Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Turning Beet Red

Sunday past. O'Hare Airport. United Airlines terminal, concourse C.

I've purchased a sandwich and a side of beets (do you read an error there) from Berghoff's and I'm looking for a place to sit down to eat them because I dare not eat beets on my lap since there are about 20 of them with a circumference about the size of a fat quarter, all swimming in JUICE. The bar side, which is the only seating Berghoff's offers, is mobbed due to the Bears' game. People are standing 2 and 3 deep (plus out in the concourse) watching the the big-screen TV in the corner.

I ask a gentleman if I may share his table to eat my beets. He's not too thrilled, but he lets me. We're sitting under the television in good viewing range--not of the TV, but of the 50+ (I'm probably underestimating) people watching.

I decide the sandwich is too salty for my blood pressure so I only eat a few bites, then concentrate on the beets. A few beets goes a long way (see the windup?) so I decide to dump the rest of the remaining 15 or so in the garbage. I stack up my containers, grab the handle of my roller bag and make my way to the receptacle, which is also in viewing range of everyone because it is in the proximity of the TV. I'll be glad to get these things disposed of since, well, HELLO! BEETS and BEET JUICE. It was a dumb choice since I'm just heading out on a book tour with limited clothing because I don't want to check any luggage.

As I try to cram the stuff through the stiff swinging garbage door, the backlash
catches the plastic container of beets and beet juice and sends it flying. The red explosion lands on the floor -- on top of a man's cashmere coat (in hindsight, it could have been camel hair) rolled up on top of his briefcase. Since I am in viewing range of EVERYONE, there is a collective gasp, a nervous chuckle or two and it is then the man who owns the coat appears. He is wearing a pinstripe suit and an unhappy face. "I just BOUGHT this coat," he says, watching me pick beets from its beige beauty while trying to decide how to best be helpful. I'm afraid if I pick the coat up, the beets and juice will run even more places.

"I am so sorry. What can I do?" He doesn't speak for a moment while he watches me remove the remaining beets, then he picks the coat up. I mean beet juice is everywhere!

"Go to the bar and get a glass of soda water." I squeeze my way through the mob to get up to the bar. The room is LOUD and I'm yelling to get the bartender's attention, which she's ignoring since I'm YELLING! After a L-O-N-G while I get the goods and make my way back to the man who is now dabbing at his coat with paper napkins.

"How can I help?" He has me hold the coat while he carefully dips and dabs, wipes and assesses. I see the Brooks Brothers label. I think about this poor man on the road with THIS mess. I think about my savings account. I am mortified as this plays out in view of everyone.

The man--the handsome man with a tan and beets all over his expensive coat--smiles. SMILES. He tells me he bought the coat because it is "cold here in Chicago." I ask him for a business card so I can pay the dry cleaning bill, a process which I am sure won't work. So I can buy him a new coat, send him flowers for the smile. He HEAPS kindnesses on me while he tells me that just last night, two waiters collided and spilled lobster bisque on it.

Because of the man's kindness, and the fact he won't hand me a business card, I am overcome by the gift of his grace and I start crying. I KNOW THIS IS NOT PROFESSIONAL but I seem to have no control over my emotions. Equal parts of mortification and gratefulness squeeze a well of tears out of me. The nicer he is, the more I cry. He tries to distract me with small talk, asks me where I'm off to. Anything to stop the crying. All the while he keeps dipping and dabbing at the beet juice as quickly as I'm swiping tears off my face.

Eventually he says, "There." He looks at the coat as though it's as good as new, which it is not. One last time I ask him for a card, again he SMILES and refuses. He tells me he shouldn't have placed his coat there on the floor near the garbage in the first place, owns part of the blame. I'm all but SOBBING now.

It's time for us to part; I need to get to my gate. I cry as I walk. (Who knows, maybe the man cried happy tears too that I was finally out of his range and he was now safe!) I find a seat. Call my husband and tell him the story. The woman sitting next to me busts out laughing when I get to the "and all of it, beets, juice ... ends up on a man's cashmere coat." When I hang up, she apologizes for laughing, says she didn't mean to be listening but she couldn't help it.

You know, a few tiny things have gone wrong for me on this book tour since this incident, but I say to myself, "Charlene, remember the beets."

Next time when something goes wrong--REALLY wrong--on one of my sojourns, I hope I find the strength, courage and good humor to Remember The Beets and respond in the same kind and grace-filled way. My life feels remarkly better because of the kindness of a stranger.

Bless you, kind man. Bless you.


Monty Loree said...

That's a great story. Human kindness is always nice.

ricardo said...