Do the Right Thing

Have you ever wanted to castrate someone with a clawhammer and the blunt end of a thermos?

Me neither. I’m not even sure how a person would go about doing that. But last week, there was a day I felt angry enough where I could have figured out a way.

I was at work. It was a Sunday and we were crazy busy. Around 12:30PM, my wife sent me a text message that I didn’t get until a few hours later. This is her Facebook post, which relates (more or less) the gist of what happened while I was at home.

“During our last snow storm, Alexander went out to dig out our car, and decided to help some of the neighbors’ cars as well. He didn’t have to, but he did. I was so proud of him. Just now, however, the crotchety old man who parks next to us at the apartment complex came to the door, complaining that he was watching out the window and saw A. reach up with the snow shovel and scrape the snow off his SUV. “I don’t know why he would do a thing like that!” the man said exasperatedly. “I think he was trying to be neighborly, and help you out,” I responded. A. even came to the door and apologized, too, without my urging him. But the neighbor wants us to pay for damage to his car.”

I texted my wife: “Are you gonna be okay?” “Sure,” she said. “It happened hours ago!” But I couldn’t get it out of my system. It’s a long story and not something I had time to focus on. I was so furious on my family’s behalf, I could hardly focus at work. I had co-workers bickering. A bit later, I accidentally slashed a nice, deep inchlong cut into the palm of my hand with a box cutter.  Anyway–you’ve had days like that too, where everything seems to be coming apart at the seams.

I finally made it home around 9:30. My wife and I talked about the incident, and I read the Facebook comments from her post. They can all be summarized by “What a jerk!” or “Shouldda slammed the door on his face!” etc.

And guess what happened the next day? That’s right! It snowed. 9+ inches of the stuff.  Yay for us! Now my son is a bit nervous about digging out cars, so I took the duty on myself, around 11 AM. I dug out my car. Then what did I do? Can you guess?

I dug out his car.

Why? It was my chance.  I almost urinated on his tires but it was kind of too cold to pull it out there in the sub-freezing temperatures. I was thinking of sticking caltrops under his tires. Four flats! Hahahaha! Scratching a nice long divot along the side of his stupid SUV that would have actually warranted a complaint. I really, really wanted to, as my mind wreaked all manner of havoc on this stupid sack of pus. Instead, I did the right thing. I was suddenly struck with the thought that it doesn’t matter what he did, or how he reacted. What matters is what I do the next time. Will I bless or curse? Make a friend or an enemy? What could make the situation less bad?

In this day, we don’t often bring cookies or lasagnas to our neighbors. We have over a dozen people living in the condos above me, and I know the name of exactly two of them. We keep to ourselves.

This guy lives in another building. He’d never have even had the chance to meet us. He never determined, through the casual relationships that blossomed in years gone by, whether our intentions were benign or threatening.

So, I dug out his car. I’d have rather thrown the lasagna at his car but, you know, you work with what you got.

Fast forward five days.

I was listening to All Songs Considered, an NPR audio blog, in the mostly-failed attempt to hear some new music and get myself out of the 8-track-tape rut my listening habits have fallen into.

I hate most of the songs I hear. Squeaks and bloops, record scratches. Four minutes of people singing while walking up and down stairs in heels. Uppity, pretentious, whiny pretenders to the throne of true musicians. (Leif Garrett anyone? )

But then I ran into a Portland, Oregon band called Ages and Ages. They sang a happy little almost-childlike song with a deep message, called “Divisionary.” “Do the right thing / Do it all the time / Don’t you know you’re not the only one suffering?” the song asks. Listen to it. Watch the video.

The song is a catchy bit of choral sunshine pop from the 60s, made almost 50 years later. I like it. And the lyrics shined a light into my darker places.

“Don’t you know you’re not the only one suffering?”

Who knows what this grumpy grandpa has been through? I know he was demoted or fired. I know he’s working as a security guard now. I know that he’s recently divorced and pushing 70. What things don’t I know? I don’t really care. Those facts alone should be enough to not go through with my testicles-in-guillotine magic vengeance act.

Does it take more chutzpah to do the right thing? I don’t know. I did anyway, under the assumption that it’s better to make a friend than an enemy. Who knows what may happen. Maybe he’ll just forget the whole thing and we can go on with our lives? Here’s hoping. May I remember, even when I really, really don’t feel like it, to do the right thing.


5 thoughts on “Do the Right Thing”

  1. It shocks me Not Mr. Carpenter ! you are still the same reasonable person you always were ! I really like this one ! I think it will touch base with us all .


  2. There are a lot of cranky people out there in this stressful day and age. Glad you responded to a difficult situation better than I might have if I was in the same position.


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