The long way around

This morning, while I was helping a guy in the permit center, a man who had that baby-faced look of a 30-year old who can’t quite grow a beard, N texts me, “Going for coffee. Now.”

To my credit, I didn’t just get up in the middle of helping Baby Face to go have coffee.  Pretty good customer service for the government, wouldn’t you say?  While we were talking, I overhead an employee asking a man who was on crutches what had happened.  And what I thought he said is, “Kidney failure.”

I look at the guy I’m helping, and say, “Did he just say ‘kidney failure?  Because I had no idea that crutches would be involved.”

He looks at me like I’m just a tiny bit crazy.  He thinks he heard the guy say something about an Achilles heel injury, which makes more sense, but it’s not at all what I heard.  Baby Face looks scared, like shit, I’m supposed to take land buying advice from someone who thinks there might possibly be an instance of kidney failure that would warrant crutches?

He does that thing of trying to chat you up, not unlike the way people behave around a dog that might do something unpredictable.  They maintain eye contact, and try to keep the conversation away from kidneys, and onto hiking.  He says he and his wife just moved here six months ago for work, of all things, and they’ve done tons of hiking since they arrived.

“Oh, too bad there's still so much snow everywhere,” I say, because I’m willing to move on from the whole puzzle of the guy with kidney failure locomoting on crutches.

“Snow doesn’t stop us. We bought snowshoes.”

“What’s your favorite hike so far?” I ask, because I'm trying to keep up and not fixate on the kidney thing.

“Mount Si,” he says. I’m done with him now, because that’s not anyone’s favorite hike.  Oh wait, unless you’re the kind that wants to slog up a steep incline packed with humans so you can get a view of the factory outlets from the top. (We’re totally going somewhere with this story, by the way.  Yes we are. Don’t leave me now.)

We wrap it up, and I give him a card, saying he can call if he has questions.  He apologizes that he didn’t bring a card, and I’m thinking, um, I’m probably not gonna have any questions for you, Mr. I-Can-Tell-You-Work-At-Boeing-By-The-Way-You-Dress.  Seriously.  How would that go?  “Uh, hi, remember me?  I’m the one who thought the guy was on crutches due to a ruptured kidney?  Yeah, well I’m going on a trip and I was wondering how that wing is attached. Is that pretty solid, would you say?”

I start walking over to the coffee shop across the parking lot, carrying the pager that keeps me in constant contact with the permit center so that random people can tell me about their favorite hikes and stuff.  The pager is like those flour sacks that 14-year-old girls have to carry around for Health Class.  It’s not a real baby, but we treat it like one. We carry it around, never leave it alone, and act important if it goes off.  “Uh, excuse me, I’ve been paged,” we say.  "This is important."

I pass my people returning from coffee in the parking lot, and try to hand off the pager like a baton. I give it to B, and he tosses it to N., who starts making a fuss, as if it’s not a flour sack baby, but something alive that would actually need care.  He’s yelling some protest to me, but we’ve already passed and I can’t really hear him.  (Hey, does this post make me sound deaf?)  Anyway, I know he’s not saying nice supportive things, like thanks for letting me watch the baby, Bets!  But I decide to act as if he is, just like Buddha would.  I turn back towards him and blow him a kiss in that way that is a cross between genuine affection and giving him the finger.

But, alas, between when we passed and when I turn around to see what N's yelling about, a big bakery truck has pulled in, and a guy is unloading it.  When I spin around to blow the kiss to N, Bakery Man doesn’t know that it’s really a sarcastic floating kiss meant for someone behind him.

No, he doesn’t. He looks at me and does that YES gesture, the arm as if it’s pulling a bell chord, and lets out some sort of yelp.  It’s super awkward because I don’t really want to correct him -- that seems unkind, but I don’t really want to let it go either, because in about a minute I’m going to have to walk right back across this parking lot.  And it’s a huge truck; unloading looks like it might take some time. Anyway, a long story to say I had to walk a really long way around.


  1. Oh, that poor man! His day demolished by a floating kiss. You need to improve your aim.

  2. "locomoting on crutches"....I LOVE that WAY better than "ambulating on crutches". I am going to have to add that to my medical vocabulary!!

    You should have been a writer for Seinfeld. I love your stories!!!!!


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