“You could’ve kidnapped a grandmother and a baby! Actually, they could have kidnapped you!” my mother said. It’s true, instead of living a single woman’s life in a South Philly row home, I could be living with a strange Indian family in the burbs. (At least I have to assume they live in the burbs because any city dweller worth their weight knows how to parallel park and this family certainly did not).
It was one of those humid, sticky, gray Saturdays in late September. The kind where you aren’t sure if it’s worth leaving the house. The city streets were wormy from the storm the night before and the air smelled like wet dog. I was headed down Pine Street thinking about all the errands I had to do that day. For some reason having a list of things to do calms me, it makes me feel productive and human. I rattled off my to do list in my head: groceries, hardware store, that place that sells the best birthday cards, maybe I’ll buy a new hat for fall?
Just as I was trying to decide what color hat, I noticed a man coming toward me. He had a panicked look on his face and he was doing a sort of odd quickstep, not quite running but definitely not walking. As he got closer, I noticed something extremely peculiar. He had a large wad of tissue sticking out of his right ear. I kept staring at it; I was obsessed with it, wondering why this enormous and completely noticeable amount of tissue was sticking out of his ear. What happened to this guy, what is the story with this guy’s ear? He’s right in front of me now and he’s saying something…what is he saying? “Excuse me, can you help me park my car? I finally heard him say. “Park my car,” he said again. Next to him are two small children, maybe 7 and 9, and a woman who I assume is his wife. They all look at me with beckoning eyes. “Could you please help me park my car?” he says one last time.
“Oh,” I said coming out of my tissue-in-the-ear obsessed fog. “Sure, you just need to cut the wheel a bit more to your right.” The family stared at me. “You know, turn the wheel sharply” I said. “No, no” said the man, “Can you park the car for us?” ” I’m trying to do that,” I said. Just then he gestures toward the car as if to say, go ahead and get in. ” Wait, you want me to actually park your car?” I say. ” You actually want me to get inside your car and park it?” The whole family looked at me with relieved faces. (Looking back, I truly believe it was the look of relief on their faces that compelled me to do what I did next).
I got into the car that smelled of spices and not surprisingly cotton. I’m not sure what possessed me to get into the car. If asked to perform the same task tomorrow I simply wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t. But that day, the fact that I had no where to be, they looked like a group who could really use a break (I mean what’s going on in that guy’s ear) and maybe a small part of me knew that one day this would make great fodder for brunch with the gals, compelled me to back the Toyota into a small but totally doable parallel parking spot.
As I turned my head over my shoulder I noticed I wasn’t alone in the Toyota. There was a baby in a car seat cooing away and next to her/him was an older woman maybe about 70 but wrinkled beyond her years. I must have looked surprised and I stopped backing in. The old woman looked at me with a stern face as if to say, “what, why did you stop, we have things to do, we need to have someone look at my son’s ear. I mean look at it, there’s a wad of cotton in it.”
At this moment I realized, this man and his wife thought I was an upstanding citizen, someone who wouldn’t take off with an adorable baby and stern but probably kind grandmother. And, I got into a stranger’s car assuming no one had weapons and no one had any intention of robbing or kidnapping me.
Was this a ridiculous thing to do? Absolutely. Did I feel good after helping these people? Absolutely. Am I recommending others help strangers in this manner? It’s probably not safe. Do I think it makes for a great story? You tell me…