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Looking out for no. 2.


If you were standing in line andwaiting for a table at the El Rancho restaurant and car wash last Saturday night, I'm sure you saw that fellow sitting alone at a table for four and leisurely sipping his third cup of coffee while searching the classifieds in the New York Times. And when he finally got your hopes up by folding the paper as if to leave, he took out his Cross pen and contentedly began working the crossword puzzle.

I just want you to know that thatwasn't me. I was the one sitting at the counter. And the minute I saw you waiting, I scaled my tonsils downing my cup of half-brewed tea, blistered my upper lip getting slapped with the tea bag, crammed the other half of my BLT in my pocket, stuck a stalk of celery behind my ear--and I was gone. Didn't even stop to pick up my $2.17 change. Not that it mattered. Overtipping is just another one of my failings.

It's my own fault for not taking theadvice of Charles Atlas in my formative years. If I had eaten fiber and flossed my teeth, today I could be running along a Caribbean beach with a sun-tanned blonde beauty and kicking sand in the face of a 98-pound weakling. Instead, I am now a 198-pound weakling who gets not only sand kicked in his face but often a crayfish dropped into his swim trunks for good measure.

You've seen a guy start away fromthe self-serve gas pump with the hose stuck in his tank because a car has driven up behind him? That's me. Or let me show my age by holding a door open for a woman, and I'm there until everyone is sight has cleared. With my luck, that usually includes a kid leashed to an opinionated dachshund, a man with a bamboo fishing pole, a troop of straggling Brownies, and two men nursing a plate-glass window.

As for getting a drink at the waterfountain in a theater lobby, I'm stuck holding the handle until every incoming patron and dehydrated kid in the joint have drunk until they slosh. After holding the handle through the first ten minutes of Airplane VI, I bought a copy of Take Charge of Your Life. From there on, no more Mr. Nice Guy. If the victim next in line expected me to hold the handle, he'd better be able to breathe through his ears, because his nose would be full of water. Or maybe I'd let the flow ebb so suddenly that in following it down I would be rewarded by seeing him deposit two front teeth in the basin.

But you know something, folks, Istill couldn't do it. If my wife hadn't decided that we didn't like the movie Rocky circa XIII and hadn't picked me up at my old post, I could have been in the lobby until the theater closed. Fortunately there were only a few latecomers to take advantage of my open-faucet policy.

It's not that I haven't tried to becomeinconsiderate, arrogant, overbearing, egotistical, assertive, obnoxious, or whatever it takes to be able to uncork a door or send a stream of water up someone's nose. The books piled on my night stand must run 85 percent to self-helpers. Looking Out for No. 1 is coverless, dog-eared, and underscored on every page. But I have yet to find a book that will keep sand out of my face and put it in my backbone.

I blame some of the problem onjust plain bad luck. Let me dash into the bank to cash a $2 refund check for overassessment on our neutered dog, and the guy in line ahead of me is trying to get a $10,000 loan with an unpaid traffic ticket for identification. If I stop at the supermarket to buy a can of cat food for our dog (that's another story), the express lane is blocked by a woman wheeling a week's supply of groceries for seven tapewormy kids. Not only does she successfully argue that the "12 items or less' means 12 of each item, but after the checkout girl has changed the tape in her machine and has come back from the office with a roll of pennies, the woman disembowels her overnight bag to find a coupon that will knock ten cents off her tab of $63.82. She then writes out a check for the amount, recycles her debris to find her check-authorization card, and proceeds to balance her checkbook before my can of cat food can be rung up.

This year I waited until a rainyMonday morning at the height of the flu season to get my car license. Figuring that only a dummy would be out in such weather to get a car license, I'd pop in and pop out with my plate in five minutes at most. That's what I figured.

After driving around for a halfhour, I was lucky to find a parking place only two blocks from the bureau door. Lucky, because it was at the end of the line of idiots who had come out to buy plates on such a day. Upon reaching the shelter of the doorway, around 1 p.m. (my watch doesn't run in wet weather), I couldn't resist looking back at the huddled masses behind me. Only there weren't any. Not only was I still at the end of the line, but by the time I had worked my way up to the window, I found only a sign saying they had closed early to celebreate the dogcatcher's birthday. On the way back to my car, it passed me on the winch of a wrecker towing it out of the 3 p.m. parking zone. I came down with the flu the next day.

