Friday, January 27, 2012

Lunch Fairy

1.  Despite the ample, easily understood signage, there were four teenage males out on the ice, throwing each others' backpacks out to the thin spots.  What fun.  I remember what fun that was, when my brain was less complete.

I was riding my bike around the pond slowly, listening for birds.  A man about my age walking past said, "What they're doing is really stupid."  He pointed at the boys.

"Yes," I said. I squeezed the brakes.

"Someone should tell them to get off the ice," and then he continued walking.  I think he was implying that  I should tell them to get off the ice.  I didn't do that.  I didn't see why I should be the one to yell helpful advice at reckless teenagers. When has that ever worked?

The man continued walking to the far side of the pond, and from there he yelled at them.  "Hey, get off the ice!  That's really dangerous!"

The teenagers laughed at him, and yelled things back that at their nicest were sarcastic.

They started playing hockey with fallen birch branches and a knot of wood.  The game didn't last long because the equipment kept failing.  I watched them give up and shimmy back to shore.  All the while my hand was on my phone in my pocket.  When they were back on solid ground, on the path to the high school, I pedalled away. I didn't believe that there was a magical way to convince them not to fall through the ice.  That choice was up to them.  I was willing to wait and watch and call for help if they did.  Modern communications allow you to be seemingly uncaring and potentially useful at the same time.

2.  Today my kids were home from school with mild fevers. A virus is going around, Angry Bird I-Pad flu.  Thus I was stuck at home, dumping a can of chicken soup into a saucepan when the phone rang. It was about twenty minutes past noon.


A unknown child's pleading voice:  "I don't have my lunch and I'm really really hungry."  A young girl, I guessed six to eight years old.  Why did she phone me?

Me: "Where are you?"

Her: "At Such & Such School. I'm a student at Such & Such School."

I know where Such & Such School is.  It's in the local district.

Me: "Okay, now why did you call me?"

Her:  "Because my daddy didn't bring my lunch."

I'm kind of getting the picture.  Someone at the school tried to call her home, but dialled the wrong number.  They handed her the phone without telling her who they were calling.  She didn't know that the person answering was supposed to be her dad.  To her, the person answering was the Lunch Fairy.

Me: "What's your name?"

Her:  "Amy."

Me:  "Amy, could you please give the phone to a grown-up?"

Her:  "There aren't any grown-ups."  Then she hung up. 

Me:  "No grown-ups?"  My children raised their febrile heads from sofa cushions to look at me.  I went upstairs to the find the school district website and the number for Such & Such School, to call and check if Amy had been connected with her lunch.  I dialled.

Voice:  "Such & Such School."  This voice sounded like another young girl, scarcely older than Amy.  Oh, right.  It started to make more sense.  Lunch hour.  At many schools, grade 6 and 7 students are in charge of monitoring the office at lunch hour, no grown-ups around.

Me:  "Hi.  A little girl named Amy just called me from your school to tell me she doesn't have any lunch."

Voice:  "Oh, I'm so sorry.  I'm sorry we bothered you.  We called the wrong number."

Me:  "That's okay.  I just want to make sure that someone is making sure that Amy is getting her lunch."

Voice:  "We're just so sorry to bother you.  I'm sorry..."  She sounded mortified, very upset with herself.

Me:  "It's okay, don't worry about that..."

She hung up.

I went downstairs to find both kids staring goggle-eyed at the television as the soup boiled over on the stove top.

Summation.  Even in a world populated mostly by strangers, we are pretty much hard-wired to help.  We're not always very good at it, but we try.


Garden Lily said...

I'm glad there are people as kind and caring as you, to have your hand on the phone. Based on what we see on TV, it seems there are many others who would have their hand on their video camera, in hopes of winning a prize for their "funniest" video.

Sally said...

Someone once said "8-yr-old boys are God's gift to the universe" (in the sense, I believe, of sacrifices to danger)--I think the age range for that is somewhat broader.

Second story: A sage sees a scorpion on a branch above the river. Scorpion falls in, sage rescues it, and it stings him. Repeat... A man happens by and asks "why do you persist in rescuing this ungrateful creature?" Sage says: "it is the scorpion's nature to sting; it is the human's nature to rescue."

Hard-wired, indeed.

Hugh said...

Lily, Thank you for the kind words. I never videotape anything humans are doing, because when you're filming, you're not watching. My interpreter story, "Smart Phones," is somewhat about that.

Sally, Thanks for the rich comment. The first quote is a little chilling, although thinking back to the mischief my buddies and I got into, it's a wonder we all made it through high school. The second story sums up the situation nicely, although I would hope that at some point Mr. Sage would buy a pair of gloves.

JoLynne Lyon said...

It's nice to be reminded that technology doesn't turn us into heartless robots. All the same I was hoping the teens would have a close call and feel sorry for being so rude to the man who was trying to help.

Patricia Lichen said...

Yes. Yes. Yes. Exactly what you wrote.

Thanks, Hugh.

ingrid said...

What a great story (with, thankfully, a "safe" ending) -- and then a natural segue to Amy's lunch. Love this post. I especially liked this quote: " I didn't see why I should be the one to yell helpful advice at reckless teenagers. When has that ever worked?" No kidding.

Tim said...

I was once that wreckless teenager...and to some degree, I still am. People who don't heed the advice might have thought it through and prepared to accept the consequences. They've weighed the costs (an al-emcompassing chill) against the benefits (laughing at their friend who would've fallen, and having a good story to share with their friends at school). The risk in falling through the ice is high, but the pond seems shallow, and they are close to the warmth of civilization.
I suppose my line of thinking is less "wrecklessness" and more a calculated risk. It's difficult for the casual observer to determine which it is, but the caring casual observer (such as yourself) is prepared to help, regardless of the cause.
Wonderful story about Amy's lunch.

Katie (Nature ID) said...

I really like this post for so many reasons. You're a good man, Hugh.

It's amazing so many of us survived to adulthood without all the warning signs and laws. I do think I had a ton of fun doing things that are now considered illegal, like riding on the open tailgate of my dad's pickup with my bare feet dangling over the edge as he slowly drove to check the summer fields.

Hugh said...

Katie, Thank you.

I remember blasting down the highway in the open bed of a pickup. Woohoo! I don't know how we survived either.