I ran out of gas yesterday on my way back to school around 2:15 P.M. on Clovercroft Road, a secondary road known for its coyote and bobcat sightings and for its assorted roadkill of heron, king snakes, and cats. My school sits off this road, and today I was just out of reach of it. My hunter green suburban started chugging as I was going downhill, and I was forced to pull over onto the grassy shoulder next to a fence behind which two goats with long, floppy ears chewed grass while staring me down.
One day when we are old and gray (or bald), David Raymond and I will sit smoking pipes, recounting our scholastic journey together at Stone Table in terms of which years and on which roads he had to pick me up or bring me a container of gas. I don't take pride in running out of gas, but admittedly I also don't mind running on empty for long stretches, allegorical of my life. David kindly picked me up without commentary and dropped me off at my house to pick up my Volvo to take a trip to the gas station.
I typically don't like being accosted anywhere at anytime: that goes for the person on the street corner trying to give me a Gospel tract because he thinks I look like I need conversion, or the cell phone salesmen in the local store or mall trying to get me to switch my cell service or the homeless who beg from me and then preach or curse in return for my attention, positive or negative (respectively). The first and last time I was jumped was by a stranger in Brugge, Belgium. Some functional pothead tried to take my car, angry that it was a Mercedes. That my car trumped his tiny compact, and that I, the driver, was American was enough to set him off. He tried to get in through the back seat, hit me in the side of the face twice, knocking my glasses off, and told me in German to leave Brugge now or not at all (Du gehts jetzt, oder du gehts nicht). All of this in front of the police, mind you. Anyways, suffice it to say, I do not like being accosted by people.
However, yesterday at the gas station I was actually intrigued when a skinhead came up to me with a two-gallon gas container, nervously asking me for some gas. I had just finished filling up my own one-gallon gas container and was about to put the pump up. Looking around, I quickly realized he had bypassed a couple of professional looking people who were eying us out of the corner of their eyes. And he had bee-lined to me.
"Hey, dude, I really need some ******* help. I'm absolutely broke and I need to get home." I looked at him as I screwed on the lid to my gas container. He continued talking, moving his head back and forth.
"Dude, I'm not trying to get your money. I just really really need some help now. Today has been the worst ******* day. Seriously. If you could just give me some gas I could get home."
"Where do you live?" I asked, but not to interrogate him. I figured he would feel better about the exchange if I showed some sort of interest in who he was or what his situation was.
"Dude, I live on Trinity. And sometimes in Columbia. Actually, I'm homeless right now. I really live in Nashville but I'm from California." He confusedly admitted, eager to tell me all of the truths no matter how contradictory they sounded. I looked at the tattoos on his head, blue arrows in rows, starting from the base of his neck and converging at the tip of his stubbly hairline above the eyebrows.
"That sucks. How old are you?"
"I just turned thirty."
"Ah, how do you feel about turning thirty?"
"Not too good. I just broke up with my girlfriend I was with for two years. It's not good." He paused, casting around for more credibility. "I work at the Bunganut Pig." He showed me the logo on his shirt. Ah, but I know and love the Bunganut Pig, a hole-in-the-wall pub on a street in my town that serves some amazing casserole. I'm Facebook friends with Bunganut.
"Dude," I said "You guys make some good food! When do you work?" He gave me his hours to the minute. Seven days a week he was working.
"I'm going to come see you at lunch on Wednesday then," I said as I took his gas can.
He stared at me in disbelief. As I filled it up, he was babbling "Dude, this is the best thing that has happened to me today.... **** man. Dude, this is the best ******* thing that has happened to me!" I screwed on his lid and handed him back the container. He lunged at me and gave me the biggest hug I have ever cared to receive from a stranger. He kept shaking his head and fist bumped me with knuckles tatted in faded, Avatar blue with some slur on it.
"I'll see you on Wednesday." I told him.
"******* thanks, man! I'll see you then!"
As I drove away, a part of me was asking myself why I gave him gas and not others who have asked before. I cast around a few reasons. Well, he lived on Trinity Lane which was clearly a reference to the Holy Trinity. That would have been a good reason, haha.
I then thought about the Bunganut Pig, a prestigious little pub in downtown Franklin, known for its cozy atmosphere and delicious lunches. He had a Bunganut t-shirt on. Surely, that was some proof.
Then I thought about how thoroughly he answered my questions. But it was none of these.
You know what it was? It was that his lower lip trembled when he told me that he had a rotten day. It was that quiver that he tried to control, the quiver that slipped beyond his ability to maintain composure. It was the quiver that gave him away, that told me he was telling the truth, and more importantly, that he needed my help. He could have told me he was a born-again skinhead and I would have told him I had no money. But he let the quiver slip, whether or not he meant to do so.
How many broke business men have walked into million dollar meetings in fancy conference rooms dressed up in dark, pinstriped suits, crisply starched shirts, bright power ties, slicked back hair, and spit-shined shoes? As the businessmen are working over their audience, the shakers and movers in the audience are feeling the overwhelming sense that they are not needed, that they are small fish, that they are of no consequence to the speaker.
Look at that guy. Look at his suit. Look at his tie. Look at his confidence! We can't offer him anything he would take. We would offer $250,000 for his services, but he is asking for much more and looks like he wouldn't take less. No, we can't let him know just how disorganized we are. It would be embarrassing.
And those idiots lose the deal because they portended a confidence not their own, a generically enthusiastic business presentation they plagiarized, and an overall disposition that echoed hollow throughout the entire spiel only to take their broke selves back to their dark apartments to eat Ramen in their secondhand Lazy Boys in front of a small television with no more than $100 in the bank left to their names. All because they let pretension get in the way. They let performance sterilize genuine sentiment.
Make that bottom lip quiver. Wet those pants. Give honesty for once and you might find your deepest needs addressed.