“What are you waiting for? If not now, then when?”
I wasn’t really sure what to say to Dave, in response to his inquiry. He had a forceful way about him that seemed honestly persuasive, initially, but quickly became demanding, even domineering. He meant well, and that was the source of my problem. How do you tell someone to shut the hell up when you know they are right?
“Seriously, what in the world are you waiting for … ?” Dave continued as he reached down and turned the car stereo off to command even more off my attention.
“I know Dave, I know.” I said with more than a hint of frustration on my lips. “I’m stopping. We’ll help the old man. Man, just relax.”
I made sure I properly clicked my turn signal to the right before I pulled off to the side of the very busy route. I gently applied pressure to the brake and glanced in my rearview mirror as my Escalade came to a halt. I saw the old man retrieving his tattered backpack from the berm as he weakly jogged toward our vehicle. He looked old. He looked tired. He looked hungry. He looked like a complete bum.
“Man, this old man looks pretty haggard.” I said to Dave, “You know he’s going to smell pretty bad, right?”
“Yeah. He probably will stink like three-day-old funk.” Dave replied. “He definitely hasn’t had a shower in some time, by the looks of it.”
“Dave, seriously man, I’m not sure about this …”
“Everything will be fine.” Dave interrupted. “Besides, it’s the right thing to do, right?”
“Yeah, I suppose it is.” I said as I gave the custom scent hanging off my rearview mirror a few test sniffs just to make sure it was up for the inevitable challenge approaching via the passenger side of the car. “I’m just concerned the smell will become a permanent characteristic of my SUV. I have a date with Holly tonight, you know? I can’t be stinkin’. Where are we taking this guy anyway?”
“You know, I’m not really sure.” Dave said. “I hope it’s not too far, I have a three o’clock biology class I can’t miss. What time is it man?”
“It’s two o’clock.”
“Two o’clock! Ah shit!” Dave exclaimed as he threw both arms in the air. “It’s already two o’clock! I can’t miss another class or I’ll be over the …”
“If not now when, Dave?” I interrupted with a side of sarcastic retaliation. “If not now, when bro?”
Dave slouched into the passenger’s seat of my Escalade, clearly relieved of his earlier enthusiasm for the old man. He nervously adjusted his custom-fitted Starter cap as he reached for his pocket PC to double check his afternoon schedule. He glanced into the passenger side mirror to catch a view of the old man’s approach. He was getting closer.
“Man, I’m telling you, I’m going to miss my class if we pick the old man up.”
“It’s too late now Dave.” I responded. “He’s coming! Man, he looks like he really stinks …”
“Look man,” Dave interjected with his typical thinly disguised persuasion, “I can’t miss my class, and you have a date tonight with Holly. Holly isn’t going anywhere with you in a stink-filled Escalade. You know that, right? I will be in serious academic trouble if I miss one more biology class. We have to …”
“What Dave?!?” I semi-shouted. “Leave? Do you want us to leave this old man on the side of the road after we made him think we were seriously going to pick him up? It would have been better if we just kept going, but no, you had to get started with that whole let’s help our fellow-less-fortunate-man routine …”
“Well,” Dave interrupted, “It was a good idea. It looked good on paper, at least.”
“He could be dangerous, you know?” I said as I calmed myself down a bit. I admit it, Dave’s impulsive nature was getting the better of my patience.
“Yeah,” Dave said, “What in the hell are we doing picking up the old man anyway? He could be a serial-killer or an escapee from some asylum.”
The old man was closing in on the passenger side’s rear quarter panel. I had my eyes on him via the rearview mirror. Dave was peeking at him through the passenger side mirror. We both were silent for a few moments, nervously contemplating our next move.
“I really want to have a good date with Holly tonight. She’s so amazing!” I said.
“Yeah,” Dave replied, “I really don’t want to fail my biology class, man. I can’t miss another one”
That’s was all we needed to say to one another. I quickly threw the Escalade into drive and accidentally spun out atop the berm’s loose dirt and gravel in my excitement to leave the scene before the old man’s hand actually took hold of the Escalades’ back door handle. We headed back to our Franklin & Marshall dorm, with a quickness. I tried not to look back at the old man as we were leaving him on the side of the road, but my eyes could not resist the Escalades’ rearview mirror. The old man was just standing there, completely void of emotion, in the midst of the dust cloud we created as we spun out, on his berm. He dropped his tattered backpack back.
“We really should have helped the old man.” Dave said.
“Yeah,” I replied, “We should donate some money to a shelter or something. That’s what we should have done in the first place. Seriously, do we want to help one old man, or ten of them?”
“Now that makes a lot of sense, man.” Dave agreed. “Why apply a band-aid when you can actually cure the disease?”
“We should look up a shelter when we get back and give some money to it.” I suggested.
“We’ll hook up tomorrow and do that.” Dave said. “I have a two o’clock, and you’ll be out with Holly by the time I’m done. Tomorrow. We’ll hook up tomorrow and donate to a shelter. I hope they’ll take a credit card.”
“I’m sure they will,” I said. “It’s the 21st century Dave. Get with it. Everyone takes plastic.”