"That looks like a good stretch," he said as he walked by my table. He made vicarious stretching sounds while I extended my arms and reached far above my head.
I was working in 'my McDonalds office.' I was on my second diet Coke, staring down the last hours of the final weeks of a writing deadline. That final stretch is like the end of a pregnancy for me: I'm miserably uncomfortable, very uneasy and unsure of myself, I'm irritable and exhausted, and I start to question every decision that got me to this place.
I nodded and smiled. A good stretch indeed. My body is tired, tired, tired.
"Hey, are you on eBay?" He leaned into my booth with an eye on my laptop. It was all a little jarring.
"Right now? No, not right now, but I do have an eBay account, yes."
"Can you get on eBay for me?"
Let's back up this train. "Hi. My name is Tricia."
He shook my hand. "Hank. Can you look up Stuart Steam Valve? S-t-u..."
He was pretty for reals about the eBay thing. He needed my help, and honestly, I thought to myself, Hank is probably somebody's dad. In 25 years, if my dad asks a young mom for help with something having to do with new fangled technology, I hope she'll help him with a gracious smile and a gentle spirit. So I signed on to eBay.
Turns out, Hank is many years retired, and he's collects remote controlled steam engine boats to drive around the pond near his house. He needs a steam valve for one of his boats, hence the eBay auction.
I read to him my findings. But I hadn't found what he was looking for.
"No. No. Not it. No. You know what, if I go get my computer out of my car, could you help me?"
He's somebody's dad. I'm paying it forward. "Sure. I would be glad to."
He went outside and came back with a dinosaur monstrosity that took up half the table. I opened his laptop, and a sticky note floated out with all of his passwords. Sweet Hank. Let me help you out, here. When I turned it on for him, the computer started an update. The whole "Step 1 of 3... don't turn off your computer" routine.
"Looks like your computer is configuring, so this may take us a minute."
Get this. He said, "Well, I need to go on over there and have my breakfast with those guys." He gestured to a table of three men his same age, all with their wrinkled hands and senior coffees.
I looked at him, kind of in disbelief. He continued. "You take a look there, Trish," every older man I've ever met has shorted my name directly upon meeting me, "and I'll come back and check on you."
He's someone's dad. He's someone's dad. Help him out.
"I'll tell you what, Hank. I'll let it sit here while it completes its update, and I'll let you know when it's up and running." Which I think is actually entirely generous of me, Hank.
He walked away to hang out with Stan and Joe and Big Jim who just had a heart attack and can't gain weight to save his life, quite literally. Ask me how I know this. Hank told me.
I let his computer boot up. I signed on. I picked up the computer to carry it to him, but he met me halfway and motioned me back to my booth. I was in so many levels of disbelief: first, that he was bossing me around, and second, that I was apparently obeying him.
I read aloud the findings of my search, which included some vintage items for thousands of dollars, a few steam valves, and surprisingly a series of cookbooks. He said, "No, those cookbooks aren't what I want. They might interest you, though."
Hank. I really don't want to hate you.
I cleared my throat and pictured him holding a grandchild on Thanksgiving or reading 'Twas the Night Before Christmas to all of his grandchildren. I held tightly to the thread of endearment.
I found the Stuart Steam Valve. The current bid was $11.50. "Go ahead and bid for me," he said.
I raised it fifty cents. Another bidder raised it fifty cents higher. I gave Hank the play by play. "Well, somebody's bidding against you, it looks like."
"Seems like I should wait until the end to raise my bid, right?"
"Some would say so, yes. That's a good strategy in an auction."
"When does this auction end?" He's standing next to my table. Hovering a bit.
"Let's see... it says 1 day and 2 hours. So tomorrow morning around 11:00."
"You gonna be here tomorrow?"
Wow. Nope. I'm officially not going to be here tomorrow morning. I will be anywhere but here tomorrow morning. "No, Hank, I won't be here tomorrow." I told him something about boys and school and being a single mom with much to do.
He furrowed his brow. "Well, then what should I do?"
(How is this becoming my problem?)
"Sounds like you should sign on tomorrow morning and place your bid."
"Well, I'll have to find somebody else to help me then."
Don't tug on my heartstrings, Hank. Seriously. "Do you have someone who can help you?"
Deep sigh. "I suppose I'll have to find someone."
I pictured Jana in my head and the skill we're practicing where I learn to say no. In my mind, she was wagging one finger at me and saying, "Ah-ah-ah. No, ma'am. 'No' is a complete sentence."
"Well, I do hope you'll find someone." I closed the computer and handed it back to him. "I need to get back to work here, Hank, but it was nice to meet you this morning."
"What are you, an educator? I see you here with your papers all spread out everywhere."
Sure. Let's go with that. 'Cause you know what I'm not, Hank? Your assistant.
He went back to his three buddies. I went back to my sixty thousand words in process. A while later, I saw them all gather their newspapers, canes, and walkers as they had finished their cups of coffee. Hank came back on over to me.
He said, "So, do you want to go ahead and handle this auction for me? Just go ahead and keep an eye on the auction and bid for me?"
I smiled my courtesy smile, not to be confused with my Yes Smile.
"No, Hank. I sure do not."
"You're too cute to be a single mom, you know" he said.
"Thank you," I said. "Have a good day," I said. "Good luck with the steam valve," I said.
"You're sure you don't want to be in charge of it?"
"I'm quite sure," I said.