Hyper-active meth addict. Not saying that’s what he is, but if you develop a picture of a small, wiry, short haired, white dude who is a meth addict then you’ll have a reasonable snap shot of our subject.
I didn’t see meth-man, but I heard him. He entered the bike shop where I work and was talking to Anders. “Hey, hey, hey,” he says in a breathy, frantic way. “Can you, can you, can you help me? I got a, I got a, gotta flat. Can you fix it?”
“Sure, man. No problem,” says Anders. “Runs about twenty dollars. We can do it now if you want.”
“Twenty, twenty, twenty dollars? Don’t have twenty dollars.”
“”Yeah? How much you got?”
“Nothing. I got nothing. But if you fix it I’ll go panhandle the money. I just got out of prison and I don’t have any money. I sent twenty-five dollars to get a copy of my birth certificate but until it comes I can’t get a job. Can you fix it and I’ll go get the money?”
Anders is not a child. He is in his mid-forties, a US Army veteran, naturalized citizen from South America and he is used to hearing sob stories. “Tell you what,” says Anders, “I’ll fix it. This one’s on me.” And he does.
Brock, not meth-man’s real name, says, “Wow. Thanks man. I’m sober. I’ve been sober for over a year but I’m fresh out of prison and can’t get a job until I get my birth certificate.” Brock likes to tell people A, he is sober, B, he is fresh out of prison, and C, that as soon as he gets his birth certificate he will be getting a job. I know that he likes to tell people this because I hear him repeat his holy trinity a few more times before Anders gets Brock’s front tire fixed.
“Okay, buddy. You’re all set,” Anders declares as he wheels Brock’s bike out. “Good luck.”
“Oh. Wow. Thanks, man. God bless. Really. I’m sober. I’ve been sober…” you get the picture.
I am not one to, ‘give people shit,’ but I ask Anders, “Why?”
“Don’t give me any shit,” Anders says, shaking his head. Anders and I have a fine relationship. We harass one another gently, not cruelly, and he is far more likely the harasser than the victim.
“I’m not. Just; why?”
“I don’t know. To get him out of here. What if he was telling the truth?”
“What if he was?”
“Oh, just give it a rest. I just gave the guy a break.”
That was on a Thursday. Anders works in our other location three days a week so I did not see him either Friday or Saturday. I did see Brock. Both days.
Just before closing on Friday Brock enters the store pushing his bike. “Hey, hey, hey,” he says. “I got another flat. I don’t know if it just lost air or what.” He begins his mantra of, “I just got out of prison…” but I cut him off.
“Yeah, I know. I was here yesterday. Let’s see what’s up. Give me a second to see what’s going on,” I say as I wheel his bike from the showroom back to the service department where I place it in a rack and inflate the tire.
When the tire is inflated it emits a hissing noise. This is not a good scenario. I slowly spin the tire looking for debris. I quickly find a thorn which I remove and take to Brock. “Yeah, found the problem,” says I. “You picked up a thorn.”
‘You picked up a thorn,’ is absolutely correct. Anders, a top-notch sales-man is not a bicycle mechanic. I did not supervise his flat tire repair so I don’t know how thoroughly he inspected the tire for foreign objects. This is usually very important when a customer has just paid to have a flat tire fixed and it goes flat again a day later. Customer relations dictates that we give the customer the benefit of the doubt and assume responsibility if there is a gray area. This is a gray area. I do not grant Brock the benefit of the doubt.
I do not grant him the benefit of the doubt for one very important reason. Please notice in the above the statement the part about, ‘very important when a customer has just paid to have a flat tire fixed.’ Brock has paid for nothing so we owe him nothing. I am being neither cruel no vindictive. I am simply doing my part to run a business.
Still, even I have a heart. “Got any money?” I ask.
“No. None. I sent away…”
“For your birth certificate so you can get a job. Yeah. I know. Tell you what. I will install this tube at no charge for labor but I gotta charge you for the tube. It’ll run you like ten bucks or so.”
“Ten bucks? I can get ten bucks. I’ll panhandle it…”
“Yes. Fine. Except we’re closing. So I can fix it but you’ll have to leave it here until you pay for it.”
“Okay. Okay. Okay. I can get a ride home and come back tomorrow. Is that alright?”
“That’s fine. You’ll just have to pay for the tube.”
“Okay. Okay. Okay. Ten bucks?”
“About. You’d better bring eleven; just to be sure.”
“Okay. Okay. Okay. Hey. Thanks. man. I really appreciate.”
“I know you do,” says I, extending my hand. “Not a problem. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I wait until after he leaves before I wash my hands. Just because my mother raised me right doesn’t mean that there’s not a whole lot of asshole living inside my skin.
Saturday morning comes and goes and the afternoon is getting late. Brock arrives and says, “Sorry I’m late. I’ll go panhandle the eleven dollars and be back.”
“Okay,” I say, “but it’s only nine-fifty- eight.”
“Only nine-fifty-eight? Hang on! I’ll see if I can get that from the guy who drove me.”
Brock returns quickly, shaking his head. “No. I couldn’t. I’ll get the money and be back in a little bit.”
“Cool,” says I and I watch him leave. I also watch him walk up and down the strip-mall parking lot. He does this for at least half an hour and I explain what’s going on to the store owner. I tell her the story, leaving out Anders name, and explain that he’s panhandling for the ten dollars. She just purses her lips and nods.
Not long after Brock walks in with a gorgeous, young black woman whose cute hairdo includes a dramatic quarter head of hair that has been shaved. “Hey,” she says, “I’d like to pay for this man’s flat tire.”
I look at her and smile. “That’s very good of you,” I say, emphasizing the good. “Very nice.” She hands me a ten dollar bill and I give her forty-two cents back. “Thank you again,” I say. “As I said, that was very good of you.”
“Oh, sure. No problem. Bye!” she says to Brock, wiggling her fingers.
“Good-bye! And thank you again! God bless!” he tells her retreating form. “I found her across the street at the Rite-Aid. That security cop chased me away from here.”
“Oh, yeah,” I said, nodding my head. “They do that, don’t they. Well, here’s your bike. Better luck,” I declare, again holding my hand out to him.
We shake, he leaves and I hope it’s true. I hope he’s sober. I hope he’s trying to get a job and I surely wish him better luck because he’s going to need it. I also hope that when he turns himself around he treats people the way Anders and the young lady treated him because that would be true justice. Me? I went to the bathroom, washed my hands and got back to work.