Ten Dollars

I only needed 10 dollars. That’s all– just 10 dollars would spring me from the cold parking garage. Who leaves the house without a purse, or a phone, or even a wadded up bill in a pocket? Me. I do. As I raced out of the house to the earliest appointment at the pediatrician so my kids can have flu MIST–not flu SHOTS because flu SHOTS suck, mom, and I DON’T WANT THE SHOT, did they promise the MIST?– I grabbed only my coffee travel mug. Admittedly, if you’re going to get stranded in a cold parking garage with your children, it’s nice to have a hot beverage.

I realized my mistake as soon as I pulled the ticket out of the machine, so I had the entire length of a flu mist appointment to hit up strangers for a ten-spot. I’m friendly; my kids are polite and cute. Easy peasy. I told the boys not to worry, people being mostly awesome and all. Right away, I planted the seed for charity with the piggybacking mom in the elevator.

“Mine are exhausted, too! Late night with all sorts of junk, right? Why did I think this early appointment was a good idea? Right? I LEFT MY PURSE RIGHT ON THE COUNTER!”

“…”

Whatever, piggy backy mom, I suppose you’ve got your arms literally full if your sort of large child with completely serviceable legs can demand carriage.

Stepping out of the now awkward elevator, it was too much to hope I’d see a mom I knew. Strike two. None of the other parents was chatty, either, but all quietly tortured with un-immunized children too early on a Saturday. Quickly, we were escorted into a room to await squirtable antigens and, with any luck, a tenner from the nurse. Sniff, sniff, thanks, thanks and then,

“Could you do me an enormous favor? I left the house without my purse! Stupid, right? But now I’m trapped in the garage. Is there any way I could borrow ten dollars from you—or the office—and I’ll drive right back to repay you?”

“…”

This ellipse was actually accompanied by slow, backwards walking and confused utterances including, “I don’t know. Um, can you call someone?” and other things that weren’t “I don’t have 10 dollars” or anywhere near, “sure, let me get my bag.”

Whatever, nursy. Maybe your credit cards are maxed and that bill in your wallet is destined for the Starbucks break that will safeguard your sanity during a Saturday spent injecting children. I understand. (I also hope your barista spelled your name all normal, thwarting a hilarious Facebook update.)

Stepping out of the now awkward exam room, Flustered Nurse was still offering inane suggestions that did not include giving me ten dollars. Certainly nurse #2 was sidling up to offer an actual solution to my problem,

“I can’t even call anyone. My phone is in my purse. Stupid, right? I just need ten dollars to get out of the garage.”

“Oh, just go talk to the garage attendant and explain it to him.”

Sure, because reasonable people will have a simple solution to this problem of being trapped in a parking garage. I wondered if it would involve me asking the garage guy for 10 dollars? Probably. I backed away with apologies and assurances that All Would End Well in spite of their eye-averting denial of how easy all of this could be remedied if they would just let me borrow ten dollars.

As luck would have it, Piggy Back Mommy was stooped at the elevator to let her spider monkey child push the down button. Testing the kindness of strangers again, I shamelessly floated my concerns about the garage,

“Well, that was fast! Did you get the mist?”

“Yes. Her nose is all tickly. It took longer to park than to wait for the appointment!”

“I know! But, silly me, somehow I left without my purse and now I might be in there for hours.”

“…”

doors open

“Good luck!”

Thanks. Thanks, Piggy Back Mommy. I think luck is all I need. I mean, 10 dollars will get me outta here, but luck is another fun route to take. Explaining myself to the slightly scary and certainly grumpy man in the glass cubicle should go swimmingly. And good luck to you with that whole daughter-as-sloth thing you’ve got going on.

Grumpy cubicle man wasn’t all that grumpy, just super suspicious of Weird Handout Mommy asking how to get out of the garage without paying. He offered to call my husband for me to get his credit card number. Whew! Really? It’s actually this easy? Yay, a solution! Numbers are written down, I am viewed not as a criminal peddling cash with my small children in tow, and the attendant slips my card into the magic machine that tells the electronic garage powers we’re square.

“You’ve only been here ten minutes.”

“I know. It was a quick appointment. All that fuss for 8 dollars, right?”

“Right. I’m cancelling this. No charge.”

Thank goodness for not-so-grumpy cubicle man. Because when you really want your kids to believe that people are mostly awesome, it’s easier when someone occasionally is. And awesome cubicle man is getting a thank you from Weird Handout Mom… with a 10-dollar Starbucks card. Because what you put out there comes right back atcha.

TEN DOLLARS

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A Jerk, Unaware… by Steve Safran

I was rude to someone, and I didn’t know it. Unwittingly impolite. Accidentally brusque. A jerk, unaware.

I won’t bother you with the circumstances. It was a work thing. The gist is this: after a business dealing, it was reported to my partner that I was rude to a client.

Here’s the thing: I have absolutely no idea how that impression was made. I’m not saying I don’t know how I could be rude to someone. I’m not saying it’s not possible for me to be rude, that I’m a saint who is never rude or that I’m above rudeness. What I’m saying is that I don’t recall even so much as two or three interactions with this client during the event, all which hardly strayed from “How’s your day been?” in quality. I will also say in my defense that I try to be super nice to clients. They’re the ones with the money.

But I was rude. That was her perception, and a person’s perception is everything. She will always think of me as That Rude Guy. She didn’t say how I was rude, so I’ll never know exactly what happened. But really, it doesn’t matter. I was. She felt it. Now I’m That Rude Guy.

