Jumper Cables

Blogging is narcissistic, but when are we going to start trusting each other?DSC_0525.JPG

I remember when Trayvon Martin was tragically murdered, a flustered CNN reporter at the scene desperately cried out, “When are we going to start trusting each other?” I think about that a lot. I want that to be an attainable goal. It would be nice if I could trust strangers more and be less suspicious of them. Especially men.

But it’s hard. Sometimes when I am jogging and a male is trotting close behind, I wonder if maybe he is not a jogger at all. I spin tales in my head about the possibility that he is a fraud, pretending to care about fitness only so that he can follow me down to where the trail winds and the bushes grow tall. Where he can do something unthinkable, and no one will suspect anything for hours because I never remember to tell someone where I am going, or when I will likely be back.

I also notice that often times when I am jogging and coming up behind a female, she will whip her head around, eyes a bit wider than normal, but will relax and return to her calm inhaling and exhaling when she sees that it is just me. Just a woman, that is.

And this is fair, and it’s normal, and it’s expected. But it’s also sad. This is how my fourth grade teacher explained bias. You make judgments based on your personal experience, or experiences you have heard about. That’s what we’re doing.

Now be me for a second. You’re a female driving alone in the early evening. It’s not completely dark, but streetlights are on. Your headlights are on. You turn the corner onto the street that branches out into your neighborhood, and you see a guy standing by an old, oversized truck, one thumb extended upward, hitchhiker-style. In the other hand, he is holding the metal clamps of jumper cables. Do you stop?

He needs a jump, and when are we going to start trusting each other, so I stop.

“Do you need a jump?” This is a dumb question.

He leans in toward the car and I notice his weird bowl-cut hairstyle. His hair is oddly thin and straight, encircling his head like, well, a bowl. He has freckles and moderately crooked teeth that reveal themselves when he smiles and says, “Yeah, I do if you don’t mind.” I decide he looks like a cartoon hillbilly. If only he had a straw of hay coming out of his mouth, the picture would be complete.

I flip around and our engines are now nose to nose. I am positioned as though parked on the wrong side of the road, his truck large enough to consume my compact car. But it is mine that has the power.Though she be but little, she is fierce.

In an ideal world in which we trust each other, this is really not a big deal. But here and now, I start to wonder, Is this a bad idea?

I pop the hood open for him, then reach into my purse and take out my phone so that it’s ready, in case I need to call someone.

He approaches me, leaning cautiously into my window saying, “Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.” I now notice he is young. Maybe mid-twenties.

“Don’t I need to turn my car off?” I ask.

“No, no, it’s fine,” he says, and as he clamps, he repeats, “Thank you so much!”

In a perfect world, he would not need to be so gracious because I am offering him nothing, really. I am certainly not sacrificing anything. I’m not even getting out of the car.

Suddenly I see sparks shooting out of the clamps. He jumps back. “Oh, maybe you do need to turn the car off,” he says. I can’t tell if this is weird or normal. I know that I personally can never remember the order involved in jumping a car, and maybe he can’t either.

Now he has rearranged the order. My car is off, things are unhooked, then they’re hooked again, then mine is on and he’s turning his key, but still, his truck remains indifferent. Nothing. The hillbilly doesn’t seem too dismayed. He suggests we wait a moment. Again, I can’t tell if this is weird. Wait for what? I wish I knew more about cars.

As we wait and my engine gently rumbles, he leans in again and tells me that he came into town to pick up dinner from a Vietnamese restaurant for himself and his girlfriend. “To make matters worse,” he complains, “she lives out in the country with no cell service. She doesn’t know where I am.” Does that still happen?

I say I know the restaurant. I hear it’s pretty good, but I’ve never been. He pauses. “Would you like to try it tonight? Can I offer you my dinner?” I laugh and say no thank you, and he insists, “Are you sure? Yellow curry?” I consider this way too generous for a jump, especially one that doesn’t even seem to be working. I decline the yellow curry.

The next thing I know, smoke is rising from the cable clamps. “Is it supposed to do that?” I ask, gesturing toward my engine.

He looks startled. “No it’s not!” he says. I shut off my car. He unclips the cables. “It must be these cables then,” he says shrugging, again not looking too concerned.

“I have some,” I tell him without giving myself time to think, and now I get out of my car. As I’m leaning into the trunk, I start to think terrible thoughts. Is this his chance to throw me into my trunk and drive off with me somewhere? Even though he has been completely nice up to this point, I again start to lose trust.

I hear him mumble, “Never seen that before,” and I admit that for some surprisingly terrible sexist reason, I think he means he has never seen a girl with jumper cables. I start to explain, “I donated money to NPR. They gave me an emergency kit as a gift that came with cables.” He looks at me as though he doesn’t understand the words that have just come out of my mouth, and I realize the thing he has never seen before is smoking cables.

Once again, our engines are hooked up (no thanks to me), and still, even with my brand new cables, nothing. He shrugs. We tried. He thanks me again and again, even adding, “You’re such a nice person.” But I’m not, really. If we lived in a world in which people trust each other, it wouldn’t be especially kind to offer someone a jump. (I’m not so great in this world either – in adulthood, I once called an 8th grader a jerk.)

He wraps up my cables nicely. I tell him it’s not necessary. I feel awkward standing over him while he’s squatting, making sure the wires are perfectly lined up in an infinity shape. “So you don’t have a mess in your trunk,” he says. He’s a nice person. And then he adds, “Are you sure there isn’t anything I can offer you? A beer? A joint?” I surprise myself with a loud, unexpected nerd laugh. I decline both offers and tell him that there is a Jiffy Lube right up the street, and wonder if I should offer to drive him, though it is completely in walking distance. In the end, I don’t offer.

And now, we are parting ways. I am just about 50 yards from the small street that leads into my neighborhood, but in spite of everything, I don’t go directly home. I circle the block. When I come back around and see that his truck is there, but it is empty, then and only then do I pull into my neighborhood.


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