Thursday, June 22, 2006

A (Barnes &) Noble Effort

I must say this: Wednesday was a beautiful day. The sun was out, I hardly did any work. It was great. I felt good all the rest of the night. I know that those feelings are fleeting and can turn from good to bad in a matter of seconds, and this one was no different.

Thursday went to shit pretty fast. Work sucked; it was busy and annoying and I felt helpless. I got into an argument with a very important person in my life whose opinion and frienship I value very much. I still feel like crap about that.

I was mopey and miserable all afternoon. When I got out of work I had to get my pants on my suit hemmed in for Mike C's wedding this weekend. So I went to the mall and they told me the pants might be ready tomorrow. Great. I walked out realizing that nothing I ever fucking do is right. I always think I have the best intentions but when it comes right down to it, I'm a colossal fuck-up.

I don't get paid until tomorrow so I have literally no money. So what do I do when I have literally no money? I go to the one place I can kill 4 hours easy without having to spend a dime: Barnes and Noble.

Keep in mind. I am not a reader. I was a few years ago, but not anymore. I started a novel when I first moved into the house I live in now, but misplaced the book under my bed (a fact which I did not discover until months later) and never bothered to pick up another book.

But I love bookstores. I could peruse books for hours and hours. They always make me feel a little better. Not to mention, Barnes and Noble has a music listening station where you can sample lots of albums. I usually show up with a list of albums I've read or heard about and give the albums a spin. I once did just that for 2 1/2 hours and was late for a wedding. (That's not true, don't worry Mike.)

But today, my mood was so foul and untenable that even checking out some indie rock wasn't working. I took the headphones off and headed out, still dejected and pouty.

Then it got interesting real fast.

As I was exiting the music section, a woman started stumbling backward and nearly knocked over a table with a bunch of DVDs on it. I thought nothing of it, as she seemed older and I figured maybe her equilibrium was just a little off. I passed the lady (who looked to be in her mid-50s) and began to walk away, when suddenly I heard a clerk say "Ma'am? MA'AM! Are you alright?" I whipped around and the woman had fallen down.

Now here's one thing you should understand about me: I am a bit of a chickenshit. I don't like drama, I don't like confrontation, I don't like turmoil of any kind. I want things to be nice and easy and I want everyone to hold hands around the campfire and tell each other how great they all are. That's what I like. So any time I see something like a) a fight, b) an uncomfortable social situation or c) an emergency, I run the fuck away.

But for some reason, something kept me there. I don't know what it was. It was out of my character. I turned around and ran to the woman, who was being held up by the kindly old sales clerk. He was bald and had a nice beard and glasses with the string hanging off the back so he can hang them off his neck when he's not using them.

He was holding the woman up, and he was not very strong; not a stud like me anyway. He looked like he was struggling, as the woman -- though short -- was not light. The man's eyes looked at me, pleading for some help. Before I could notice that everyone else was standing around and doing nothing, I walked to the woman and held her up. The clerk (we'll call him Basil, since he looked like a Basil) said, "Is there anything for her to sit on?" Immediately I propped the woman up so Basil could hold her, and ran to the chairs near the listening stations. I snagged one and brought it back, put it behind the woman, and Basil and I sat her down.

I asked, "Should I call 911?" Basil said, let me go call a manager first. He entrusted the lady to me and ran behind his counter to page someone. The woman suddenly started to stiffen up, and though I've never seen one, I could tell: she was having a seizure. Shit. Suddenly I realized that I was the only thing between her and slamming her head on the carpet and I got nervous. Very nervous. Basil, where are you???

As Basil came bounding back to me, I could notice that her eyes were glazed over and her mouth started making a clicking sound. Hoping she wasn't choking or swallowing anything, I kept a close eye on her mouth. It looked like her teeth were grinding. She was not blinking, and her eyes had a steely, robotic gaze which told me things were not going well.

Suddenly, the manager walks in, actually whistling (!) and twirling the ring of keys on his finger. I should have seen this as flippant but it actually calmed me. He went up to the woman and said, "Ma'am? Can you hear me?" I started snapping my finger in hear face, like they do in movies, not sure if I should have, but why the hell not? I asked the manager, "Should I call 911?" He said, let's just give it a second.

