“I have to ask my husband, first,” the slightly overweight woman with one flip-flopped foot out of her child-bearing years hesitatingly responded as her face blushed a terrific shade of ruby red. “I’ve never done it alone with another man. I wouldn’t even know what to d-d-do,” she stammered before turning away.
Critically, I watched as she shuffled away from my husband and through the door of Syms still tightly clutching to her chest her husband’s dress loafers that she had come out to her car to retrieve so the tailor could properly measure the cuffs of his almost purchased pants. Even from where I stood I could tell by the width of the shoes, along with the visibly worn condition of the heels (the sides depleted into lopsided discs from the weight of wear), he was quite the loafer.
“What did she say to you?” I asked my husband, Jim, as he returned to our car, shoulders slouched in total dejection.
“She said she had to ask her husband first.”
“What? When the hell is a man as good looking as you ever going to ask a woman like her for a jump!” I demanded. I wanted answers. “Did she see that you’re wearing a Fort Lee Fire Department tee-shirt?” He just gave me the look.
We stood in the parking lot, the hood of our aging mini-van propped open; two hot, sweating, irritable children leaning against the trunk. The jumper cables hanging precariously from the hands of my eight-year old who, by the way, felt compelled to put on his old hockey helmet he had retrieved from the Goodwill bag in the trunk only to realize that the reason it was in the Goodwill bag is because it’s too small. It was now firmly affixed to his skull. While I was yanking at his head, Jim was approaching people as they exited Syms asking if they could give our car battery a jump.
The 50-year old man with his trophy girlfriend responded, “Sorry, man, we’re in a hurry.” Trying to stay positive, I just assumed he had to get her home before curfew.
The 30-year old with the brand new Lexus murmured, “Sorry, I don’t want anything to happen to my car.” (My positivity waning, I wanted to instruct my son to head-butt the Lexus with his helmet.)
The father of the family of six informed Jim, “Wish we could help, but we have to get the kids home.” (Oh, don’t worry. My kids have been pining for us to let them spend the night in the parking lot of Syms.)
My favorite, however, was the man with the shiny Ford pick-up truck, oversized wheels, adorned with American flags and 9/11 decals, who looked our way, but didn’t respond. He just got into the cab of his truck and drove away. This man who probably shed buckets of Budweiser tears on the anniversary of 9/11 for people he doesn’t even know. This man who feels it necessary to billboard his patriotism for the entire world to see so his love and devotion to country is never questioned, has not one ounce of compassion for his countrymen or their young children.
Rejection after rejection after rejection. I was stunned by the conscious diffidence of humanity as it passed before us, refusing to make eye contact. Is this what we’ve become? We can all be friends on Facebook, but isolate ourselves from each other when real life interferes? Have we been reduced to Sims characters—just virtual shadows desensitized and controlled solely by the functions of the keyboard?
Growing up our car regularly broke down. Hell, everybody’s car regularly broke down. I have no memory of my father ever having to ask anyone for help—people would just pull over and help us. And I don’t think we ever went anywhere without stopping to help someone whose car was disabled. I was raised to understand that an open hood was the universal sign for “Stop and Help Your Neighbor.”
Finally, listening to yet another rejection and unable to take it anymore, the sky now black with night, I stood in the middle of the parking lot and literally screamed to everyone walking past us, “Can’t anyone JUMP my husband? He’s a firefighter for godsake! He doesn’t say ‘No’ when your house is on fire—he just runs in! He leaves his family to help yours, but no one, NOT ONE OF YOU can give this man a jump! What’s wrong with all you people?”
I wish I could tell you that everyone came rushing to our aide, but they didn’t. Although they listened to my rant with seeming amusement, most kept on walking. Walking without pause or concern. Except for a group of elderly people, two men and their wives. Four people, their words thickened by accents not native to our country, put their hands upon my shoulder and said of course they would help. They drove their car up to ours and within seconds our motor was humming. I could have cried from their simple generosity.
As our family piled back into the running van my husband looked at me and said, “Wow, that was embarrassing.”
“I know,” I replied in agreement. “I can’t believe no one would help us.”
“I’m talking about your outburst,” he said before bursting into laughter.
Momentarily I considered pushing him out of our van that was now doing 60 m..p.h. on Route 17 North, but thought better of it. Not only because we’ve been together for so long he’s like an accessory that never really goes out of style, but because I cancelled my life insurance policy on him. And who could I possibly get to walk Bad Dog every day? But just see how long he has to wait for me to give him a jump!