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June 15, 2005: Unfinished stories

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The first story occurred as I was at the grocery store, leaving it actually, and heading for my car. There was a little old man working his way around a car, and he was hanging onto the side. I slowed down, since it looked like maybe he needed some help, and he saw me and gave a strained smile.

"It's no fun being handicapped," he said with a sigh, and I stopped.

"Can I help you with something?"

He looked embarrassed. "I need to go to the bathroom. My wife is in the store, but...I can't wait. I really need to go."

I thought about various options. "Would it help if I brought over a cart and you could lean on it?" I asked, thinking that maybe he just needed some help walking. But he shook his head, and it occurred to me that maybe there was more to the procedure, especially when he mentioned that he really needed his wife again.

So I asked if he'd like me to have her paged, and he looked so very relieved. He told me her name and I marched right back to the store and cornered the first employee I found - a young man restocking the carts. It took a few attempts to explain what I wanted him to do, but once it finally sunk in, he nodded and immediately went inside, hopefully to page the man's wife so he could get some relief.

I thought about waiting, but I wasn't sure what else I could do. So I told the man that she'd been paged, and wished him a nice day, and continued on to my car.

As I was pulling out of the parking lot I saw the young employee heading back across the parking lot toward the old man. I wondered if he'd been able to page the wife, or if she would have even heard her name over the usual ambient noise of a grocery store during the after-work rush. I wondered if maybe the employee would be able to offer more help to him than I could. I wondered if it all worked out okay.

The second story happened earlier. As I was headed off to a local coffee shop this morning to get some coffee, I noticed a woman with a funnel, carefully pouring something through one of the holes in a manhole cover - not into the sewer, but into the smaller covers that show up periodically in the middle of residential streets. I didn't think much of it, until I came home a little later and found her doing the same thing to an entirely different utility hold cover a bit further down the street.

It was late morning and now that I had coffee I was feeling more polite and willing to be friendly, so I stopped beside her, rolled down my window, smiled, and said "Okay, I'm curious. What are you doing?"

It was like I'd put a nickel in a slot. She started rambling about how pouring water down these holes filled up a particular pipe, and when it was full, something was triggered. At first I thought maybe there was something to what she was saying, but then the story got more convoluted - something about how what was triggered was old bills that would then have to be paid, although I wasn't entirely sure if it was the city that had to pay the bills or somebody else. She talked about how her whole family used to do this to every single one of these conduits on the entire city, and in all the surrounding cities, and then somehow Michael Jackson entered the rambling, and there was something about how when she paid her bills to the utility company she would print the letter G backwards and that would also trigger whatever it was that she claimed pouring water into the conduits triggers. Then she started leaning on the window sill and gesturing and I realized that not only did I have no clue what she was talking about, it was pretty obvious that this woman was likely not playing with a full deck, and maybe I should try to quietly drive away and leave her to her pouring her water down the conduit covers in peace.

Luckily at this point a truck was coming up behind me, so I motioned behind me, noted that I really needed to move my car out of the way, wished her a nice day, and drove away. When I left her she was staring back down at the conduit cover, clutching her jug of water. I have no idea how long she was there, or if she just kept moving down the
street, pouring water into all the conduits in the hopes of triggering whatever it was that she was so sure would happen. I though about calling the police but it was just water - nothing that wouldn’t' go down those conduits in the rainy season anyway - and if that's what kept her happy and occupied, well, why not. But still. Some stories have endings you want to know, and some stories maybe you were better off never asking about in the first place.

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