Human Kindness

What I Need Is an Empty Bag

My wife, Lisa, had asked me to buy a few grocery items from Vons, a supermarket within a ¼ mile from our home.  Because it was a rather small list, I decided to walk.  After paying the bill, the clerk asked if I wanted more than one bag.  I told her I did not, while squeezing milk, cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, bananas, apples and ice cream bars in what I had thought was a sturdy container.

As I walked out of Vons, I realized I had underestimated the weight of my purchases, but I gave it no further reflection and proceeded homeward.  In taking a short cut by cutting through an alley, I sensed that what I was carrying felt fragile, and I contemplated to myself: “Goodness, what a holy mess this would be if the bag suddenly split.”  That thought should have dissuaded me from doing what I did next:  Transfer the bag to my other arm.  Unfortunately, although I was ambidextrous the bag was not:  It split in two flipping some of the strawberries in all directions while leaving the remaining fruit intact.

After recovering the loose items on the ground, I put the groceries neatly in the middle of the torn bag and folded it over them.  The articles of food that did not fit into the open envelope of my makeshift receptacle, namely a pair of elongated cucumbers, I managed to stuff into my pants pockets.  With both arms cradling the perishables as tightly as I could, I trudged on, suddenly feeling the loosening of some of the contents.  Silently cursing my stupidity in not taking the extra bag offered by the clerk, I got down on my knees and rearranged everything as neatly and compactly as possible and hobbled forward.

At that moment, I recalled a Rod Serling Twilight Zone episode I had seen eons ago, in which a little old man, who is a peddler of miscellaneous objects, could look into the future and know exactly what a person needed.  The thought had no relevance to my current plight, but nevertheless, the little man inside of me told me “what you need is an empty bag.”  Upon approaching the end of the alley that was intersected by a major street, I knew I was but two blocks from my house.  With cucumbers hanging out of my pockets, the juggling act I had to perform to keep things together forced me into a waddling gait:   Inching along, ever so slowly.

Suddenly, a black male popped out of his car and asked: “Sir, do you need a bag.”  In almost disbelief, I emphatically said: “Yes.”  He opened the backdoor of his car and pulled out a shopping bag.  When he gave me the bag, I mentioned how happy my wife would be about my getting all the things she wanted.  He wished that we both eat and enjoy the food.  I told him how thankful I was for his taking the time to help, and I wished him a long happy and healthy life.  He smiled.  As I walked across the pedestrian crossing, I waved my hand to him and he honked back.






A Lesson in Assertive Behavior

As I drove out of the dealership with my first brand-new car, a Dodge Aspen, I experienced both a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment. When my co-workers saw it, they complimented me on its appearance.    I very much enjoyed driving the car for the first week until it rained, and I discovered a leak in the trunk area. Because I had purchased the car with a 1 year/ 12,000-mile warranty, I returned it to the service department and was told they would take care of the problem.

Everything was fine until the next downpour.  This time I found more water in the same exact spot than I had previously.  Although it clearly was not my fault, I felt embarrassed in having again to bring the vehicle back to the same dealership where I had bought the car.  When I showed the service manager the car, he pointed out to me that the trunk area was bone dry.   Feeling attacked, I mumbled that it was not dry after it had last rained.  “All right,” he replied, “we’ll take a look at it.”

When I left, I was only hoping that they had fixed the problem and that would be that.  Unfortunately, that was not to be the case.  A few days later it drizzled causing the back of the car to be wet in different places.  Because I didn’t want to be viewed as a complainer or a pest, I was reluctant to take the car to the service department a third time.  But insofar as my girlfriend and I had planned a trip to Maine the following week for our vacation, I wanted the car to be in perfect condition.

In a quiet voice, I once more showed the service manager where the car had been wet.  He pretty much said the same thing he had said on my last visit: “We’ll take a look at it.”  When I picked up the car, he assured me that they did what they could, and I politely thanked him.

My girlfriend and I both felt excited driving up the coast in a new automobile.  The car drove like a charm.  When we were about a half hour from our destination, there was thunder and lightning followed by a heavy rainfall.  Upon arrival at our hotel, I parked and went to the trunk to unload our luggage.  To my consternation, the whole back of the car was inundated, but fortunately, there was no damage to any of our possessions.  My girlfriend said she thought that I had had the leak repaired.  With as much bravado as I could muster, I responded angrily: “I thought so too but those jerks that call themselves mechanics obviously didn’t do the job.”

We were both able to laugh it off and have a great time.  But when I returned home, I was both angry and anxious.  I spoke to my younger brother, Dan, who had much less difficulty asserting himself than I.  As parents often note, children, unless they are identical twins, can be as different as night and day.

