Cleaning windows for batteries

Last Thursday, Tina cooked dinner. On Friday, she planned to meet her aunt and cousin in the suburbs for a shopping day.

We have a slow leak in our car’s back, driver-side tire. “Let me go out and check the tire,” I told Tina. “If it’s low, which it probably is, I’ll run fill it with air and fill the gas tank for your trip tomorrow.”

Tina agreed and gave me one of those big appreciative smack-a-roos right on the kisser.

The closest gas station is at a busy intersection about a mile from our place. Just after I started filling the car, a black woman appeared from the other side of the pump.

She startled me. She had earphones in her ears. I had my iPhone earphones in too, but my iPod wasn’t on.

From a quick once over, she didn’t seem homeless. She was wearing a white blouse and a bikini top underneath. She was flat chested. On bottom, khaki shorts. Flip flops on her feet.

In one hand, she was holding a red MP3 player and a cigarette between two fingers and a cigarette butt about a half-inch long about to drop to the ground. In the other hand, a pack of cigarettes. Around the butt of the cigarette, there was an imprint of red lipstick. Her hair was like Don King’s, only without the frizz. It went straight up, kind of like a wave before cresting.

She started to talk to me. She stopped when she saw that I had earphones in. I said, “I’m not listening to anything. What’s up?”

The woman said, “I hate to ask you this, but I need some money for some batteries. I’ve been kicked out of my house for 24 hours, and I’m just going to go to the park with my music and chill out until I can go back home. Can I wash your windows or something for some money.”

I’m not sure why, but I felt a sense of connection with her. She reminded of what I think my birth mom might be like in a different context. I reached in my pocket and I gave her a few bucks. I told her washing the windows wasn’t necessary.

“No, I’d feel better if I washed your windows,” she said.

I glanced at the pump. There was still $30 of gas to put in the tank. I shrugged my shoulders. “Go ahead.”

As she cleaned the windows, she told me that she and her wife had been in a domestic dispute. The cops came, and explained that since they showed up, one of them would have to take a 24-hour walk. “My wife is five months pregnant. I wasn’t about to tell her she was on the street for 24 hours. So I left. Now all I’ve got is my music. I’m going to go to the park and to my job in the morning and then I’ll go back home tomorrow.”

I just listened to this story. In fact, she repeated the story multiple times. It wasn’t a nervous retelling. It was more of a rant. It was as if she’d rehearsed it the last time, and this was going to be the final telling of the same story. But as she told it, the story’s information got juicier and juicier.

By the third time she told the story, I learned the woman’s name. It was Angela. Angela’s wife was German-Irish, and they had been out drinking and smoking cigarettes at a bar. When they got home, they must have argued. Loudly. A neighbor must have called the cops. She was really pissed about a young cocky cop.

When the cops showed up, Angela said, “One of ’em was like, ‘We got a call about some dyke jungle fever dispute’.” Angela told me this detail over 5 times.

“I moved to this neighborhood because I thought it was gay and mixed couple friendly. That asshole cop needs to get sued.”

I stood there, in my sunglasses with my iPhone earphones in my ears, eyeing Angela’s lit cigarette, thinking, “When do I tell her that she should put that out? But what if she throws it on the ground and we both explode? And what the fuck is she doing going out drinking with her pregnant wife? And why I don’t I have my goddamn camera with me? I need a headshot of this woman.”

You’ve likely heard stories of women drinking and smoking during their pregancies. And my babies turned out fine, they’ll say while exhaling another smoke ring.

But those stories are few and far between, and they certainly aren’t common contemporary stories. They’re stories you hear about a distant aunt or a friend’s friend from years ago with science wasn’t as settled on the evidence.

“Wait a second,” I interrupted her. “What the fuck were you out drinking with your pregnant wife for?”

“I know, I know. You tell a German-Irish woman who’s 150 lbs soaking wet, five months pregnant that she can’t have a glass of Zinfandel.”

The story unfolded more. After Angela learned she had ovarian cancer, she was devastated that she would never be able to have children. That’s when Angela’s wife decided she would do them a favor and get artificial insemination so they could raise a family.

Angela told me she was originally from Missouri, where my birth mom lives now. “My birth mom lives in Hollister,” I told Angela.

“Damn,” she said, “That’s smaller than Independence, where I’m from.”

