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The Old Guy Card

John W. Pinkerton


I recall sitting on a bench outside of an art show just smoking a cigarette and looking off into the future when a middle-aged lady approached me and asked if I was okay.  I laughed and told her I was fine.  Looking back, I should have asked her to get me a cup of coffee.   This, I believe, was my introduction to the old-guy card.

In the past I’ve hated it when people have done kind things for me---wait, that didn’t come out quite right.  I’m not comfortable when folks do favors for me: it makes me feel a little odd.  I guess it hasn’t happened often enough for me to be comfortable with this phenomena.

I’ve spent a little time today trying to recall unsolicited kindnesses folks have done for me through my 75 years.  I’m sure that in all my years of working as a teacher and librarian that many kindnesses were done for me, but I’m having trouble remembering many…any.  My apologies to those who may have done kindnesses for me during those years.  I suspect that that is more on me than other folks.  I’ve always acted as though I knew what I was doing and how to do it even when I didn’t.  If one doesn’t look as though one needs help, why should anyone offer?

Although I feel a little uncomfortable when folks perform acts of kindness for me, I’m becoming a little more familiar with the feeling, and I suppose I could begin to enjoy them.

I’ll give you an example.  Jay, an artist friend of mine, helped me hang my paintings at a recent show.  I didn’t ask him for help; he just volunteered to help and kinda took over.  I must have been a pretty sad looking old case that day.

Another artist friend of mine, Chris, volunteered to make arrangements with a gallery in Austin for my art and deliver and pick up the paintings for me.  Crap.  Now I owe him.  I don’t think he expects anything in return, but, Hell, I’ve got to get even with him.  Hmmm, I don’t think that came out right either.

Oh, here’s one.  We had a flat on a major highway on our way to visit folks in Oklahoma.  I had never changed a tire on this particular car, so I was a little slow getting to the task.  A middle-aged fellow suddenly appeared out of nowhere and offered to change the tire for us.  I gladly accepted the offer and sat back on a railing.  After he  finished, I offered him $20, but he declined saying that it was his company’s policy to assist folks with car trouble.  Nice company.  Nice fellow.

Come to think of it, a similar incident happened recently.  I had a flat within a block of my house.  I started working on the task at hand when a young fellow drove up and offered to do it for me.  Apparently, my neighbor across the street called him to assist me.

I’ll try to make this one short.  While preparing to enter the vet’s building, the door to the cage came open and my cat disappeared.  The vet’s business manager tried to help us find the cat.  Two nights later we were able to capture the durn cat,  but the business manager’s help is what I remember.  That was really nice of her.

Wait!  I just thought of another kindness.  While traveling with Linda and my mother on one of our many trips to Louisiana, we stopped off at a restaurant in Jasper, Texas, to get a bite to eat.  When I went to pay for the meal, I was told that a fellow had already paid for our meals.  Damn!  Another  philanthropist.

Recently, a local fellow I had not met before responded to my offer of about a hundred 11x14 glass panes I had removed from frames for my “art.”  He responded and seemed glad to use them for a project on which he was working.  Nice fellow.  While we were visiting about the glass, he noticed an old wooden office chair which I had placed in the yard with the intention of throwing away.  I told him he could have it.  One of the support elements for the back had suddenly given up the ghost.  Although it had been my original desk chair when I started teaching and had been in the old high school since 1939, I decided to trash it---I’m getting less sentimental with each passing year.  Of course, when the fellow asked for the chair, I gave it to him.

Over a month later, the fellow showed up again at my door; this time with the repaired chair.  I must admit, my reaction was damned near rude.  I said “thanks” but not with much heart behind it.  I’m sure to this day he wonders why I didn’t act more grateful.  Well, I ain’t use to unsolicited help.  I truly do appreciate his generosity, but damn it, now I have to get even with him…you know what I mean.

Now that I’m old, I’ve noticed that folks seem more anxious  to be helpful.  I think they take one look at me and say to themselves, “Crap, this old guy looks as though he needs help.”

Now, here is an excellent example: I had to do some grocery shopping a few years ago while my wife, Linda, was recuperating from a broken foot.  Of course, I didn’t know where all of the items on the “list” were so I did a lot of wandering around looking lost.  People kept coming up to me and asking if they could help me…not employees, just random strangers.  Ah, the old guy card.

Are you familiar with the “old guy card”?  If you are old and you  pretend to be unable to handle a situation, some younger person will step up to help.  I’ve played this card on my wife, Linda, for years.   And, by the way, having a long white beard enhances your chances of the card being a winner for you.  I know most of this unfamiliar kindness derives from the fact that I’m old.  That should give some of you young folks a little hope for the future.