|BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL AGA: The niece whose picture I use cuz she's
way better looking than any of the other characters in this story. (Aga also
plays an important part near the end.)
The elderly man standing under the street lamp was alone and sort of all wrapped up, hugging himself. I couldn’t blame him; it was February and he was out in a blizzard, waiting for a bus to come along. I was headed home in our nice warm minivan.
In fact I was going the same way his bus would, and I wasn’t in a rush so I rolled down the passenger window and gestured. He came to the door. I said “Man, get in you look like you’re going to freeze.”
He didn’t need persuading.
He climbed in, whipped off his gloves and shook my hand with both of his like I’d just told him he’d won the lottery. He said he was heading to Indian Road, which is just three blocks from my place. He kept saying what a great guy I was to give him a lift and asked if I'd come in for a drink when we got to his place.
I told him I’d take a raincheck.
He also had a thick accent. And because we were in a neighbourhood known as “Little Portugal,” I asked if he was from the Azores.
I’ll never forget the conversation that followed.
“No,” he said. “Italy.”
Me: “Wonderful place! I've been a couple of times. I love Italians!”
Him: “Not me. Italians just wanna talk talk talk talk yak yak yak. I like Canadians. Canadian men they no talk too much they just want start right away with …” and he looked me in the eye and made like an arm-pumping gesture and the little light inside my brain lit up.
My new friend thought I picked him up because I wanted to, like, bunga bunga.
I had to admit his logic was sound. It wasn't him who picked ME up. And I had emphatically told him how much I loved Italians. Thinking back I feel a bit bad for not being his type.
I laughed and told him I was going home to my wife, so I’d just let him out at his place and maybe see him around the neighbourhood. I admit he was very gracious, and he added “you wife; she’s a very lucky woman.” (I'm not sure he really said 'very'. But sometimes she reads this blog.)
The more I write about the old guy, the fonder I’m getting.
But that’s not my point.
My point is, I like to give rides to strangers and I’ve never regretted doing so. I was raised that if I have a vacancy in my vehicle, I am happiest when it’s being used up.
Sure it takes people by surprise sometimes, but I believe in my heart that it’s good for my health.
This topic came up this morning when I was talking to my friend Alex McKee, who turned 77 yesterday. He and I were discussing the joy one gets from helping a person find work.
There’s something innately satisfying about landing somebody a good job.
If it’s in their line, even better.
Two years ago, (at 75!) Alex put this sentiment into action when he built—from scratch and right out of his own head—the non-profit www.millennialxchange.com—designed to link young people with mentors.
That's what we were talking about when I moved and he seconded that watching somebody land a job that you got for them is good for your health.
Then I said, “so too is hanging around with young people.” He agreed there, too.
I remember my lovely, generous and open-minded aunt Leona Carter say she loved when nephews and nieces visit. “It’s like a tonic,” she said. And now that I’m the age she was when she said it, I know what she’s talking about.
And don't forget. Guys like me and Alex, we don’t need science to know what’s good for us.
We rely on what I call “Old Husbands’ Tales:” Things we believe rather know will make you live a longer and happier life. Like these.
· Let cars butt in in front of you in traffic.
· Don’t gossip. A teacher I met once said, "keeping gossip inside and not sharing it makes you stronger." It's true! And of course by gossip I use my mom’s definition which is, defamatory information: dirt that hurts. Contrarily, the harmless but good juicy stuff is called good and juicy for a reason; it's full of vitamins and minerals and makes the world a better place. But unnecessary dissing makes your organs shrivel up and hair fall out.
· Demand to talk to the 1-888-help-line-person’s supervisor. When you get good service, tell the boss. I did this recently to a computer guy in India, and afterwards his surprised overseer put him back on the line. He was all excited. “My boss just told everybody what happened and now they’re all clapping for me!” I was happy and thought but didn’t say: “That and a fistful of Rupees will net you a small latte at the New Delhi Starbucks.” But still.
· Eat something sweet first thing in the morning. I have a very charming and bright niece in Poland, Aga, and when she was visiting us in Canada, she made the following observation: “Uncle Peter. I notice you always eat something sweet at breakfast. Maybe that’s why you’re so happy.” She nailed it. Candy makes you happy. Happy people live longer.
· Always listen to your nieces. And nephews. They're the smartest people you'll ever know.