Friday, September 19, 2008

Not a Story, Just Some Things that Happened

This past May, I was walking to my bank, and I saw a man helping up an elderly woman who had just fallen down. She had a big gash on her temple and was kind of spacey and disoriented. She couldn't tell her name or where she lived. I called 911, and we waited with her till the ambulance came. A guy from a nearby barber shop came out and cleaned up her wound and patched it with styptic. A little crowd started gathering: people coming out of their houses to see if she was ok, if there was anything they could do. The ambulance came in about ten minutes, and I left the woman in the care of the medics. I remember feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Here was a classic example of the reflexive sense of responsibility for the welfare of people around you that makes neighborhoods work. Jane Jacobs writes in The Death and Life of Great American Cities about the uniquely urban feeling of safety and security that comes from living in a healthy neighborhood, not only in spite of but because of the fact that you're surrounded by strangers, and they're looking out for you and you're looking out for them. That's the kind of place I live in. Cool, eh?

So. I started having major problems with my Washington Post subscription about a month ago. I've had to call four or five times about not getting my paper. It seemed pretty strange that the distributor could be so slack.

Then this morning at about 6:30, I had just gotten out of the shower, and I was sitting by an open window in my sunroom, sipping my first steamy-hot cup of tea. And who should I see but the very same woman I helped last spring, shuffling arthritically across my lawn towards where my paper lay in the grass. She stopped, bent slowly and carefully down, picked up my paper, tucked it under her arm, and started picking her way through the grass back to the sidewalk. She was stealing my paper. I'd caught her red-handed.

"Excuse me?" I called through the window. She didn't react, kept on shuffling away. Damn. Running after her wasn't really an option because, well, I had just gotten out of the shower, and the spectacle of a naked, slightly damp man chasing an elderly newspaper thief was a little more entertainment than I wanted to give my neighbors.

I raised my voice. "EXCUSE ME!" She turned and looked at me. "That's my paper you've got there," I said.

"Oh," she said. She dropped it absently in the grass and tottered away.

Yep. That's the kind of place I live in.

1 comment:

mike said...

In many traditional cultures, if you save someone's life, they have to taste all your food, check all your mail and deliveries, etc.,.

(Or so it says in Wikipedia. Or it will... gimme a minute.)