Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How May I Help You?

That’s it. I’m moving to China. Clearly, China is a place that can appreciate my gift for rule keeping and over-helping.

I haven’t mentioned my tendency to over-help? Oh, my, it’s worse than the rule keeping thing.

Most of nature’s rule keepers are also nature’s helpers. We can’t control it. Demonstrate even the slightest uncertainty about something, and we’ll practically trample you on our way to help you figure it out. It’s like a disease.

For instance: Last week, at the gym, this elderly gentleman sat down in the recumbent bicycle next to mine. I had been watching him for a few minutes as he and his walker made the rounds through the workout room.

First he attempted the treadmill and dang near tumbled off the silly thing just getting both feet on the belt. Heaven only knows what would have happened if he had figured out how to turn it on.

Then he moseyed over to the elliptical trainer, a piece of exercise equipment so complicated you could actually break all four limbs and sustain a mild concussion by using it correctly.

Fortunately, there were no trainers open at the time, and eventually he lost interest, although not before attempting to propel his walker in and out of all six machines like it was a serpentine driving course. With each turn I saw him nearly clobbered by elbows, handles, and those massive foot pedals, and I was starting to get concerned. I kept looking around for a staff member or a keeper or someone, but apparently I was the only one paying any attention to Rip Van Winkle over there.

My heart rate was working its way from ‘So, You’re Finally Awake’ straight up to ‘Call An Ambulance’ without passing through the normal transition stage of ‘Where Do I Plug In My Headphones’, all because I was fretting over this doddering would-be exerciser. I swear, the guy was going to kill someone, and the more he meandered around the gym, it looked like it would be me.

So, I was semi-relieved when he finally settled into the bike next to mine. At least now I could keep an eye on him. And, you may ask, how much trouble could one old man get into on a recumbent bicycle?

Silly you. Clearly you have not met my karma.

First, he couldn’t get his feet into the straps, so I took my own out and put them back in several times to demonstrate. No dice. The strap was too tight. Now it was too loose. Flip. Flap. Spin. There was no way his feet were going to stay put on the pedals. Eventually he decided he didn’t need those sissy straps anyway. Turned out he was right.

Then his seat was too close to the control panel, and I couldn’t convince him to reach between his legs and lift up on the handle. And because I was damned if I was going to do it for him, I wound up moving my own seat back and forth until the motion sickness got to be too much, and he finally figured out that his bike worked the same way. Whew. Progress.

Now it was time to choose a program. Start pedaling. Go ahead. Pedal. Like this. Yes, I see the words “Quick Start” on your panel, but first you have to let the friggin’ machine know you’re even on board. So pedal, you old goat! Pedal! Pedal! PEDAL!!

Yeah, he didn’t need those straps. They would have just complicated matters when both his feet slipped to the floor and he loudly announced that his machine was broken. Back into the walker he went, and off he shuffled along his merry way. I later passed him horning in on a ballroom dancing class, walker and all.

Meanwhile, my program had shut down, my heart rate had returned to semi-normal (the ‘Hey! No Napping!’ zone), and my workout was pretty much derailed.

But the thing was, there was another woman sitting on his other side, and she just kept reading and pedaling like she didn’t have a care in the world. It was obvious she had noticed his difficulties, but as far as she was concerned he could just figure out his bike all by himself. Can you imagine? Just figure it out all…by…himself.

Honestly, that is the most foreign approach to life I’ve ever encountered. She couldn’t have seemed more alien to me if she had sat there pulling bugs out of her hair and snorting them up her nose. I can’t even begin to understand how a person can know, or believe, or even just suspect that someone else needs assistance without immediately feeling tagged by the fates to jump in and fix everything.

I am both mystified by and envious of folks who go through life assuming the other five-point-whatever billion people on the planet are capable of handling their own affairs. They see someone attempting to parallel-park, and somehow are able to just sit in their cars, humming to themselves and waiting for the street to clear. They don’t leap out of their vehicles and run around the parking space, flailing and hopping from foot to foot and hollering, “You’re good, you’re good” or anything! How do they do that??

