Biff America column: A blonde leading the blind
She recoiled when I touched her.
Though this just happened last week, as I type those words, it occurs to me that would be a perfect title were I to write a memoir of my life before marriage.
She appeared to be lost, out of her element and uncomfortable — and I was just the guy to make things worse. Left to her own devices, she would have found her way. But something about her demeanor — and that, like me, she seemed to have a predisposition to talking to herself — made me think she was in need.
I was at a local gym, standing in front of my locker in a common area when she passed by a couple of times while mumbling.
“You seem a little lost, can I help?” I might have been standing a little too close and perhaps spoke a little too loudly. She took one step back.
“I want to take a swim class.” She answered in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Well you can get there a couple of ways,” I said, “You can walk through the locker room, past the showers, out the back door and you’ll come right to it.”
She began to walk away but I continued, “Or you can walk this way through the family locker rooms and enter it from the other side.” She attempted to walk away again, but I wasn’t through, “Actually, on second thought, the best way would be to walk through the ladies locker room, and go out the back.” She headed off the way I directed.
My mate accuses me of giving bad directions, and she could be correct. The problem lies in the fact that, since I have the sense of direction of a vole, I often provide too much information and end up getting folks lost. So when I saw the gal walk past me once again (head down, trying not to be noticed), I assumed that was what had occurred.
“So, you couldn’t find it. Don’t worry I’ll walk you to the pool.”
In retrospect, she might have thought me crazy, but at that moment, I assumed she was simply shy. In addition to my horrible sense of direction I might (according to my mate) be (just slightly) hard of hearing. So when the nervous young gal said, “I want to go to the swimming class, not the pool,” I thought she didn’t understand that swimming classes required a swimming pool but rather than argue, I said, “No problem I’ll take you there. I hear the class is very good.”
She seemed reluctant to walk beside me, so I had to wait a couple of times for her to catch up. It wasn’t until we were standing shoulder to shoulder at the edge of the pool that she looked at me and said again, this time a little louder, “I want to go to ‘spinning’ class.”
Our misunderstanding, my cluelessness, and the humor of it all hit me like an avalanche. She was looking for the “spinning” class and I directed her twice to the pool (once walking her there) because I thought she said “swimming” class.
I started laughing — perhaps a little too loudly (since I might be slightly hard of hearing) while reaching out and slapping her lightly her on the shoulder.
She pulled away like my hand was on fire. I walked her back the way we came and pointed her in the right direction. She mumbled “thanks” and got away from me as fast as if I had Ebola.
This is just one encounter of countless instances we all have every day. Now hopefully most will handle those happenstances better than I did. But there are some takeaways from my ham-fisted attempt to help.
Don’t be a jerk
Every person we encounter is comprised of all of his or her prior life experiences coupled with genetic predispositions, much of which they had little control over or were able to choose. My guess is something in that lady’s history or condition caused her to be a person not comfortable with a strange, loud talking, vole man touching her. I wish I had kept my hands to myself.
The quote, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about” comes to mind. I take that to include not only those lost, out of their element, awkward and uncomfortable, but also those who are negative, depressed, pessimistic and jerks. (When I was a waiter, I would constantly remind myself that it was much worse to be a jerk than to wait on one.)
Another lesson is: When in doubt, offer help. Your assistance might be unasked for, unneeded and useless, but if nothing else, it shows that someone cares. But for God’s sake, don’t touch them.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s book “Mind, Body, Soul,” is available at local shops and bookstores or shop.holpublications.com.