Upon recovering, I went to Goodwillto ask if they could use a suit composed of 50 percent wool, 50 percent mildew, and spotted a bookstore window displaying The Sky's the Limit. This, I thought to myself, may at least get me off the ground. I'm glad I didn't think it to someone else, because the book didn't help. Not unless you can count a line it reminded me of--was it from Plato or Socrates? --"It's hard to soar with the eagles when you're working with a bunch of turkeys.'

Undaunted (that's one thing in myfavor, I don't daunt easily), the next time I waited in a supermarket--this time for the rescue squad to come and release a kid's leg from the cart ahead of me--I selected a paperback copy of You Can Do It from the literary lazy Susan. Reading it later that night, I found I couldn't put it down. One of the kids had spilled model-airplane glue on the cover.

There's no feeling like going towork the next day knowing that you can do it. I only hoped that I wouldn't be too ruthless with Ruth, my secretary, after sitting down at my desk and giving the buzzer a commanding push.


"Would you come in, Ruth? I havesome . . .'

"I'm sorry, but I'm pretty busyright now. Would you mind coming out here?'

I certainly would go out there. AndI certainly let her know that I had some letters to dictate. She told me she had all this filing to do. And her suggestion--that if I gave her a hand with the filing, we could get to the letters that much sooner--seemed within reason. After all, good secretaries are not easy to come by.

But pity the poor girl behind thelunch counter at the department store that noon. Too bad she would be the victim of my rejuvenated ego--but what the heck, a man who can do it has to begin doing it somewhere.

"I'll have your Number Three,' Ifinally announced, pointing to No. 3 on the menu in case she were deaf. "Only instead of the carameled apple . . .'

"Sorry, no substitutions,' she interrupted,turning to restyle her hair by the reflection in the coffee urn. In the reflection, as luck would have it, she caught a glimpse of a long-lost grade-school buddy.

"Brenda, is that you?' the countergirl yelped, filling a water glass and offering her a menu. "Sit right down. The whitefish today is out of this world!' (And had been out of this world for at least a week, if my olfactories were any judge).

"I just came in to say hello,' respondedBrenda, looking longingly at the menu. "I brown-bagged a watercress sandwich from home.'

"You can't keep up your strengthon a watercress sandwich, for heaven's sake,' the counter girl diagnosed. Whereupon Brenda adjusted her 180 pounds of strength on a protesting counter stool and lost herself in the dessert side of the menu.

Taking advantage of the lull, Icame right out with a resolute clearing of my throat.

"I'll be right with you, sir,' thecounter girl said. But first there were the no small matters of filling the steamer with buns, positioning the day's estimate of hamburgers on the grill, and subjecting a sack of fries to the hot-grease torture test. Not until she had surveyed and begun sectioning a tray of runny rhubarb pies did I conclude that if I were ever going to do it, I'd better be at it.

"Ahem,' I said, looking her rightin the back. "I'll have your . . .'

"Would you mind scooting downto the end of the counter, sir?' she asked, relieving me of my menu. "Lingerie and Toiletries like to sit together.'

So I'm sitting at the end of thecounter with a new menu, drawing faces on the sunny-side-up eggs, and filling in all the Os while Brenda, nine salesgirls, two stock boys, and the janitor decide what they'll have for lunch. Not until a trip to the fridge for a blueberry yogurt brought the counter girl past my lonely outpost did I have an opportunity to say, "I'll have your Number Three, with the carmeled apple.'

A half-hour later, I was served aNo. 4--split-pea soup and a toasted-cheese sandwich. I detest split-pea soup, and the sandwich had obviously been stepped on. I still left a 20 percent tip.

After holding the elevator door untilthe cage was full, requiring me to take the stairs, I stopped off at the book counter and bought a copy from a display of How to Live with Yourself.

It may be my only hope.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:satire - weakling gets sand in face instead of backbone
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1986
Previous Article:Treasures of the "Atocha".
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