A Lunch For the Heart

Some years ago (maybe 5 to 10), I found myself ordering a dish of pad see ew (noodles, chicken, broccoli, egg) for lunch at the counter of a small Thai eatery. When I opened up my wallet to pay, I saw I only had $2.00. My heart sank. I had forgotten to go by the ATM again. Writing this now, in the age of digital cash, credit cards, debit cards, mobile phone payments, etc, it does sound sort of dated. However, at that time and that place, I don’t think credit cards were an option.


Although I wasn’t on my last dime, it felt a little like that. Over the years, occasionally I’ll end up with just a dollar or two in the wallet. Although I don’t do it on purpose, I have to admit that in a perverse way, I kind of like it. You don’t really think about the value of money and economic priorities when you have a wallet full of cash or a well stocked credit card. Handing over money can at times become almost meaningless. That picture changes dramatically when you only have a couple of dollars to spend. It brings me back to my college days and childhood, when every dollar seemed pretty important and you spent some time thinking about what you really really wanted to spend it on (or not spend it on, for that matter). It keeps me humble, and reminds me that a lot of people in this world ARE on their last dollar. Sort of a quick reality check, to remind you that the day’s sometimes petty problems are nothing compared to someone who doesn’t have enough to eat, a place to stay, can’t afford shoes, can’t afford medical care, etc.


So as I stood at the counter looking down at the two dollar bills in my wallet, I felt like a complete idiot. I was also pretty embarrassed that I had not checked the wallet before ordering, and had wasted the counter guy’s time. I looked slowly up at him, and told him that I was sorry, that I only had two dollars and would have to cancel the order. I half expected him to get mad at me and tell me what a fool I was. Instead, he merely smiled, and said that $2 was fine and I could pay him back in the future.


As I walked over to a table and sat down, I remember feeling grateful that he would do something like that. He didn’t know me from Adam, and he might never see that money again. A big corporation might not miss a dollar or two, but many of these small food shops are not rolling in the dough, and every dollar is important. Sort of like how I felt with my $2. So I took a blue paper menu with me as I left, and I vowed to myself that I would repay him some day.


Although I’m a little ashamed to admit it, that menu has been sitting in a pile of papers ever since. First it was a few months, then a few years. Once in awhile I’d come across it and say “Oh yeah, I should go back there.” Yet something else would always seems to come up. As the years passed, there were times I’d think about maybe just tossing it in the trash and forgetting about it, since it was so long ago. Yet I could never bring myself to throw it away. I’d see it and feel a little twinge in my conscience, reminding me of the generosity I’d been shown and the debt that was still unpaid. This past weekend, I just got the feeling it was time to set things right.


So last week, it worked out that I had some extra time to make a bit of a detour, and pop in for lunch. I drove up the street, not even sure the place was still there. I remember questioning myself as well, wondering if I was doing the right thing or being a complete idiot. Sort of felt like a scene from the movies where the main character is returning home to see someone again after 20 or 30 years and wondering if they’d be welcomed with open arms or anger or indifference. I have to admit I’d feel even worse if I found out they closed and I could do nothing more.


As luck would have it, they were still there, so I stopped and went in. They had re-arranged things a little but I still remembered it. I ordered one of the lunch specials, then gave the lady at the counter a $20 and told her to keep the change. I figured a $13 pay back for a $3 gift was fair. I handed her the worn and slightly tattered blue paper menu, and told her my story. She got a huge smile on her face, and told me that the menu was from about 7 years ago, and that the man behind the register at that time was her husband. Now I was the one with the huge smile on my face, and I was thrilled to be able to repay the good deed. It made me smile even more when I heard her telling the cook about it in Thai. Even though I couldn’t understand a word, I heard the excitement and happiness in her voice and saw the cook beaming in the kitchen area. It was music to my eyes and ears.


The one down note was that her husband was not at the restaurant today. I would have loved to meet him face to face, shake his hand and say a heartfelt “thank you”. As I left after lunch, I asked her to please tell her husband thanks from me.


Walking out the door of the restaurant, I had a smile on my face, a lightness in my step, and feeling of being at peace with the world. It felt wonderful to repay the gift of kindness.





The Poopie Post

At times I have plans of making this blog a home for thoughtful, compassionate, insightful posts with a lasting impact. This is apparently not one of those times. Right now, my brain is thinking poopie. Yes, number 2 is now number 1 in my mind. Needless to say, the Pulitzer Prize is not showing up in my mailbox anytime soon.


One of my earliest memories of this subject was when I was 1 or 2. Maybe even 3, as my memory is a bit fuzzy that far back. One of my aunts had my brother and I in the bathtub, giving us a bath. I was in front, and he was behind me. I remember looking down, and watching with some amazement as a brown log floated slowly between my legs and toward the front of the tub. I was thinking, “Hey, that’s pretty cool”, and I’m sure I could have watched it for hours, fascinated. Just like a leaf floating lazily down a peaceful river. I knew it was mine, so I assume I understood what part I had in delivering this fine work of art to an appreciative audience.


Or at least some of the audience was appreciative. Don’t remember my brother being very bothered by the whole thing. My aunt, well, that was a different story. Don’t think she got extremely upset, but I have a slight hunch that she doesn’t remember that incident with the same fondness as me. Which is not too surprising. I think it makes a big difference whether the poopie is yours or not. I have to admit, if I visit a port-a-potty and see what others leave behind, it’s gross out city. I want to leave the stall immediately and will only add to the community offering pile if there are absolutely no other options available.


On the other hand, if I’m on the john and stand up afterwards, sometimes I’m tempted to admire my handiwork. Like a wine connoisseur commenting on the bouquet and fragrance of the wine, I make mental notes on the color, size, shape and form of my artwork. Sometimes it’s all jumbled up, and sometimes you have a beautiful swirl like a soft serve ice cream cone. I’m almost tempted to pat myself on the back, until I remember I’ve got a tissue in hand.


Which brings me to another thought. Have you ever been in a toilet stall, wiped your windshield, then had the paper slip from your hand and float gently to the ground instead of to the bowl? Odds are high that if this does happen, there will be someone in the stall next to you. “Excuse me, can you pass the grey Poupon” is not part of the conversation. As you both see this thing settle on the floor, both of you are thinking the same thing……”Oh Shit!”……. They’re scrambling to move their feet away as quick as they can, and you’re trying to bend down with your pants around your ankles and butt still hovering over the bowl, as you hope to God you can reach the tissue without falling over. Most stall neighbors would consider it slightly unnerving to suddenly find a half naked human diving into their stall while screaming “shit……” Their only answer would be “I believe it is.”