A Verse for the Powerful Play


It had not been the best day.

I woke up nauseated, took two hours to get mobile, and had to fork over $360 at CVS for 50 pills of one of my half dozen required medications. So glad America is great again.

On top of all that, my bike was stuck at the bottom of a steep parking lot outside the drug store.  It may be considered a bike, but it’s easily as long and heavy as my smart car.

I walked into the CVS and asked a cashier if she could call a security guard from the lot to help me put the bike up the hill. A large black man, perhaps 6′ 2″ and 55 years old, turned to face me.

“What’s the problem?”

“By bike needs a push. I hate to be a nuisance, but you’re a big guy. Any chance I could ask for for a hand?”

“Sure,” the man replied. “Let’s take a look.”

As we walked toward the automatic doors, the man stopped and asked: “This is your bike, right? I mean, you own it?”

I was thrown off and a little amused by what I assumed was a wry joke. After a brief hesitation, I told him that yes, the bike was mine.

“I had to ask,” he replied. “I am a black man.”

As we walked toward the bike, he explained further. Once, he said, he accompanied a white, female co-worker to a bench in their business park. She was struggling personally and professionally, he said, and wanted to get some air on the park bench. As they sat together, she began to weep. He told her life would be okay. Hang in there.

Moments later, a police officer arrived. “Are you okay, Miss?” the cop asked. “Is this man bothering you?”

The woman was offended. The man was offended. The cop was awaiting an answer.

The man and I struggled for 10 minutes with the bike, futilely trying to get it to horizontal ground. We couldn’t budge that obese bike. Panting, sweaty, we gave up; I told the man I’d simply corral a few people together or call AAA. I was self conscious keeping him there, given the experience he shared.

“I’m Scott,” I said, offering a hand. “Thank you for helping. I never realized being a Good Samaritan can be risky.”

He shook my hand. “I’m James,” he said. “I think about it every day.”

A few hours later, I got the bike back home, though I’m not sure I ever psychologically left the CVS parking lot. I took out the jumper cables and Fix-A-Flat from my crappy PT Cruiser and put them in my smart.

I decided that if I ever saw a black motorist stranded on the road, I would pull over.

Then, a terrible epiphany: What if I did come across that stranded driver? Wouldn’t a cop assume the same thing if he saw us together? How did we get to this place, where a Good Samaritan instinct is eclipsed by a guarded one? However much I loathe Donald Trump, whatever poxes I cast on his house, could it possibly compare to James’ bleak worldview?

Fucking not-great-day indeed.

Later that night, though, something happened. I came across a story out of Lakewood, Wash., near Seattle. A woman named Chrissy Marie Wright came home to find that one of her five wind chimes had been stolen. But within a few hours, she found a crumpled note at her door, containing a crumpled $5 bill.

The note, from a five-year old boy named Jake, explained that the chime, which had butterflies on it, reminded his sister of their mother, who died.

Jake left $5 and wrote, “I’m sorry. This is (the) only money I have. Please do not be mad.”

Wright posted the note on Facebook, which led her to Jake. She returned the money — and gave him an extra butterfly wind chime so he and his sister could each have one.

Here I was, questioning the effectiveness of Good Samaritan-thinking, and a five-year-old schools me on why it’s always worth pulling over.

What a great day.

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