Now, I never would have known this if she hadn’t told my business partner. I could have gone on merrily through life thinking my interactions with her were just fine, if I reflected on them at all. Instead, it got me to thinking about how often people must make up their minds about us and we don’t realize it’s happening.

Right now, someone thinks you’re an asshole. I guarantee it. You cut him off in traffic, or wrote something online or even, as I did in a previous column, responded in a way someone took to be aggressive even though it wasn’t.  I once signaled, waited my turn and moved into the left lane and a guy still yelled “Asshole!” at me. I yelled back “You barely know me!” I don’t think he heard me.

The flipside is you have a lot of unearned praise, too. Right now, you’re the funniest person in the world because you told a stolen joke. You’re an awesome guy, just because you held the door, corralled the grocery cart, or made the “most liked” comment.

Our friend Jason is putting together a play called “Talking to Strangers,” and is soliciting interactions. I noted that I’m wary of these people and that the reason is right there in the word; they’re not just strange, they’re stranger.

How strangely unfortunate it is that we are, in an instant, labeled for life based upon one interaction. How difficult it is to change that perception? I may perform ten good deeds in the presence of my client, but how many will it take to dispel That Rude Guy impression? I may even lose her business if I cannot. And I wouldn’t have ever known why.

Strange.

TONE

Strangers

Jason writes and directs musicals and plays. Can you imagine having the imagination to write and direct musicals and plays? I cannot. But Jason does. For this venue. And he has a really really really long list of accolades and awards and stuff theater people earn for being wackadoodles with talent. Being a scientific sort of the mommy variety, sidling up to Jason’s world is a messy, titillating, uncomfortable, and unusual experience. In the other words: it’s awesome. It’s also no surprise that his latest obsession is with Strangers. I think we’ve all become strangers out in public– tethered to our devices, pre-occupied with emails and texts and the urgent and never-ending comments and requests from people who aren’t physically near us. Meanwhile, we ignore—nay, avoid?—the people in our very path.

But I am John Stockton’s daughter, and I adopted his Rules of Dad as the code of conduct for all adults. Growing up, I had no idea my father was unusually friendly, chatty, inquisitive, interested, and irreverent. I just thought that’s what social confidence looked like. Boring, repressed, stern, and otherwise joyless adults were never in Dad’s sphere. And the gravitational pull of a personality like Dad’s is probably selective to similarly tuned people. Blessed with a father with a frequency for fun, the influential adults of my formative years were hilarious, successful, and brilliant.

Side bar: we can discuss for days how to parent properly, but exposing your kiddos to kind, wonderful people that you admire– that impression lasts forever.

I’ve never had a restaurant meal with Dad after which we did not know the name, station, and career aspirations of our assigned wait staff. Unsuspecting line-waiters are subject to his kind, jokey gibber gabber. Dad is a man who believes everyone is interesting, and is open to learning the stories of strangers. The result is that Dad knows no strangers. And in this world of ear-budded introverts, I think this is a great, great thing.

Jason is collecting stories about strangers over here. The result will be an original piece of theater exploring how we avoid each other, but will probably include the dynamic human moments that happen when we cannot. Do you have a story about A Stranger?

Here’s mine.

It was freezing. One of those ridiculous wind chill days where opening the front door makes you gasp and want to cancel everything. But I was never going to study successfully at home with the temptation of nachos, or naps, or absolutely anything else. The microbiology test was tomorrow: I had exactly 12 hours to cram all knowledge of plasmids into my blonde head. Surely none of the gunner medical students would brave the sub-zero weather to study at Widener… so I hopped the red line into Cambridge.

Studying at the undergraduate Harvard campus is… quiet. That’s the lure. Plus, I always imagined the ghosts of benevolent geniuses to be ethereally cheering me onward. (This is the risk of studying in Boston: delusions of connection to a grander past.)

He was adorable. Moppy, two semesters-overdue-for-haircut adorable. Two tables away, we shared a few sighs and shot hairy eyeballs at the gossipy girls in the carrels. After an hour of distracted studying, he invited me to join him for a study break.

We walked farther than I would have ever agreed, had he not been adorable. It was so so so so cold, but he insisted that the caffeine and treats at this place were the finest. Chat chat chat, I’m cramming for this, you’re studying for that. Oh, aren’t you smart? Oh, aren’t you? Thank fucking God we’re here and tea is ordered.

The thawing begins. I can’t stop listening to Chet Baker. That’s his favorite. I love coconut and twilight and tea. Yup, totally. Long stares. Shared movie titles, favorite books, more tea. But then… plasmids. There will be a test on plasmids. I return to reality and less flirty conversation.

“You are adorable. But time’s up. I need to cram.”

“No, it’s early. Really. It’s very early.”

Repeat times twenty. Then oh, my mom and dad met exactly here 25 years ago and I always knew I’d meet my wife at Widener, and then bring her exactly here, and you look like my mom, and this is meant to be and kismet and fate and and and…

Oh my God, you’re crazy. Or an adorable romantic. Either way, I have to figure out how to cut and paste plasmids and I’m not ready to get married and this is flattering but Jesus, don’t follow me, and yikes. I threw dollars on the table, raced to the Red Line and never saw cute moppy-haired boy again.

No doubt he married some other blonde studying in Widener. I’ll never know. But the fast-tracked romance stayed with me: stranger turned suitor, turned nuisance, turned stranger. And the whole exchange was likely initiated by my receptiveness, my inborn enthusiasm for strangers and their stories… something Dad taught me. When it comes to people, I’m in.

And I hope you are, too. Because that’s where all of the good stories start.

This is the only sort of place medical student stories begin...

This is the only sort of place medical student stories begin…