I’ll walk into church and notice that the organist hasn’t shown up yet. While the rest of the congregation just sits there, meditating or sneaking Cheerios out of the diaper bag, I’m stewing and fussing, certain that I’m going to have to save the day with a super-human effort at prelude music. When the organist finally does arrive, I take his lack of explanation personally. Didn’t he realize what he’d put me through? What did he expect I would do? Just let him not show up without a contingency plan? Who did he think he was dealing with, anyway?

I realized I had a problem when I was listening to a woman try to pronounce her new granddaughter’s Polynesian name to another lady. Despite the fact that my entire understanding of Pacific Island language structure could be summed up with “gosh, there sure are a lot of vowels in there”, I found myself gravitating toward the conversation, absolutely convinced I could clarify things for both of them.

“You’re forgetting the apostrophe between the two ‘U’s’,” I almost said helpfully. “It’s Loo-OO-fa-LO-pee-a. Say it with me now…”

Fortunately I caught myself just in time, and veered off to the drinking fountain, cursing my pathological drive to offer assistance where none is required.

I was beginning to think I was alone, a freak, like Clark Kent or NAFTA, forever doomed to be both needed and misunderstood.

So imagine my delight to find a kindred spirit in one Lian Jiansheng, a 66 year-old Chinese man who understands both the importance of keeping the rules and the imperative to lend a hand to those in need.

It seems Mr. Lian was caught in a traffic jam that had already gone on for five hours with no end in sight. As President of DeNae’s Happy Helpers, Far East Division, he no doubt felt personally responsible for the aggravation everyone around him was experiencing. He knew he had to do something, and do it quickly. Otherwise, the ringing of 20,000 bicycle bells alone could lead to mass fidgeting and eventual anarchy. And somehow, it would be all his fault.

So Lian Jiansheng worked his way to the front of the crowd, where he met a police cordon. It turned out the traffic was stopped because Chen Fuchao, who had lost nearly $300,000 in a failed real estate project, was threatening to jump off the Haizhu Bridge.

While firefighters waited below, hastily inflating an emergency air cushion, Chen demanded that the proper authorities be notified of his impending suicide, thus bringing wider attention to his financial woes. Apparently, the Hiazhu Bridge is a favorite jumping-off spot for social activism, so to speak. People are practically lining up to stand on the Hiazhu Bridge and alert the world to their cause, after which they generally choose not to jump off the bridge after all.

Well, Lian Jiansheng was having none of that nonsense. He told reporters, “Jumpers like Chen are very selfish. Their actions violate public interests.” Yes! I totally get that one, Mr. Lian!

So how did he even the odds? Simple. He broke through the police barricade, reached out to shake hands with the sort-of suicidal guy, and then pushed him off the bridge.

That’s right!


Hoo hoo! Is that sweet or what??

Old Lian Jiansheng lived the dream of every rule-keeping, hyper-helpful semi-superhero fed up with the rest of the world thumbing their collective nose at the code of conduct that we live by whether we want to or not!

Trying to sneak 11 items through the “10 items or less” checkout?


Cruising in the passing lane?


Letting your 14 year-old see R-rated movies, thereby convincing MY 14 year-old that he has the most anal-retentive, fun sucking mother on the face of the earth?


Lest you think I’m a vindictive law-abiding citizen, let me assure you I was relieved to learn that Chen landed on the mostly-inflated air bag, and was taken to the hospital with a broken wrist and minor back injuries.

That’s great, really. We rule keepers don’t necessarily want people to die as a result of their disregard for the greater good. We simply want them to learn their lesson, and let’s face it, a broken wrist just might prompt a quick re-count of the contents of your grocery cart.

