Thank Goodness for Gary

I live in the Claremont Historic District (perhaps historic, but not exactly aesthetic) a small, hilly neighborhood of mostly tiny, brick ranch style homes built by an impressively uninspired architect in the late 1940s. The homes are modest because once upon a time, this was a blue-collar, working class neighborhood established for soldiers coming home from World War II. Later, it became a Latino/immigrant kind of neighborhood and lately, it’s becoming an adventurous yuppie kind of place and young professional families who can’t afford north Arlington are starting to move in. Despite the ever shifting demographics of the neighborhood, there are still some holdouts from bygone eras, owners who have been around for decades and don’t have any plans to sell, despite the fact that their homes are now worth ten times whatever they purchased them for.

So anyway, Monday morning I was feeling good. I put on a nice dress, did my makeup and headed out the door at 6:55am, determined to make it to work early. Because I’m now in my early thirties and still single, I’ve become somewhat of a bag lady (though no cats yet) and was holding my purse, my lunchbox and one of those giant recycled shopping bags (the ones you always forget to bring to the grocery store) for all the things that didn’t fit in my purse. Plus, I had my cellphone in one hand and my keys in the other.  So I open the passenger door thinking I’ll just dump everything on the passenger seat, and then, my keys slip out of my hands. No big deal. Things are always slipping out of my hands. I dump the bags on the passenger seat and crouch down to look for my keys and then a realization dawns on me: My keys have gone down the sewer. This is how I felt:

Not a good way to start a Monday morning.

I had no idea who you call when your only set of car keys goes down the sewer. I’d already lost the other two pair and I had a feeling that fixing this would cost me half my rent money. My dad’s out-of-town so I called my mom. She suggested I call the non-emergency police. I told her I did not think the police were going to come and rescue my keys for me. My mom suggested that I use a rake to gently rake out the leaves at the sewer’s entrance with the hope the keys were somewhere buried in the leaves, so I went to my backyard to see if I could find a rake, but found only a child-sized shovel. I got down on my hands and knees in my nice work dress, but it became apparent after a few minutes that this would never work. And I wasn’t psychologically prepared to stick my hand in a sewer.

So I got in the car and sat there for a minute wondering what I should do. And that’s when I saw him:

GaryIt was my neighbor, Gary, getting his mail. Gary is one of those South Arlington old-timers, a jolly former school bus driver who’s been in his house for decades and will probably never sell. The best way I can describe him is to say he’s a good neighbor kind of guy; the kind of helpful guy you might find in any older, middle class neighborhood, happy to help and be of assistance to fellow neighbors. You know, like a Mayberry type neighbor.

So I ran out of the car and shouted down to him “Do you have a rake???” Despite the sub-freezing temperatures, Gary was wearing shorts and a t-shirt with only a giant mustache protecting him from the cold, but he gave me a jolly wave, then put one finger in the air and said, “Actually, I have something better!”

A few minutes later, Gary emerged again with a giant magnet on a metallic string. “I did the same thing last week,” he told me. “Dropped my keys and cellphone in the sewer and had to go out and buy this magnet to get them out. I just ordered a foot-long magnet in case it happens again.” So Gary goes to his car and gets out this long metal stick (is that what they call a crow bar?), nonchalantly takes the top of the sewer off, and drops the magnet down the sewer (like he’s going ice fishing or something), swings it about a bit, and up come by keys.

By this time, I feel like I’m in love with Gary, despite our age difference (he’s probably in his mid-seventies) and I feel this overwhelming sense of gratitude for all the Garys in the world who will happily help a neighbor out, even a neighbor they’ve never met before. So I tell Gary that he’s awesome and he’s saved my day and he just laughs and brushes me off. “If you ever need anything, let me know. If you see my car, it means I’m home. And I’ve got that big magnet coming in a few days so if you ever drop anything else down the sewer that outta bring it right up.” I’m hoping this won’t be necessary because I’ve learned a very important life lesson: Don’t park next to a sewer.

I feel like I should get Gary some kind of gift for his kindness. Anyone have any gift ideas for an older retired guy who already seems to have plenty of tools and magnets?



Categories: Really Stupid Things I've Done

11 replies

  1. Other than a “thank you” card, I’d probably bring him some coffee (if he likes coffee, that is). Or bake him something. Nothing says “thank you” more than a plate of homemade goodies. 😀

  2. Bake Gary some cookies! Who just has a huge magnet?!

  3. Banana bread 😉 Or something you know how to cook.

  4. Omg. Gotta love the Garys. Where do you live in Claremont?!?! My last place was on Culpeper. I love that neighborhood, hated to have to leave.

  5. Send him a nice thank you note in a real letter. Who gets those any more? It will be special. –Curt

  6. I think Gary would love a little note with a nice banana bread (homemade or otherwise) 🙂

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