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.
HE PUSHED HIM OFF THE BRIDGE!!
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?
OFF THE BRIDGE!
Cruising in the passing lane?
OFF THE BRIDGE!
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?
OFF THE BRIDGE!
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.