Who Was That Masked Man?

18 November, 2002 at 3:58 pm (dear diary)

Her car was standing, still, in a mostly empty parking lot, and yet she had her hazard lights on — that’s what first caught my attention. It’s not as if she’d pulled off to the side of the road, she was in a deserted parking lot, but still worried about accidental collision. That was my first instinct that some assistance might be required.

It was fun to swoop in, change the tire of a damsel in distress, brush my filthy hands together, and march back into the darkness and into obscurity. I explained certain things as I was changing the tire: she needed a better lug wrench, for example, as the one she had was standard issue, meaning it was too short to really get sufficient torque to unscrew a pneumatically secured lugnut. I had her put the e-brake on, so that the car would be slightly less likely to collapse and crush me once I had removed the tire. Hopefully next time, she’ll be slightly better prepared to take care of the situation herself, if some dashing stranger didn’t happen along.

But two things ruined the cinematic quality of the moment — nothing that I did; I was perfect. I had the trenchcoat, all the tools required, the hat that kept my face in shadow as I knelt beneath the streetlight. But she made two fatal missteps that hamstrung the cohesive, anecdotal quality of the circumstance. The second thing was that she screwed up my exit. Listen, I understand that she might not have been as familiar with the cultural standards of such an event, but when I start to walk off after a Job Well Done, shouldn’t she instinctively know that she’s supposed to wonder to herself, “Who was that masked man?” and tell stories later about The Man With No Name? She’s not supposed to call me back and ask what my name is.

But the first thing that set the whole thing slightly off-kilter was her response to my arrival. I strode up, cooly assessing the situation: hazards on, tools strewn on the pavement, wrappings clean and just unsealed, girl on cellphone trying to get instructions on how to change a flat. And upon seeing me, she said, “Oh, never mind. I’m all set,” and hung up. She just expected that I’d help her. She just expected that I’d have the expertise. And while I feel I ought to be flattered, as I don’t normally assume that I cut the sort of figure that carries about such absolute competence, my immediate reaction was to be put off. Don’t just assume that I can help you, Miss. In order for you to be properly grateful afterwards, you have to be wary at first. To blindly accept the assistance of strangers doesn’t elevate the moment sufficiently.

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