Once upon a Christmastime, there was an old toothless man who wore the same smelly threadbare clothes and frayed baseball hat every day. He was the superintendent of my building and lived in the basement apartment, his thick concrete walls painted the color of sunflowers, which was a surprising slice of sunshine in his otherwise gray existence. A lion among mice, that color was. But this story isn't about the colors of his walls, which I happened to spy some years ago. This story is about how I was so mean to him today that I reminded myself of a business tycoon, and felt hope for the first time in weeks.
I was arriving home from Fairway with loads of groceries. (French cream honey! Organic yogurt! Carrot-ginger soup!) W___ was mopping my vestibule and insisted on helping me with my bags, and for once I agreed. See, I am reluctant to ever have him help me with anything since the time he broke half of the six-pack of imported beer I bought for Bryan, and then there was the time I asked him to clean up some mouse poop on the floor in the laundry room and he went at it with a broom so dust-choked I felt I owed it to my clothes to rewash every stitch sitting innocently in the open dryer. And then there are those blasted musical lights. The previous super, I am told "was so good, you could eat off the laundry room flooah." This is the word from the neighbors who seldom pay their maintenance fees.
So this morning I had a Christmas card for W___ and upon my presentation, he waved his hands and shook his head like I'd unleashed a hive of bees. He said, "No, I not take! You, you have children. You are home. If you were rich...then I take," to which I said, "How do you know I'm not rich?" And he slapped his knee like I'd told a joke so funny it transcended the language barrier. Indeed. But how does he know I'm not one of those closet-millionaires who stuffs my mattress with wads of bills? My dad drives a Lexus! I wanted to shout, but instead I said, "Won't you at least take the card?" But W___was still flailing, so I stuck it in Frankie's car seat.
The super then leaned to the flooah and started grabbing every plastic grocery bag in one hand, and the case of Vintage seltzer (wild cherry!) in the other.
I warned him, "It's going to break. Two hands, W___," but he blew me off like so many offered twenty-dollar bills and proceeded up the stairs.
He didn't make it up a full flight before the plastic wrapping on the case tore like I knew it would, and all of the bottles came tumbling down the stairs. "You right," he called weakly.
"I told you," I said. "I told you, I told you." Before I went to get the rest of the groceries from my trunk, I scolded him, saying that we were in no hurry and to listen to me.
I returned with a fresh load of bags.
He said, "I'm sorry," and tried grabbing the bags out of my hand.
I said, "Wait. Let me put them down," but he persisted. "Take your time," I warned. "I need you to help me in the way I ask you to." I couldn't believe how stern I was being. With another adult. It was quite a high. But he wouldn't let go. Was I not making sense? I mean, his English is better than my Polish, but it isn't much better, dinquir.
So as we battled over the bags, I finally yelled, "Stop!" I actually yelled at an old man. "Let me put them down first! Stop rushing!" He eased his grip. I let go of the bags so he could take them. And soon it was over, I had my groceries and he was gone, off to clean the stairwell with a filthy, mildewed mop.
Inside my apartment I started putting things away and called Bryan, because this was one of THOSE STORIES I needed to share, STAT, one of those vent-fests that demanded liberal use of the word "fuck." As in, "What the fuck is wrong with him? I had to fucking yell at him! Does he not fucking know how to help in a helpful fucking way?" This, the man who tells me to not let my baby suck her fingers because her "teeth will curl! She'll get rachitis!" (You can Google that one.)
Anyway, ho ho ho, this story is my Christmas gift to you. The happy ending? I kept my money. The downside? The yellow stain blooming on the ceiling in our bedroom, not as robust as a sunflower, but just as menacing.