Yep. China’s the place for me. Any country that can produce such a perfect specimen of aggressive helpfulness and compliance is heaven on earth, far as I’m concerned. First thing in the morning I’m going to swing by the gym, mobilize my favorite recumbent bike, and pedal my way to the other side of the globe.

And be warned: Should you find yourself riding the bicycle next to mine, make dang sure your feet are in the straps and you're cruising in the proper lane. Otherwise I’ll have no choice but to help you.

Right off that bridge.


Kristina P. said...

I was at Cafe Rio the other day, and one of the workers was taking this big bin of cardboard to the trash, and was having a hard time getting off the sidewalk. I asked if he needed help, and I thought he was literally going to poop quesadillas or something.

China is probably super delightful.

Debbie said...

The late organ player, and taking the lack of explanation personally, thats totally something I would do.
Now I have a reason behind my thoughts. I never knew I was a such a closet helper.

Hilarious post!

brudcrew said...

I thought I was alone in the compulsive helpfullness department of the psych ward! I think if you manage to pedal to China to help others off the bridge, you will have officially made it over the wall that we so longingly walk! Ahh, the peace you will experience.
BTW, my verification word is "domisheu" sounds somewhat oriental. It must be a sign!

AS Amber said...

I remember when grandpa P died and the younger grandkids were up there "singing" I Wonder When He Comes Again and we were ALL in tears and sounding more like a chorus of snot-dripping snifflers and YOU came up on stage and finished the song for us.

I find myself wanting to be extremely helpful, too. I could totally relate to your impulse to help those women pronounce that baby's name. I'm CERTAIN I would have known EXACTLY how to say it.

Of course I would.

TheQueen@TerrorsInTiaras said...

I'm definitely a compulsive helper, but I'm certain I would have stopped short of pushing someone off of a bridge. Hopefully. Probably. I guess it might depend on who it was and how desperate they were...

Mallory said...

You are so easy to relate to...and therefore, absolutely hilarious!

jojomynx said...

Hi. My name is Joanne and I'm a compulsive helper...

It doesn't help that I help people with their computers as my job. My husband is getting tired of my trying to FIX everything. It's been quite the adjustment to try and rein myself in. I'm learning. I try and take it one day at a time. Especially when I see my husband putting a diaper onto the baby wrong...or putting a shirt on our son backwards...or...well, let's just say it's a slow recovery, but I'm trying.

This post is HILARIOUS!!!! I am so relieved I am not the only one in the world. Thank YOU!!!

InkMom said...

Oldest children unite! I think that drive to correct the world's problems comes from being the one who knows how to fix all the world's problems. If you don't know how to do it, how can you possibly show someone else? So, we oldest children are here to make sure to share the knowledge. Privileged, aren't we?

And, my friend, if old Lina Jiansheng of China read your post, he might begin to believe the USA is the greatest nation in the world for producing such a law-abiding, rule-enforcing specimen as yourself.

Karen said...

I'm super helpful...when I feel like it. Just as I am very quick to grab a door for someone or drive 30 miles to babysit my nephew at the last minute, I'm also very good at appearing oblivious when someone needs help that I just don't feel like giving.

But next time there's a jumper on the bridge, I'm pushing him. I can be THAT helpful.

Thanks for another funny post!

MommyJ said...

As always, I can totally relate.

That's all. Not much word power today. :)

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

I have to agree with InkMom. I'm totally an unsolicited helper. And I'm nosey. So when I'm standing in line and I hear people's conversations and questions and dilemmas, I pop in with my all-knowing answers. It's not that cool, but I can't convince myself otherwise. I stand outside of a wet restroom and warn random strangers of the slipping danger, and then I hunt down the employees to solve the problem. I'm a dork.

And, I lived in China. I was groped, mugged, and someone spit in Matt's face. I think Mr. Jiansheng is an anomale, or rethinking it... he was probably pretty typical, but his motivation was not as "helpful" as yours and mine. :)

Rachel said...

