Self-Aggrandizement Thursday

Just got back from the BIO show last night, but I’m swamped with work. I’ll try to write about the event during the weekend. Meanwhile, it’s Self-Aggrandizement Thursday here at the palatial Virtual Memories estates.

In honor of the last game of the NBA Finals, I figure I’ll share a story with you from last year’s Finals. This happened last June, the night of what would turn out to be the last game, when Detroit completed its stunning 5-game upset of the Lakers. This year we have a game 7, so this’ll be the last night of pro hoops for a while.

Here’s what happened last year: I went out after work, did some shopping, and got home about 15 minutes before the game started. I settled into my comfy leather chair and got ready for the game.

At which point, a blackout hit my section of town.

I waited a couple of minutes, then went out to see how bad it was. It turned out not to have hit houses about 100 feet away, but there was a significant stretch of town that was blacked out, here in my little suburban, wooded enclave (the aforementioned palatial VM estates).

So I drove around, picked up a Cherry Coke at a convenience store in the next town over, and listened to the game on the radio for a while.

I decided to drive out to my dad’s place and watch the game there. He lives about 12 miles from my house, and his electricity was working fine.

It was pretty stuffy/stanky around here, mid-80s and humid all day, with a big rainstorm impending. On the way to the main road outta town, I saw a guy walking pretty forlornly, with a rolling/carry-on suitcase and a shoulder bag. I figured he was heading down to the bus stop on Skyline Drive, about half a mile away, for the bus to NYC. I didn’t want him to get caught in the rain, so I stopped and asked him if he needed a ride.

He hurried up to my passenger window, peered in and excitedly asked, “Spreichen sie deutsch?”

No, really.

I stared at him for a second. He was wearing a button-down shirt, but it was soaked with sweat. I thought, “This guy’s been walking a while. There’s no power, so there’s no one in the central shopping area of town, where he might otherwise find people who can help him out. And that big rain’s gonna hit soon.”

Here’s what I believe: if you’re in a position to help someone and you choose not to, then you’re a bad person.

So I opened the passenger door and said, “Get in.” He put his little suitcase in the back, and we drove.

He could barely speak English. I was able to figure out that he was Polish, not German. He must’ve figured there was a better chance of finding a German-speaker than a Pole. I wasn’t either, but I’m pretty good with etymologies, so we worked at it.

As far as I could tell, he had some sort of job waiting in NYC, but that didn’t explain why he was in my town, trudging down the street in the evening. It’s a small town.

I figured I’d take him to the train station a few towns over, and then he could get the train to Hoboken, go on to NYC, and get to his job.

But then, as we started driving over the mountain out of town, I thought, “Well, shit: This guy’s not going to find anyone in that town who can tell him where to go, and he’s much more likely to get pinched by the cops there.”

Okay, I decided: I’ll drive him to NYC. A few minutes later, I called my buddy Rene, who’s German, and put my passenger on the phone with him.

My passenger must’ve talked for at least three straight minutes, without seeming to pause for my friend to say anything. I think he was REALLY happy to have someone he could vent to.

He gave the phone back to me, and Rene explained the situation: Janusz, my passenger, had been in my town for a month or so, doing renovation on some guy’s house. That day, the guy refused to pay him, and kicked him out.

He’d been walking a while when I found him (and he was pretty sweaty and stanky). He had a friend in Forest Hills (but didn’t have the guy’s phone number), so if I could just get him to a bus or train, he’d be able to get out there to him. I was a little dubious, because I can’t find my way around Queens with a map, but hey.

We drove to NYC. Near the George Washington Bridge, I stopped at a gas station so I could hit an ATM and get some cash, since I was down to $5. Janusz got out of the car and started walking around. He thought we were in New York, but I convinced him that we weren’t there yet. “You’ll know when we get there,” I said.

A few minutes later, we reached the bridge, and he knew. “THAT,” I said, pointing to the city lights.

“NEW YORK!” he said.

We drove down the West Side Highway, then turned off by the Intrepid on 46th St. We got down to the Port Authority, where we sat in some traffic. We talked, in our limited manner. He asked about cars and engines, figured out that I had the basketball game on the radio.

A block away from the Port Authority, we were behind a cab, backed up at a traffic light. A rear door opened, and a woman of, um, ill-repute got out.

“Janusz,” I said, pointing at the girl, and speaking in a weird, east European accent, rolling my Rs, sharpening my Ts, “you know: prostitute?”

“Ya, ya!” he cried. “Prostitute! Like in bordello!”

We laughed. The light changed. Around the corner, I showed him where the PA information booth was, figuring he’d find SOMEONE who could speak Polish, German, or Slovakian (the other language he tried out on me).

I tried to give him $20 (my real reason for stopping at that ATM earlier), because I wasn’t sure how badly he’d been screwed by his employer. He refused to take any cash from me.

I watched him go inside, then headed home. I got back with about 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The electricity had been restored.

Actually, when Janusz and I were leaving town, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the lights coming on in the parking lot behind me. I thought, “Sonofabitch . . .”

I got back to my comfy leather chair. Detroit beat LA, people celebrated, and I haven’t heard anything about Janusz since. The chair got moved downstairs. I have a sofa and loveseat up here now.

The next morning, I said to the official VM girlfriend, “There are people in this world who think I’m a bad man. Other people think I’m alright. There’s now a day laborer from Poland who thinks I’m delivered from God, even if he has no idea what my name is.”

A long-ish story, I admit. I didn’t make a Virtual Memory out of it when it happened, because I prefer to be self-deprecating. But I like being able to do beautiful things for people, so hey.

Spurs in 7.

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