I’m curious about the reactions ordinary people have to being trapped in extraordinary situations. Events that, although not catastrophic, register beyond the scope of our experiences, and our basic grasp of the social contract.It’s probably safe to predict that when met with the unexpected, people automatically default to a right or left brain response – which is to say: most people would size-up an atypical event, and then address it, according to their proclivity for logic, or instinct.
But what about the outliers?
What about the odd citizen whose reaction to unexpected circumstances defies all logic. And intuition, too. The one who defaults to the great sanity/insanity frontier, going toe to toe with the intrusion and then, before giving it a second thought, either teleports to their safety place, or sets about hammering the situation so far into the stratosphere that the butterfly effect pops up as a hurricane, or an earthquake, in some remote South American hamlet.
Let’s talk about them.
A LESSON IN TELEPORTATION
See if this has ever happened to you: you’re out for a walk with your dog when you begin to notice a couple of pupil-sized holes slowly burning their way through your jacket. Naturally you’d quickly try to determine their source, which is what I did. I quickly looked around to try to understand why I felt as though I’d been placed in a petri dish, and there, approximately 10 feet ahead of me, a young woman stood perfectly still, eyes locked on me, glaring hotly.
You know, I’ve seen that look before – usually on the faces of the students of Jesus desperate to speak with me about the Kingdom of Jehovah – but I’ve seen it before. And I’m no stranger to the viscerally disgusted, either. I resolved to dodge the young lady by walking straight past her, as swiftly as I could, while avoiding any possibility of eye contact. So, with head cast downward I leaned into my stride and I continued walking in her direction, and that’s when I saw the old man laying supine and motionless on the cement pathway beside her. His cane lay a few inches beyond his body, on the diagonal. It looked as though he’d tried to climb the steep steps at the end of the pathway but lost his balance and fell backward. The expression on the young lady I’d mistaken for “disapproval?” In fact, it was the look of sheer panic.
“Oh my God!”, I gasped, chastising myself inwardly for my snap judgement and perhaps even over-correcting just a bit because of it: “How can I help? I have a phone! Do you need a phone? What happened? I mean, I know what happened I can see what happened….uh…ummm…oh God, is he alive?”
“I’m not strong enough to pick him up” she mumbled.
I glanced back over to the immobile old man. He was alive and there was no blood, thank heavens, but he was exceedingly stout and probably much too heavy for her tiny frame.
“He doesn’t want an ambulance,” she added.
Respecting the old man’s wishes, I put my phone back in my pocket. “Hold on” I said, “let me tie up my dog and together we can help him. Just a sec.”
I headed over to the utility pole a few feet down the sidewalk, and just as I’d secured Diesel the girl raced past me toward a young guy who’d been walking behind me. I hadn’t noticed him prior, but the two of them appeared to know each other. The guy was tall, early 30s-ish, and decidedly anemic looking. He seemed very frail, almost ill – as though he too could tip over at any minute.
The girl quickly began explaining the situation to the lanky young man while I stood there, dumbly. “Surely she and I could’ve had this old guy back on his feet by now,” I thought, but instead she’d opted to leave him on his back in search of a more reliable assistant, I guess.
“I know him!” the tall guy shouted as he hurried past me, all crooked and full of ill-coordinated intention, like a crippled chicken on its morning hobble.
“Chester, I’m here. I’m going to help you up” he managed in his winded state.
“I can help too!” I said, as I approached the two of them.
The young man secured a firm grip on the old man’s jacket and, while completely ignoring my willingness to help, attempted to heave Chester to his feet.
This was confusing. Hadn’t he heard my offer? I looked over my shoulder toward the frightened girl, searching for clarity, but she merely shrugged her shoulders, moved her eyeballs to the left, aligned her body in the direction of her gaze, and departed.
I looked back toward the young man still trying to wrestle old Chester to his feet and I reiterated my offer to help, but this time I spoke loudly and more emphatically: “DO YOU NEED AN EXTRA PAIR OF HANDS?”
The young man continued to ignore me and it dawned on me that he was trying to block me out. Or, more precisely, that he’d successfully, totally blocked me out. I was not there. I was not there. “She is not there!”
I watched the young man who continued to deny my existence hoist Chester upright. When Chester began to waver, I rushed over to help steady him.
“Ahhh” Chester said, looking me straight in the eyes “Das is goot.” And then he smiled.
“I’ll bet” I replied, smiling back at him in kind. I glanced up at the exhausted young man, hoping for a sliver of gratitude, or validation even, but still nothing. Chester’s man-nurse remained implacable, and I had no idea how to handle that.
I headed back to my dog while the two men shuffled slowly toward Chester’s apartment building. Feeling like the world’s biggest idiot I untied Diesel and had a go at consoling myself. “Shake if off” I said to me, “there’s nothing to learn here.” And then I set about obsessing over every detail of the incident, trying my best to comprehend the turn of events that morphed an attempted act of kindness into total, self-imposed humiliation.
SOMEWHERE IN PORTO de GALINHAS, THREE SHIPS ARE DOWN
Mania is a woman with big dreams, and a short fuse. She’s hungry. Really, really hungry. Mania survives on celery sticks and coconut oil. She’s going to be a famous actress one day soon, and Madonna’s best friend too, so in the meantime, she was careful to prepare.
Week after week Mania slogs from set to set, working as an Extra, convinced she is on the precipice of being discovered. By now I’m sure you know who I’m talking about: The Mom in the park pretending to be walking. The one with the advanced walking skills. That’s right, that woman is probably Mania. Look out for her!
