No matter what your bumper sticker says, we’re all still neighbors

Editor note to readers: This is a special guest post for Housewife Plus by Bangor local, Zachary Robbins who is an actor, writer, bartender and Bangor native. He is married to BDN feature writer Emily Burnham. For more guest posts please visit the House Guest page on the navigation bar.
This is a story about Mike and Polly. It is not political, though it involves some politics. After a brief encounter this morning, you’ll understand why I needed to share this. And, you’ll understand why I’m grateful I could experience it.
This has been a very trying week, internally and externally. Sparing the major details and catalysts, we can all agree that it has been a complete horror show on both a local and national scale. I’m one to hold onto anger too long. It is a fault of mine. I’m working on it.
So, after a crappy week, I decided today would be the day I’d stop putting off building my work bench. I like building things, but I operate on top of an old door propped up by two saw horses. If I build the bench, then I have the space to make more things I want to make. I have wicked ADHD. It would force me to make a proper workspace and utilize it. Building things calms me down and focuses me. Two things I have a very hard time doing.
I’d looked forward to building that table. Thought about it a lot. Took measurements. Excited to not think about anything other than assembling this table.
I got up early. Had coffee. I posted something asinine on Facebook. I took down the post. I was guilty of ranting in a way that I criticize others for doing. I am now worked up at both the responses to the deleted post and the fact I even posted it. So, that is now duking it out in my brain.
I went to the basement and took measurements again. I walked the dog. I got in my car. I didn’t turn on the radio. I drove straight to Home Depot. I had a decent night at work, have a little extra in my pocket, and I’m going to build this table because dammit, I need something to be happy about for two damned seconds.
Got my lumber. Gave specs to the nice feller at the cutting station. Had my pieces cut to size (I don’t have a truck, so had to pre-cut to fit it all in my Dodge Caliber. I’m perfectly capable of cutting wood to size. I digress, once more.) Took a while to cut. I’m a very exacting guy and they wanted to be exact. I appreciated it. Took a little long as they had to change out a part.
While I waited, I looked at my asinine post again. Once again, brainy no so happy. I paid for my lumber and my new countersink bit. I am both angry and excited. I exit with my wobbly stacked cart.
I got to my car, which, as I see walking up… has a flat. Not slack. Not a little low. One. Flat. Dammit.
One can imagine the rich and varied language that came out of my face. Thankfully, I have a spare and a jack. I need to change the tire and still have to Tetris this mound of lumber into my hatchback. Rain clouds gather. As the kids would say, FML.
I get cracking. I’ve resigned to the fact I am going to be cold, wet, angry, and probably not the best company for tea and biscuits, as it were.
Halfway through, a very kind woman emerges from a beat up Chevy Pickup a space over. She’s in pajamas. I’d say she’s about 60, but, this is Maine, so she could very well be an extremely weathered 50. She checks on me, asks if I need anything. She can clearly see I’m seething, but, being a good (I assume) Christian woman, she’s kind and makes polite conversation, most likely in an attempt to calm me down. It worked. Besides, my mom would have my ass in a sling if I wasn’t kind and polite to strangers, regardless of my mood. Thanks, Mum.
I nearly finish when her husband arrives. He, too, is the 60-or-weathered-50 as Polly. He’s covered in sawdust and grease. He said he wished Polly’d have called in to him. He had the whole fixings to get the job done quick, compressor, torque wrench, etc. I said it’d have been nice, but, it was better that I changed it manually today. It’s been a bit of a rough one.
“I getcha. Christ it’s a tough one, ayeah. Nice to w’erk with yer hands. Get out the angry, I say.”
I agreed.
“‘sides, nice to see a young person changing their own tire, nowdays.”
“Well, I do try and buck the trend, Sir.”
“Whelp, lemme take a look, make sure your preasures good,” as he extends his hand to help me up off the ground. He roots around his truck bed, finds a pressure gauge.
“Where ya headed?”
I told him just down the road a piece to Garland Street.
“Sure you wouldn’t want a tow? Got a buddy with a tow tuck. Wouldn’t cost ya nothing. Just wanna make sure you get home, aight.”
“Just down the road. I think I’ll manage. But thanks all the same, Sir.”
“Jeesum, gonna start rainin’! Let’s get that lumba in ya cah.”
Mike, unasked, helps me tetris the bits and pieces of lumber into my car. He didn’t have to. He was just being neighborly. A prime example of The Mainer Spirit.
“Whatcha Building?”
“Work Table.”
“Good project for today.”
“Been a shit week, man. Needed to use my hands.”
“I hear ya, buhb. Better to build than be angry. Ain’t hahd to be angry these days. You really, really gotta try an not be angry. I’m not sayin’ I ain’t, but ya gotta try, ‘spose.”
“Whelp, you’re a loaded. Sure you don’t wanna tow?”
“No thanks, mate. But I really appreciate it. Thank you.”
“Just makin’ sure you get home safe to ya table. Don’t drive angry.”
“I won’t, Sir.”
“Christ, do I look like a Sir? Names’ Mike.”
He sticks out a greasy hand with spider bite cuts. I extend my greasy hand covered in spider bite cuts. His looks like mine, add a weathered 30 or so years.
“Ya see me around, it’s Mike.”
“Hope I see you around, Mike. I do appreciate it.”
“You drive safe, hon. Don’t go on the highway with no spahr ti-uh,” said Polly.
I backed out and waved. They followed me for a while, just to make sure I made it out ok. As they passed me when I was turning, I saw the back of their Chevy.
“Hilary for Prison.” “Trump/Pence.” “US ARMY Retired.” “In loving memory of PVT 1st class…” Could have been their son, for all I know.
I cried right then and there in my car. I’m not ashamed to say it. And not because of their choices of bumper stickers.
I was having a terrible morning, after a trying week, filled with all sorts of anger and frustration… at the world, at my community, at myself, at my fractured political system… all of it. But, this nice old couple, who must have UNDOUBTEDLY seen my “Feel the Bern” sticker long before they helped me…
They knew where I stood, and they still helped me. They didn’t deny me help, didn’t wish me ill, didn’t tell me go right off and screw myself because I was clearly a little liberal hippy queer (I totally, and proudly, am). They offered me help because it was clear I needed a little help. And, even more, I needed a little kindness. Nowadays, we all need a little kindness, just to get through. They’re probably just as angry and frustrated with how things are these days, too.
I’m not trying to throw a giant parable at you. Or a wishy-washy story. All I’m saying is this:
America is less a nation, and more an enormous community. And, in a community, no matter how big or small, we have to help each other get through.
And in Maine, I’ve always subscribed to the adage “Best be nice to people. ‘Nevah know when you’re gonna get plowed in and need a hand diggin’ yourself out.”
Clearly, so do Mike and Polly. When the dust settles next week, regardless of the outcome… we have to go on. Together. Because we all need to extend a helping hand. And, we need to accept that hand when it’s given to us.
And the best hand isn’t nice and silky and moisturized. It’s covered in grease, and probably a little bloody. That’s how hands get when you have to help each other dig through another day.
Thank you, Mike and Polly. Hope we all make it through another winter. Together.