Then the woman started to slump. I said, "I think she's going down." She peeled forward off the chair and Basil, the manager and I lowered her to the ground. I could finally see her face. She was a middle-aged woman, not elderly. She had a light mustache and about 20 sparse chin hairs. She wore glasses and had curly salt and pepper hair.

As we lowered her, her teeth started grinding. We weren't sure if she was breathing or not. I opened up my phone and looked at the manager as if to say, "Well?" He said, "Yeah, why don't you go ahead and do that?" I called 911 (my first time ever) and talked to a woman. She asked what my emergency was. I told her I needed an ambulance at Barnes and Noble. She asked my name. Why would they need my name? In case this woman breaks her ribcage, so she knows who to sue? I gave it anyway, since I was feeling worthless anyway. I tried to give her the address but forgot where I was and said the number and cross streets wrong.

The lady then started to seize. I said to the 911 lady, "She's actually seizing right now." This is the point at which I was freaking out. I have never seen anyone die and didn't wish to do so today, Thursday, June 22, 2006.

The 911 lady was actually very helpful, telling me exactly what to do. Basil was holding both her hands, and he said she was gripping. In fact, she grabbed at Basil's wedding band and started trying to pull it off. He looked at me and we both kind of half-laughed. What else can you do? 911 Lady said to put her on her side, which I relayed to Basil and the manager. They rolled her and she started to struggle just a little bit. 911 Lady was very calming and said just keep her still, help is on the way, if anything else happened, make sure you call us. I hung up with the 911 lady and prayed for the paramedics to get there soon.

(Interestingly, as all this is going on, as a woman's life is ostensibly hanging in the balance, people are going about their business. One woman checked out with her purchase, a couple rubberneckers sort of stared and walked by, a kid turned back to his music station and put his headphones back on. Look, I'm no hero, but how do you just stand by and watch?)

Basil and the manager and I just waited for a few minutes. The lady started to blink, much to my relief. She then grabbed the manager's hand and kissed the back of it, much like you would the Pope. The manager looked at me and we kind of half-laughed. What else can you do?

The woman was still very disoriented and though she was blinking, her eyes were clearly confused. Her grip loosened, her mouth opened slightly and her breathing went back to normal. So did mine, finally.

Then the medics showed up, and we all stepped back to let them do their job. They had just as much trouble with her, and she started writhing around on her back. One medic tried to get some blood work on her, another held her head down, another put the blood pressure pump on her. Basil and another medic went through her purse (looking for identification, you cynical ones). She had no identifying information whatsoever, so the questions began.

"What's your name? Where do you live? Do you know your phone number? How did you get here? Is someone with you? Are you on any medications?" The inquisitive medic yelled these questions, and then would yell "CALM DOWN! JUST LIE BACK AND CALM DOWN! YOU'RE FINE!" But those guys were good, no question. They finally got her to talk. Her name was Mary Jane and she had gotten dropped off there by her sister. They took her away. As they were leaving, I sort of followed them a few feet to feel out whether they needed any witness testimony. They didn't, so I told them "great job" and let them go.

I began leaving the music and DVD section, thankful that I had avoided witnessing the passing away of an old lady in a public place. Before I left, however, Basil stopped me and said, "Sir, I want to thank you for all your help." And another saleswoman there (who had not been part of the festivities at all) said, "Yes, thank you for everything." It wasn't exactly slow, dramatic applause as I walked out triumphantly, but it was nice to be appreciated. I thanked Basil back and walked out, a sincere smile on my face. The first one in many hours.

I actually felt alright about myself at that moment. Instead of turning around and avoiding an uncertain situation, I stuck around. And I would like to think that I actually helped out. Did I save this lady's life? Of course not, but maybe by helping prevent her from slamming face first into a CD rack, and by making the phone call to the 911 folks, I at least performed a relatively good-hearted and selfless act.

And I finally felt that maybe -- for the first time all day -- I had actually done something right.

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