There was no indication to me that Angela was lying to me. She was sharp, and quick with her answers. Even before I finished questions, she was able to accurately respond to what I was asking. Her eyes were a little yellow. Maybe she was hopped up on something a little more expensive than alcohol.

And even when she repeated her story, there weren’t glaring inconsistencies. There were only additions to the story, not contradictions.

On the last window she cleaned, there was a purple blast of bird poop the size of a paintball splatter. “Whoa, looks like it was a good thing I cleaned the windows. Look at the size of that!”

I laughed.

Should she have finished the windows and gone about her way, I would have thought nothing ill of Angela. But as she finished, I told her I had to go home. “My wife is cooking dinner, and I gotta go. Thanks, Angela. I hope your 24 hours goes by quickly.”

“You seem like a nice guy, where are you from?” She says. I told her North Carolina.

“Oh, that’s why you’re nice. I could tell you weren’t from Chicago. Thanks for listening to me rant,” she said.

“No problem,” I said. I motioned like I was going for the door of my car. “Wait,” she said. “Could you call your wife and tell her that you’re going to take me to get something to eat?”

“I just gave you money for batteries.”

Before I finished the sentence, she said, “I’m not trying to pick you up. I just want to get something to eat. It’s going to be a long night.”

“I’m sorry. I have to go.”

She was insisting, and I got defensive. At this point, I was going to lose my patience. Who asks a complete stranger to get in their car? We were on a busy street. There were restaurants a plenty.

Angela cleaned my windows for “batteries.” She has a German-Irsh wife who’s five months pregnant. She said she had a job, yet asked me for money. I didn’t get it. I still don’t get it.

I probably got snuckered. Who cares? I pulled a Piet. That’s my dad, Pieter. His name is spelled funny because he’s Dutch by birth. If Piet has money in his pocket, he’ll give it away. At least this is how he was when I was growing up. Lately, it’s hard for him to find the spare change to throw at a beggar.

But I tell you what, if there’s a way to help you out, and you ask, he’ll do it without question. I like that I learned this from Piet. It makes me proud.

Of course my dad always had a religious rationale behind his street-side philanthropy. My rationale has religious roots, but only because that’s the way I was brought up.

Most people want to help others. I think it’s in our DNA. Don’t you think?

4 thoughts on “Cleaning windows for batteries

  1. I love this story – thanks for recounting it here. This issue of charity and doing good has been on my mind a lot, especially since reading Half the Sky, a book about the injustices suffered by women the around world, and how people and groups are working internationally to help alleviate these problems. I do think that nearly everyone wants to help others – yes, it’s in us.

    We (those of us who are not clinical psychopaths) relate to suffering in others…we recognize that it could be us and we would want someone to help us in our time of need. The problem with this is that when we don’t recognize that it could be us, we are less likely to help. I.e., if we don’t understand why an alcoholic drinks, or why a homeless person doesn’t just get a job, then we are less apt to help because we can’t picture ourselves being in that position.

    Also, we want our charity to have an immediate, personal effect. This is why a person might be willing to give a street person a dollar, but the same person might raise high holy hell about a publicly-funded welfare program – we don’t get to play god, to pick and choose who’s worthy to receive our generous sacrifice.

    Nope, not bitter about my stingy no new taxes governor, not a bit.

  2. I definitely don’t have a religious motive, but I get taken like that once in a while. That is; if indeed we’ve been taken.

    There are times when I see the same people pulling the same lies on yet more passersby. I make sure (when they approach me again, as they often do) to tell them, “You don’t have to lie to me. I know your routine. If you want money for a beer, just tell me.”

  3. Thanks for both of your responses.

    One of the things I learned from my dad that I edited out of the story above was that he said it wasn’t up to us to question the motive or the story of those asking for money.

    I like this rationale. When Angela initially asked me for the money, her brows went straight up when I immediately reached in my pocket to hand her some cash.

    I didn’t need the story, nor each subsequent retelling of it. I decided that I would listen. It’s amazing how people open up if you don’t say anything.

    I liked your advice, too, Dan, about stopping them before they go into their spiel again. One of my favorite stories of something similar happening was a buddy in college gave a dude on the side of the road some money. He reached out through the open car window, handed him a bill and said, “Here’s five. Don’t spend more than 2 on food, the rest is for booze.”

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