Tuesday, April 05, 2011
You call it Sticking My Nose Into Other People’s Business. I call it, Being Helpful. Notice the difference?
Here’s a reenactment to help explain my habit: I was in the aisle of an American Airlines plane returning from Boston to Chicago when I overheard (you may call it Eavesdropping. I call it, Paying Attention to My Surroundings.) two teenagers discussing their stuffed up ears. “Wait a few minutes,” one said to the other. “They’ll, like, open up on their own.”
Because I was sandwiched in between other de-planers and luggage, I couldn’t turn around and offer, “If you pinch your nostrils together and blow, your ears will immediately unclog.” In truth, another reason I didn’t swivel was because I feared I might cause the blocked teen an auditory emergency and incur a lawsuit. (Would the Good Samaritan Law have saved me?)
Another case in point: See me in Trader Joe’s strolling the aisles when I spy, er, spot, a harried young mother with two kids tussling over the shopping cart. “Ma, tell him to get off,” shouts the girl who has her mitts on the handlebars. She is referring to her sibling who is hanging off the other end. “Kevin,” the mother says, “stop annoying your sister. Get off.”
When next I observe the trio, Kevin is being carried in his mother’s arms, as if he were an infant rather than a nine-year-old, or so, boy. Oh how I want to approach the scene to relieve the burdened mother and say to Kevin, “I need help finding things on the shelves. Would you be willing to lend a hand?” I figure this would remove Kevin from the tableau, while making him feel important.
Of course, Mom might not comprehend my good intentions and cause her to call store security and warn a child kidnapper has entered the low-priced, store-brand aisles. So, I demur.
Here’s a last example: Recently, I was on the CTA -- a hotbed of Being Helpful possibilities -- when I saw a couple across the aisle studying a City of Chicago map. Their gazes went from the unwieldly paper to the transit sign above the exit doors. It was clear these out-of-towners were confused about their destination. I waited a bit to give them a chance to figure things out for themselves, thereby allowing them a triumphant moment.
Just as I was about to step over the passenger seated on my left and offer my help, a man behind the couple (I don’t know if I would’ve trusted him. He had those small beady eyes we’re always warned against.) leaned over and said, “Can I help?”
I listened to be sure Stranger Danger was providing accurate (I might have suggested Washington rather than Clark/Lake, but he was in the ballpark.) information. Mollified, I returned to my paperback. Off duty for a bit, I returned to the pages open on my lap. I found it hard to concentrate though, for a woman behind me was on her cellphone complaining to her mother about an inconsiderate roommate. I nodded my head sympathetically as I assumed the mom on the other end was doing. But, what if she wasn’t? What if she was distracted, disinterested, fed up with a whining child? Surely, this unfortunate young woman needed an older, wiser, mother's advice.
I waited until I heard the click of the cellphone. Then, I turned and put my elbow on my backseat. “Dear,” I started to say. She looked at me, likely with the same sour gaze that set off her roommate. She shook her head, grabbed her purse, and as she moved to another seat, I could hear her mutter, “Knew I should’ve driven.”
Oh well, at least I tried.