I think I suffer from a similar condition. Only, this condition forces me to stare at the person because I don't have enough guts to walk right up to them and actually help them. So then I am left standing there staring and looking like an idiot. I don't know which is worse. . .

Melissa said...

Are you my twin? I swear...same sick, sick tendencies.....
thanks for making me laugh

Jessica said...

I find myself helping someone when I just can't wait for them to do it themselves. I am impatient with others and the learning curve that may follow.
I have a son who likes to help even when people don't want his help. I have often had the talk with him about, "You can't help someone who doesn't want your help. Do you hear that screaming? He doesn't want your assistance. Please don't help him." It sounds funny, I try to teach the boys to look out for others and be helpful, but not to the point of having others scream at you.
Loved this. I think pushing someone off the bridge is perfect for anyone keeping me waiting in traffic.

Sarah said...

You give a voice to my thoughts! I too have a fanatical need to help and follow rules at the same time. FINALLY SOMEONE OUT THERE LIKE ME!!!

Mom said...

Jessica- you didn't get that pushing-off-the-bridge tendency from your dad.I had been doing baptisms at the JRT and was blow-drying my hair. Now this girl with straw for hair is next to me, I ask her if she'd like some of my Biosilk for her hair. She looks at me like I'm psycho and says NO, thanks. I almost sat on her and conditioned her against her will. Fine, have trash-hair I don't care!I help kids color in church and if I see anyone putting down chairs, I'll stop and help;I can't control it...I don't even want to..bunch of under-achievers anyway

myimaginaryblog said...

This is such a funny post.

My comment pertains to the part where you were trying to help a stranger with pronunciation, and is a story I can't tell on my own blog, for reasons that will be obvious.

When my father-in-law was still married to his fourth ex-wife, I was talking to her son and his wife who have a daughter named Chloe, and I told them that I knew someone who always pronounced that name as "Cloy," and that it drove me absolutely nuts that the person couldn't seem to pronounce it correctly, as Chlo-ee. I added, "I can't remember who it is I know that does that." The son said, "My mom does that. We've tried to tell her how to pronounce it, but she keeps pronouncing it as Cloy." I turned red and said, "Oh. Yeah. I think it *was* her."

(But, seriously, not being able to pronounce your own granddaughter's name right -- and it's not even a Polynesian name? Off. the. bridge . . .)

Melanie J said...

You're a control freak. You want to know why I know that? Because I'm one, too.

Hi, I'm Melanie, president of the Huntington Beach Chapter of DeNae's Happy Helpers.

I swear to you that one of these days, I'm going to cross the counter of some fine retail establishment and ring up my own damn purchase if I have to watch one more person bumble their way through the ten key pad.

Or maybe I'll knock the tree trimmer guys off of their thirty foot cherry pickers, climb up and show them how it's really done.

Or maybe I'll just run for public office where my overhelpfulness will be squelched under red tape and beauracracy, where so I can therefore do no damage, thus saving us all from myself.

myimaginaryblog said...

(Oh, I realized after I posted that the woman you were trying to help with pronunciation was probably not a stranger -- probably someone in your ward, I'm guessing. And I do mean "ward" as in "congregation" rather than "asylum ward." Although I'm guessing you'd have had the same impulse even if you'd been, say, in a grocery store, and the woman had been, instead, trying to decide which of two products to purchase -- not that I have EVER, myself, tried to help someone out with a decision such as that.)

myimaginaryblog said...

Oh, and I think I've mentioned this somewhere else (here?) before, but I stopped my nine-year-old from correcting her friend's spelling in an email she was about to reply to -- and later learned that she routinely corrects the spelling of her sweet twenty-something Primary teacher.

Which reminds me of another story (man, I'm talkative in your comments today; you'd think I were procrastinating something. And you'd be right.) When my sister was in 4th grade, she gave this poem to her teacher:

It is the duty of the student
Without exception to be prudent
When smarter than her teacher, tact
Demands that she conceal the fact.


