Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A Peculiar Pide Piper*

I ran out of gas in my parking lot this morning.

The children and I, in our usual frantic rush to get to school, child care, and work on time. did not have a moment to spare. We put on our coats (totally unnecessary on this Globing Warming January Day with 60 degree temps outside), dumped the garbage, and headed to the parking lot. I loaded all the various bags into the car, buckled the kids in, and proceeded to turn the key in the ignition. It revved and then immediately shut off. I tried again and again, even though I was pretty sure I had already identified the problem.

I had run out of gas. Yesterday, when I was almost all the way to work (rushing again), the "need gas" light came on. I noted the appearance of the light but continued on my way to work, thinking I would stop at the gas station after work. So, after work comes, I get in the car and start driving home. About half way there, I notice that my gas gauge reads "full." I called my boyfriend Ken to ask if he thought my gas gauge was broken or if there was a slight chance that gas fairies came and filled my tank for free while I was parked in the garage at work. Guess which option he picked?

Ken suggested I get gas on the way home which I promptly ignored since I was rushing (again!) and I knew the kids would want to go right home and eat dinner as soon as I picked them up. So, home I went and then continued on my merry way, doing my at home activities with the kids (dinner, baths, reading, homework, etc.) sure that I would remember to stop at the gas station at the base of my complex driveway first thing in the morning. It never, ever, ever occurred to me that I wouldn't be able to MAKE it to the gas station.

So, there we were. Sitting in the car at 9:12 this morning, 3 minutes before Ruby's starting school bell was scheduled to ring, with not enough gas to even start the car. I had the children get out of the car, hold hands (Ruby with me and Zane with Ruby, per their request) and proceed up the driveway to the gas station. On the way, I remembered that my checking account was...how shall I put it?...rather CHALLENGED today so I better not use my ATM card. In the cash section of my wallet, I found an absolutely GORGEOUS $10 bill. Thanks be to GOD!

So, our little parade arrived at the gas station where I assumed I would see our friend Hussein who pretends to have a dog in his coat when the kids and I stop to get gas. (It sounds creepy but it's really quite cute and harmless.) No Hussein. Not even Muhammad who saved me when my new Volvo wheel almost fell off during my state inspection. Some other short gentleman, probably of Middle Eastern descent (I mention this for a reason that will become clear later) is in the office.

"Hi!" I said, smiling at the man as he eyed our crew warily. "I ran out of gas and need to buy $10 worth, put it in a gas can , and carry it down to my car so I can start it." The man, let's call him Melvin (because he looked nothing like a Melvin so I'm pretty sure that's NOT his name), just stared.

So, there the kids and I were, on foot at a gas station, all holding hands. I think Zane may have been singing something about frogs on a log at the time. With a very suspicious tone, Melvin finally answered,"I don't know if I have a gas can, let me look." Inside the office, I saw a line of brand new gas cans, presumably for sale. Unfortunately, I only had the $10 which I needed for gas.

Just as he walked away, Ruby said very loudly, "Everyone who works here is from a different country!" I resisted the urge to display my white liberal guilt by yelling after him that we think diversity is just grand and that Ruby didn't mean anything bad by her comment.

Instead, I yelled, "I know Hussein!" as Melvin went into the garage looking for a less pristine gas can that he could possibly loan me.

When he came back out, Melvin seemed really nervous about parting with his gas can. I tried to reassure him. "I live right down there," I said, indicating the driveway to my complex. "I come in here all the time and Hussein is our friend," I added, indicating the children and myself. I thought about telling him about the dog in the coat but I wasn't sure if he would think I was a gas-can stealing lunatic and lock himself in the office, leaving me stranded with no gas.

"My gas gauge is broken or something," I quickly added. "Otherwise, I would have gotten gas last night." Now I was babbling. "I would have gotten it last night but it said full but I knew it wasn't really full and I thought I could make it up the driveway and stop in the morning. I didn't know I didn't even have enough gas left to start the car."

Melvin must have realized that we were harmless and I probably wouldn't make up a story where I came across like such an idiot just to get my hands on his greasy gas can. He took my ten dollars and filled up the can, then asked me when I would be back with the empty can.

"As long as it takes for me to walk down the driveway with the can and the kids, put the gas in my car, and then drive back up here with the can," I answered, trying not to sound snotty or let him know that I thought that was a mistrustful and incredibly stupid question.

Just as Ruby, Zane, and I linked hands and began what I now think of as our Peculiar Pide Piper line, complete with a very full gas can, back down the driveway, Muhammed drove up. Melvin nervously ran up to Muhammed's car, gestured toward our little group, and asked hopefully "You know them?"

Muhammed nodded and smiled and asked yet another stupid question: "Did you run out of gas?" I babbled out my gas gauge story and promised to bring the can back toot sweet. Hopefully, I didn't actually say "toot sweet" because that's a Grammy phrase and probably wouldn't help my case for sanity.

I had to carry the heavy gas can in one hand and hold on to Ruby's hand with the other. When my wrist started to ache half way down the driveway, I switched hands which meant the children had to circle around me. They were having a ball! Singing, dancing, talking about the gas can, asking if they could walk all the way to school, etc. I don't think I snapped at them at that point (I hope!) because I was just grateful I had the gas and that we would soon be on our way.

We got to the car, I buckled the kids in again, and opened the gas cover thingy on the car (can you tell I know a lot about automobiles?). I inserted the nozzle of the gas can into the opening, and started pouring. Gas started spilling on the ground. Precious gas. After a few seconds, I figured out that I had to push the can nozzle through this little metal circle thingy to make sure it actually went into the tank. I filled it up, started the car, returned the gas can to Melvin and Muhammed, dropped the kids off, and continued on my way, reeking of gasoline, and feeling like a LOSER.

On my long commute to work, I decided that instead of focusing on how I was late to work, I was an idiot for running out of gas, etc., I needed to focus on the positive. It was a good story, there was nothing I could do to change it, and Ruby and Zane are lucky to have a mother who doesn't always have it all together. I mean, how boring must life have been for Wally and the Beav? They always knew that June would be home, wearing a well-ironed dress, not a hair out of place, with fresh baked cookies on the table. Did June Cleaver even have a driver's license or did Ward always drive? Of course she never ran out of gas!

And what about Carol Brady? Did she have a job outside of giving lame advice to her 3 daughters and 3 stepsons and drinking coffee with Alice? And, she had a full-time maid to do cooking, housework, and to get discounts on chops from her boyfriend, Sam the Butcher. AND, she was married to an architect (not a bad salary, I'm sure). She had cushions galore!

I am not a TV mom. I am not even a radio or magazine mom. I am me. I am imperfect, messy, late, broke, and disorganized sometimes. And, I still smell like gas.

* This essay was original entitled "Ghetto Pide Piper." I changed the title when it was pointed out to me that I may have sounded racist or classist. I am very sorry if I offended anyone. I truly didn't mean to imply that I am any better than anyone else. I am fortunate to have a roof over my head in a safe neighborhood, etc., but I am one paycheck and a patchwork quilt of people away from poverty. I am certainly not in any kind of a position to be a snob.

1 comment:

  1. Plus, you order sandwich meat, pump gas and look more like Cher than I would have ever imagined!