What Have You Done With All the Jerks?

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By DOUGLAS JOHN IMBROGNO | Nov. 7, 2019 | TheStoryIsTheThing.com

The human race seems on its last legs. Civility is in the ER hooked up to an IV. Aggression dominates our algorithms. American culture is a festering wound full of hateful sods.

And then …

I sit down on my very expensive tri-focals.  When I put them on, my vision is as cock-eyed as the glasses.

Grrrrrrrr

I grab my other set of reading glasses that blur anything more than three-feet away. I squint to my car and drive carefully to a local Mom and Pop optician’s shop.

I enter to the voice of Jim Croce crooning “Operator” from a back room: “I’ve overcome the blow/ I’ve learned to take it well/ Only wish my words/ Could just convince myself/ That it just wasn’t real/ But that’s not the way it feels…”

From the back, a young fellow with sleepy, kind brown eyes and a mop of matching hair appears. He sort of looks like Croce in his heyday.

“Can I help you?”

I sat on my glasses! Look at these. Help.

He gazes down at the glasses thoughtfully. Takes them into the back. Elsewhere, an older fellow guides an old woman who wobbles on a cane. “C’mon, dear. We’ll get you fitted,” he says.

I am glad this longtime family business is in my neighborhood, though I bought my very expensive glasses at a fancy eyeglass store downtown.

The Jim Croce look-a-like reappears. I secretly wish my eyes looked as kind as his. 

“Here you go,” he says. 

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I put them on. They fit better than they have ever fit in their five years of existence.

“How much do I owe you?”

“No charge,” he says.

Really?

“Thank you!”

I flash a namaste his way. He just smiles.

He never asks where I got the glasses.

+ + +

Her name is Glenna. She greets my daughter and me at the Sherwin-Williams store downtown. She is an older woman with cropped white hair and pale-blue eyes, peering from behind clear-plastic glasses.

We’ve come to buy paint, brushes and other painting paraphernalia. Our mission is to re-paint a downstairs room on this day. 

We gather the tools. We choose a color — a gleaming alabaster white. The bill is more than $100.  I’m ready to dig out my VISA.

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Glenna pipes up.

“I feel I need to tell you—tomorrow there’s a discount of 30 percent off all items in the store,” she says.

Our headlong rush to do the paint job grinds to a sudden, pleasing, halt.

Um, yeah.

“OK,” I say. “Cool.”

A corner of Glenna’s mouth curls up in a smile. “I just couldn’t let you not know that. I know that I would want to know.”

The next day, I’m one of the first customers through the front door. I spot our saleswoman.

“Good morning, Glenna! You” — I say loud enough for any other employees to hear — “are my favorite sales clerk of the month, if not the year.”

“Oh,” she says. Big grin. “It was a pleasure.”

I thought of it later. But an even better response from me would have been in the Italian of my father’s forbears: “Il piacere e tutto mio.”

The pleasure is all mine.

+ + +

It is the little things when it feels like the biggest things are coming apart at the seams in the world. I am thinking of the headlines as I pull open the door to Qdobas to pick up our dinner order. My family has gotten half the painting job done. Time to break for the day.

Qdobas, we have learned, now features Impossible burger veggie meat. Since we’re fans of Beyond Burgers, our two-thirds vegetarian household decides to check out the chain’s version of veggie-meat burritos.

A twentysomething woman with a wide-open, friendly face spots me as a barrel toward the cash register. “Do you have a pickup?” “Yes!” 

I give her my name. She is helping what seems like three of us customers all at once. But in turning to me, she gives me the fullest part of her attention.

“Yep, you’re good to go! There’s your order. Have a good night, hon!” she cries, so loud every person in the place must hear it.

I am usually ‘hon-ed’ by women with silver-blue hair and nametags that say ‘Doris’ or ‘Gladys.’ For some reason, I just love when they “hon” me.

So, I really love being ‘hon-ed,” for the first time in my life, by a cheery, millennial sweetheart.

I don’t know her name. I don’t know if blessings work — I am a fallen Catholic. But I cast a backward blessing her way as I exit the restaurant, a large smile upon my face.

+ + +

Our cat of 15 years has gone missing. She has a terminal cancer diagnosis. She absolutely cannot be lost outside for the night.

Besides, she is loved beyond measure.

I had been supervising Gizmo’s heartfelt desire to walk in the grass outside, in the cool, refreshing snap and fallen leaves of an October afternoon.

When she’d begun to point herself like a heat-seeking missile to a neighbor’s porch — where she has gone out-of-sight in healthier days — I scoop her up. I deposit her inside the house.

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Now, she’s gone. But where? We turn the house upside down.

Nowhere.

My wife, daughter and I scour the perimeter of the house. We try to spot her from the deck.

Nowhere.

We walk the street. The backyards. Checking places she has never gone before.

Nowhere.

There are tears. Hyperventilating. Fears. 

Will she die alone in the woods?! Is this my fault? Is the dark part of the universe sending me a message? 

We were supposed to use Glenna’s alabaster-white paint to begin painting the downstairs room that day. But the project is certainly off. I wonder if an onslaught of grief and lost-pet trauma will be our project this day and for many days to come.

Our neighbors’ white hybrid pulls into their driveway two houses down. Years ago, they used to cat-sit for us. They looked after our first-born the night our second-born arrived at a downtown hospital.

Decades ago, we were not pleased to see a ‘George W. Bush’ poster appear in their yard. 

We got past it. We are good.

The woman of their house puts food on her porch for the cranky, sometimes aggressive neighborhood strays. She loves our Gizmo. Gizmo can be cranky, too, but she is gentle at heart and has never bitten a soul.

Our neighbor lady mobilizes the neighborhood. She lets every neighbor know to be on the lookout for Giz. 

The cul-de-sac is on high alert.

I am immobilized on the couch, in full-out catastrophizing mode. 

Literally, as in cat-tastrophizing. 

What if she fell down over the hill? What if our other neighbor’s yappy dog, Homer, has her cornered? What if …

Out the window, I see our neighbor in her knee-high garden boots, criss-crossing the backyard behind Homer’s fence.

She is on the hunt.

I hear my daughter’s cries from outside. 

“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!”

Gizmo is lounging on the front sidewalk. ‘What the ….’

I bolt outside and see my daughter scoop her up. Tears flow from the mush-ball wing of the family.

Our neighbor has not found Giz. But she looked hard for her.

She looked out for her.

+ + +

Who ARE all these people?!

And what have they done with all the jerks?

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