With a tape recorder, Dan and I role played out the scenario of my entering the dealership, assuming an angry tone, upon asking to see the man in charge.  When I confronted him, I made sure to practice giving Dan, who played the head honcho, direct eye contact.  Because I knew a polite demeanor would be ineffective, I practiced my delivery a number of times until it sounded as if I were truly pissed off.

The next day when I brought my vehicle in, I indicated that I needed to speak to the head of the dealership.  Whoever greeted me asked if he could help, but I told him no, in a firm tone, asking to see the number one man.  When the boss emerged, though trembling inside, I explained to him, in no uncertain terms, that the trunk of the vehicle had been drenched in a rainstorm on my vacation.  I emphasized that I had been in for the same issue a number of times before and it was a huge inconvenience of my valuable time.  I continued that I did not want this to happen again, and that I was holding him, head of the dealership, responsible for the repairs.  I made it clear to him if the car was still leaking, I would know who to see and who was at fault.  I further threatened that I would go over his head if the work was not done properly.  He assured me that he would oversee the job.

When I returned at the end of the day, the boss approached me and showed me several black lines where the car had been caulked.  He said they had hosed the car down and had found a series of leaks all of which they had caulked.  He assured me that the work had been done, and I thanked him for personally overseeing the matter.  Upon departing, because I could actually see that something actually had been done on the car, I believed that the problem, finally, had been resolved.  And it was!














Life Lessons Memories Personal Reflections

The Realization

When I wrote this composition in the first semester of my freshman year at college, I had such a keen recollection of its underlying theme that I kept it all these years.  At that time, I did not write well so, readers, please consider this following essay the work of a rookie.  When I started looking more closely to skilled writers that had published, my ability to express myself on paper improved markedly between my sophomore and junior year.  Nevertheless, even today many years later, my writing any kind of prose very much remains a challenging task.

When I wrote this piece in my freshman English class, the underlying hurt I had experienced upon being rejected by whom I had considered close friends, was still very much on my mind.  The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, observed: “Man is a social animal.”  The strong need to have relationships with those around us can cause us to act in ways that can alienate us from those we wish to befriend or maintain as close companions.  Because we do not choose who are classmates are in K through 12th grade, the social pressure to fit in and be accepted as part of the group, during those years, is perhaps at its greatest.   Many clients, in my practice as a clinical psychologist, have described the excruciating agony they went through, as children, in feeling left out and unwanted by their classmates.  It simply is no fun to be the outsider spurned by those we are forced to be in contact with on a daily basis.  My immense desire to be accepted by all, like some of my clients, made rejection a sorer point for me than for most of my peers.

When I wrote this on a Smith Corona typewriter, spell checks or suggested punctuation changes did not exist.  Although I have corrected either omitted or unnecessary commas and words obviously spelled wrong, I have left the content of this composition intact.


People would rather create false images of themselves than admit to their imperfections of character. The tendency to believe that we are better than the next fellow is inherent in a great part of mankind.  This illusion, prominent in so many human minds, prevents us from correcting the very wrongs that we breed.  Mankind is a mulish race.  We too often resent the criticism that others have to offer, thereby reducing any chance of improvement in the eyes of our fellow man.  Instead of closing our minds to the remarks of others, we should judge all that is said to us, and then go on to discard or retain what has been said.  An excellent way of doing this is direct conversation with our contemporaries.

Six years ago, during my first year in junior high school, I had a feeling of such discontent that gloom had reached a stage of dominance in my character.  The year before seemed to be an antithesis of what was going on this year.  My closest friends had been ignoring me for nearly a month.  I could not understand what had happened.  Had I changed that much, or was it my companions who had changed so radically?  How could it be possible for me, who had been so popular, to be suddenly rejected by all?  As I walked through the halls between classes, I pictured myself disowned by the human race, much like the Man Without a Country had probably imagined himself.

Throughout the month, I had tried to solve my problem without success.  I had blamed everyone but myself for the present condition I was in.  For how could it be my fault?  It was my honest contention that no one, impartial to my situation, could have possibly thought that I was the guilty party.

But after a month had elapsed, it did not matter to me who was at fault.  My mental state had reached its nadir.  I realized that it would be extremely difficult to go on living in this manner.  I decided to chance upon doing something that I ordinarily would reject without second thought.  My idea was quite simple; it involved little if any strategy.  What I had resolved on doing was to go right up to one of my ex-friends and ask him why I had been neglected this past month.  To me this took a great deal of courage, but my determination, I was to find, would suppress any feeling of fear that I might have felt.

One day, outside of school, I put my plan into action.  I saw one of my friends, who had once been very close to me, and I immediately approached him.  “Marc,” I called out, “it’s me, Buzzy.”  As he stared at me, a light perspiration was clearly visible on my face.  Then he replied, “yes, what do you want?” I told him.