Last month my daughter was contacted by Mania’s Extras Agency, and invited to join Mania’s daughter as an Extra for a popular TV series. I thought it might be fun for my daughter to join in, so I agreed to it.
The next morning at 9:00am sharp, my daughter and I arrived at North Shore Studios – exactly as required. The problem was, the lot was completely deserted. I called Mania, who was still en route, for a bit of help. She assured me I was at the right address, but other than that, she was unable to fill us in on just exactly where we needed to be.
“The directions say Studio 6,” I explained, “but Studio 6 is a ghost town.”
“Well figure it out, meet me at the entrance, and tell me what’s going on,” she directed.
So I set about driving around a lot the size of a small Hawaiian Island, visiting studio after studio and stopping the rare villager to ask if they knew where the Extras for The Tomorrow People were supposed to meet. Nobody had a clue. Of course they didn’t, I mean, this is a group of people pretending to be other people, not the Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics.
After what felt like the remainder of the heat-life of the Earth, I somehow stumbled upon a big white tent, swarming with activity. I drove toward the tent, spotted a guy with a walkie-talkie and the unmistakable “fuck you” expression on his face, and I knew, intuitively, that I’d found our place. What was supposed to be Studio 6 turned out to be a make-shift registration area between Studios 1 & 2.
The man with loads of authority and a magnificent chip on his shoulder assured me I was where I needed to be, but where my car was prohibited. He directed me to the “Extras” parking lot, clear across the land, and told me he’d send a shuttle over to retrieve us all.
PHEW! All I had to do now, was inform Mania.
“Hey, I found The Circus, it’s at the North end, in between Studios 1 & 2 but nowhere near Studio 6. They’re sending a shuttle over to the Extras parking lot to pick us all up, so let’s meet there.”
“I’m already here. I know everything. I can’t talk to you now because I’m dealing with all this luggage and we don’t need a shuttle we can walk. It’s what I do!” Click.
She knew everything? She’d known where to park? And where to sign-in? Everything? And yet, she’d sent me on a wild goose-chase instead of letting me in on “everything?” Because she’d chosen to blown me off, and leave me to my own devices, because she was a professional Extra, and because I deserved to understand just exactly what that meant?
So ok, I was confused. And feeling a little put out. But for the sake of peace, and what was scheduled to be a very long, very cold day, I decided to ignore her slight, and just as I was pulling into the parking lot, who do I see but Mania and her daughter climbing into the shuttle I’d ordered, and preparing to depart.
I waited to see if she’d reach inside her pocket for her phone, or if she’d take a look around to see if my daughter and I were anywhere in sight, or if she appeared to care that a couple of “newbies on the set” had failed to show up – I waited for anything, really, that would signal her desire to keep me in the loop, but nope. My daughter quickly grabbed her two bags filled with the changes of clothing she’d need, (we don’t have actress luggage) and she hurried over. I locked the car and quickly caught up with my daughter.
“Oh! You’re here!” Mania exclaimed, taken somewhat off-guard by our sudden appearance, but doing her best to disguise that.
“Uhhh, ya” I replied, a bit more bitterly than I ought to have. And then, before I could stop myself, I blurted out the following: “So you sent me all over Hell’s half acre to find out stuff you already knew, and could have told me but didn’t, and now you two are set to take-off without us, on the shuttle I’d ordered – the shuttle you said you did not need?”
In case you’ve ever wondered what it would feel like to experience the Universe folding in upon itself, allow me to describe the sensation:
First off, all birds cease their sing-song. They do. They simply stop chirping, all at once. Everything else stops too – cars, trucks, motorcycles, breathing – everything. And then the wind un-blows, and the rain swirls back up into the sky, and a disturbing calm descends upon those who have wandered away from the truth.
“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!” she seethed.
“WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM ME!” she shrieked.
“I AM AN EXPERIENCED AC-TORRRR, I KNOW WHAT I AM DOING!” she bellowed.
“WHAT ARE YOU ACCUSING ME OF?” she howled.
“WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WANT FROM MEEEE!!!!” she foamed.
Mania’s head whirled in circles a-top her shoulders as it began to engorge and spew steam. It was awesome. I was that close to witnessing an incandescent head blow straight off its shoulders – just like in cartoons.
She froze me out for the rest of the day – just to show me who the real walker was. Six straight hours of ego imbued misery ensued, on set with the world’s greatest celebrity Extra, and all the hoopla that any highly refined get-together such as this would normally involve.
I emailed Mania a few days after this incident to apologize for misinterpreting her intentions. It was the best I could come up with. I hate conflict so I took the high road, hoping for an apology in return, along with a slew of other pipe dreams. Turns out, I learned that I got exactly what I deserved that day because I was successful in making Mania look foolish for losing her temper among her peers. That’s what I learned. So I apologized for that as well.
THE STRANGENESS OF KINDNESS
What is happening? Am I in Crazy Cuckoo Town and nobody’s telling me because once again I have to figure it all out for myself?
In fact, the answer is far more serious. The truth is: I am a woman with a dangerous agenda. I am a Pinko Commie who must be stopped, because, I mean, imagine if we all just went around helping each other? How is that, in any way, beneficial to the process of evolution? After all, it’s survival of the fittest, not survival of the namby-pambiest!
Eat, or be eaten folks, the choice is yours.