“It’s better to be wounded than always walk in armor.”
I’m going to trust you enough to just tell you the story. Straight. Try to refrain from shouting out what you would have done or what I should have done, because honestly, that’s a bit like offering a comb to a bald person… too little, too late. And because we all believe what the world believes about us, be kind.
I was heading home from a bridal shower in Manhattan on a Sunday afternoon, some weeks ago. Stopped for a light on 96th Street, I was searching for some music to take my mind off the unexpectedly heavy traffic when I was startled by a rapping on my passenger side window. There stood a distraught, totally tan Harry Hamlin look alike, dressed in a beautiful suit. I rolled down the window (I said no judgments till I’m done!), and he explained, “Thank you so much for stopping. I’m mortified to be standing here pan handling in the middle of the city but see that car,” he said, pointing to a white Mercedes with its flashers on parked across the street, “that’s mine. My name is Tim (he mentioned a last name which I promptly forgot), I’m a CPA on my way home to Sag Harbor and I’ve run out of gas.” He shook his head. “The gas station won’t take my credit card and I really need to get back. Can you help me?”
Now I was talking to a really handsome guy in an expensive suit who drove a Mercedes. He was obviously humiliated. How could I just drive away? I pulled over to the curb before deciding what to do. Relieved, he continued, “I don’t know how to thank you. The thought of having to beg,…” his voice trailed off. I reached for my pocketbook.
“Do you have a business card? I’ll have my secretary Fed Ex you a check first thing tomorrow morning. You don’t know how much I appreciate this.”
“I don’t have a card,” I said as I handed him a twenty-dollar bill. Tim bit his lip. “The can of gas is twenty eight dollars, I’m sorry.”
All I had was two more twenty-dollar bills. I hesitated as I handed over the second bill.
“Have you seen Book of Mormon?” he suddenly asked. “I have four tickets for a week from Saturday night. My sister is getting married and I can’t use them. It would be my pleasure to send them to you along with your money. You’ve been so kind.” Then he took out a piece of paper from a really nice wallet and jotted down my name and phone number.
“That would be great but it’s not necessary,” I said, already planning which lucky couple would be sitting next to us that night. I inhaled, thinking nothing makes a person feel better than the sense of having done a really good deed.
Tim stood behind my car and stopped the traffic so I could re-enter my lane. We waved and I went on my way. The whole encounter took less than 90 seconds.
It took till the next light for me to wonder why I hadn’t asked him for his business card. And a few feet more to mull over how a CPA couldn’t find an ATM or gas station that would accept a credit card. But he was dressed so well and was so handsome… and he was a peer, right?
By 5:00 the next day, after enduring my husband’s eye roll and lecture about opening the window all the way (I’d bet a million dollars he would have done the very same thing, especially if “Tim” were a beautiful young woman), I was forced to face the fact that maybe I’d been had. But by whom? A talented con man or a self centered accountant? At first I was humiliated, shamed to have been seen as such an easy mark. Then I was angry… how dare he take advantage of my random act of kindness. Then I was embarrassed, having to admit to myself that if he were missing a tooth or wasn’t as cute, in short, if he were someone who really needed the forty bucks, I never would have given it to him.
I wish I could say this was a valuable experience that has left me wiser. But it’s hard to recover from what you don’t fully understand. In life, when you learn a lesson, you suddenly “get” something you’ve always understood, but in a different way. I can’t say that what I did was against my better judgment because I believe you can only recognize the bad guys in retrospect. It’s much easier to protect yourself from a thief than from a gifted liar. And if indeed it’s true that good is mostly allied with vulnerability and evil with power, than I’d better get used to the fact that I’m doomed.
P.S. Tim from Sag Harbor, if you’re reading this, I still haven’t given up hope that maybe you just lost my number.