What came after my inquiry, concerning my relations with the fellows, and why they had been giving me the silent treatment for the past month, was smooth and gentle, in contrast to the tongue lashing I thought I would probably receive.  I discovered that the solution to my problem was no longer to act as childish as I had had a month ago.  And suddenly all of my previous actions came back to me.  My infantile actions, as I recalled, were primarily done to get attention.  Suddenly a feeling of disgust came over me, and Marc could notice it, for he told me to no longer feel bad.  I understood though, that now was the time to show them that all of my babyish characteristics had vanished from me personality.  I would act my age, as best I knew how, from this day on.

For one hour we talked to each other.  But I would have to say that within this hour I recognized something that made growing up a lot easier for me.  Besides learning where the trouble lay between my comrades and me, I had finally begun to understand that I was not always the right one.  There were others besides myself.  This bit of philosophy I have accepted and tried to follow ever since.

Life Lessons Psychology Spirituality Sports

One Wave Too Many

When I was a child growing up in New Jersey, my parents would take us to visit an old classmate of my father and his family in Beach Haven. We would rent a cottage in the summer, and it was there that I learned how to body surf. When I relocated to Southern California in 1978, I lived with a cousin briefly. I taught him how to body surf, and so we shared many memorable moments riding waves into shore. It felt good being the teacher, the one with the expertise as to knowing in advance which wave would give you a good ride and when to swim out to it and, at what point to start swimming toward shore just at the moment it was being to break.

Sometimes one can overestimate his/her knowledge and experience. It had been a windy day with signs of a storm very possibly approaching the coastline of Southern California. I’d made plans to meet a friend of mine that I had worked with in the past in Santa Monica on the beach after work. When I met him, there was virtually no one in the water: The waves were breaking madly against the shoreline and to me it was a challenge to swim into them and ride them back to shore. There were no lifeguards on duty because it was evident that the beaches were really off limits to the public that afternoon. The blackening sky matched the black flags that indicated danger and a warning to bathe at your own risk.

If I had been rational, I would have known better. But I was gripped by the fearlessness of youth, although I was already in my mid 30’s. My friend, who was a good swimmer like me, did not want to go in the water, and I chided him for meeting me at the beach and not wanting to take part in the fun. To myself, I said “poor Richard, here he goes being overly cautious once more.” And so I entered the ocean with all caution thrown to the wind. I was a lone body in the surf.

It started off as great fun as I rode some huge waves but suddenly———a wave hit me hard and I did a somersault and as I tried surfacing was hit by another wave that took me under. Now I was out of breath, having swallowed some water before being able to surface. But worse, after I’d been in a wave heading toward shore, an undertow pulled me back out. I found myself in water well above my head, a taboo to those of us that know the ocean. If you can stand in the water, you can usually, without much difficulty, get yourself back to shore, even in severe conditions. Fighting an undercurrent, and caught between two sets of breaking waves—one close, the other farther out from shore—I couldn’t get any closer to the shoreline.

I came to an immediate realization: If I let myself be dragged out beyond the farther breaking waves it would be extremely difficult to get back. What I immediately knew was that I could not let my body be dragged out beyond the waves that were breaking farthest from shore because it would be extremely difficult to get back. I don’t remember there being a rip tide but rather a very rough ocean carrying waves of gargantuan size. I swam desperately, thrashing with swim strokes, perhaps like that of a whale just harpooned. I looked above at the darkening sky, no blue and no sun in sight, and I wondered, for a very brief moment, whether this was going to be it for me!

I no longer tried to ride waves in to shore for fear if I went out too far I would not be able to come back. I swam as hard as I could to get to the waves that were breaking close to the shore. All of this occurred in just a few minutes, but felt like a lifetime of unending agony. I had no idea how to escape the ocean’s wild, untamed ferocity. I felt as if I was being devoured by Nature, then taken to a place I had never been and did not want to enter.

Exhausted, I continued to swim between the two sets of waves and, as I approached the set breaking closest to shore I felt sand under my feet. It was if my prayers had been answered. With both feet on the ground I galloped as a wave hit me and drew me closer to shore. I plunged onto the wave and glided safely on my belly to shore. I lay there for perhaps two minutes, dry heaving water and once more looking up at the colorless sky. A teen-age boy, who perhaps had seen me struggle, came up to me and asked me if I was all right. I told him “yes.” I’d drifted some 50 to 70 yards away from the point I entered the ocean. I discerned a distant figure approaching. As it came closer, I realized it was my friend.

As I thought about my dangerous escapade, I understood: “masculine” bravado? In actuality, it was youthful foolishness. With no life guards in sight, I’d performed on a trapeze without a safety net. It was adolescent but very much male what I had done. If I had been pulled out beyond the farther set of waves, I doubt I’d be here to tell the story. As they were out that day, a helicopter may have sighted me. But the ocean is a huge expanse. Given how tired I was once ashore, how long could have I lasted in the deeps? Would I have been spotted before it was too late?

Never again did I body surf at an unguarded beach.