that's what a mutual friend called it. But the guy was in his 60s. One day I saw him and he said that his father die.

"Oh, Joe, that's terrible", I said. "I am so sorry."

The mutual friend said that it was the forth time his father had died in two years - people who were older and close to him were labeled "father". Oh, I understood.

Joe and I had a conversation a few days later, Joe armed with a clipping of the obituary. His father had indeed died.

Heck, I forget what my point was. Maybe I need a Colt 45.

Seven said...

I wondered where my Uncle Lucas had gone. Did he happen to introduce himself as Lucas? I'll track that rascal down. He needs to fix my car!

Joe said...

Can you pass along his number? I'd like to have it in the event that I'm ever in a cell being beaten by nightsticks.

Anyway, you're a good man, Grant. It's easy to become jaded, especially after your experiences, but it's nice to see you haven't.

sands of time said...

Whats the betting he'll be around knocking on your door next.Your a good person for helping people out and its nice that the bad things that happen don't put you off.

Tai said...

I'd be willing to bet money he's schizophrenic...I used to work with many people like that.

Harmless generally...but they do have a tendency to latch on to people.

Hopefully you won't encounter that problem, 'cus the world needs a whole lot more people like you!

Liz said...

What a crazy guy. I can’t believe you haven’t become jaded yet. Somewhere along the road I did, but mainly I just worry about my safety. I’ll still give people change or what not but I’m just too paranoid to give someone a ride. The last person wanting a ride was a hooker at the gas station. She wanted a ride to Arkansas, I said I wasn’t going that way. A few minutes later it dawned on me she meant the road not the state. Good for you Grant.

BTW I got around to your post on my blog. I didn’t have much to work with, sorry.

Kerry said...

What a weirdo! While reading that I got to thinking that maybe he was having you drive him to the convenience store and he was robbing it while you wait outside... you should be careful ;)

But was some funny reading. lol