She actually had missed the meaning of the poem, which she'd found in a poetry book and just thought it was a nice poem about a student and a teacher, and years later when she realized what she'd done, it was of course too late to go back and explain herself to the teacher.

Debbie said...

Good heavens. Was it your day to have our shared brain? Granted, your post is leagues better than mine but isn't it funny we both had the same take on this?

The Garden of Egan said...

Oh, DaNae'oofffaa'loopa'poopa! I totally "heart" you and your writing. I'm sure that we could chat till the cows come home and find that we agree on everything!

I really feel that I could push someone off a bridge...about everyone that walked through the ER today needed a little shove, had there been a bridge nearby I may have assited them to it!

Lisa Loo said...

I'm so glad I finally have a name for my disease. I'm just a member of DeNae's Happy Helpers!
Here is one of mine----
I take a bag of children/baby friendly items and cheerios to church every week even though my children are too old for it. Some other parent just might not remember to bring their bag! I think I need a 12 step program...

Nichole said...


Shawn said...

I am with you all the way---I constantly am stepping up and picking up the slack for someone else.

Its a sickness.

Sher said...

You're just a natural "nice" person, Denae. I'm probably the girl on the other side, pretending I'm so zoned on my workout that I didn't notice the dude needing help.
I'd probably even me laughing inwardly at him the whole time.
Yeah, I'm evil.

p.s. I just commented on Egan's blog, and wrote something about my hubby making fun of me for saying "k, so" and he says "queso"
Then I said what a dork he is.

Then I went back and read the comments, and yours was nearly verbatum only it was you making fun of your daugther.

Pretty funny,

Lesia said...

Wow, do similar people flock together or what!! I even make sure that everyone has their $5 off coupon when checking out next to me at the Fresh and Easy. Makes my daughter crazy and drove my ex to flee! I just can't seem to help myself and I am just way to confident. I walk up to complete strangers and try to "help" making a complete fool of myself on several occasions. However, every once in a while, I find someone who is truly grateful for my obnoxious "help" gene. That must be what keeps me going! Do you think people got irritated with Jesus when he tried to help them without being solicited? Of course, he had that little benefit of being able to turn water to wine and the bread thing...

Travis and Amber said...

Denae, I knew I liked you for more than your good looks-you are a girl after my own heart. My name is Amber and I am a rule-follower and a helper. Thank you for helping me to say that and laugh at the same time!

Lara said...

I cannot STAND it when people are having troubles. I must help them. I am constantly butting into conversations between perfect strangers when it is obvious they need the expertise that only I (or you, apparently) can offer.

This is why I can't watch movies like Mr. Bean or the Chris Farley films when people are constantly making stupid decisions. I can't bear it. I have to help people like that, and the movie people never listen!

And, as a side note, my dad calls my Chloe "Cloy" too. Drives me nutty, but he's never going to change no matter what. He just can't hear the difference. And I have to teach my parents often how to pronounce my children's polynesian names, which come with apostrophes and all. :)

tammy said...

This made me laugh so hard. Mostly because I can relate!

Sher said...

Denae--I think I am the only "not nice" person who reads your blog. Or at least the only person who will admit it.
Just sayin.

Brooke said...

I'm not a natural helper, since I can barely manage to muddle my way through my own life. But I still thought your post was hilarious.

And am I the only one who had to do a double take on "fun sucking?" Coming after a mention of rated-R movies, I guess my mind was just prepared for the worst. Hey, the phrase starts with an "f" and ends with . . . well, I'm just saying it caught me off-guard. :-)

The Crash Test Dummy said...

ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

Oh my goodness! You are a keeper.

I feel like I've just been pushed off a bridge for some reason.

OH, let me catch my breath.

Breath taking, seriously!

LOVED IT! You da bombidigity. Especially with the Polynesian part.

Hey, how long does it take you to write something like that? Just curious.