I am complaining, not bragging. Please keep that in mind as you read my story of this past Thursday. It concerns a dear friend of mine of thirty-five years. Let’s call him KB. He was the first published novelist I ever met in person. Is also a delightful conversationalist with a great sense of humor, a splendid cook, and gallant to a fault. He has the most perfect manners of any person I have ever known. He is also an intensely private person, something that—like everything else about him—commands respect.
KB and I had a lunch date. He had invited me to a favorite eatery to sign copies of my latest book that he had bought for his friends. But there was something odd about his designation of our meeting time. “13:30,” he wrote in his email. It was unlike him to use military time, so I emailed him back to ask for clarification. He didn’t answer. Not like him at all. A day later I left a message on his voicemail. No Response.
Ordinarily, one would not be alarmed by this. But I was. Here’s why. Exactly one year and two weeks before, KB didn’t show up for an appointment—totally out of character for him. All the more strange because we had date to celebrate his birthday with dinner and show. Last year, I had gotten no answer to many attempts to contact him. So the next morning I had gone to his house and banged on the door. Eventually, I heard him, faintly moaning. I managed to talk to him. A handyman with a key was called, and KB went to the doctor. They tested him seventy way from Sunday over the next several months but never figured out why he had passed out for a couple of days.
So, a year later, when I had trouble reaching him and when he did not show up at the appointed place for lunch, I got very worried. I called a mutual friend who knew how to get in touch with a family member, which touched off a rescue operation involving Cousin Fritz driving from Connecticut to Brooklyn and the NYPD door-breaking squad.
In the meanwhile, I returned to the restaurant on the off chance that KB might show up at 3:30. Walking along on my way, I stopped to take a photo of same nice fall foliage. When I turned back to continue, a man was walking toward me, very slowly, very tentatively—tall, extremely thin, looked to be in his 80’s. His face was shockingly injured. One whole side of it covered with an open wound, his teeth revealed in a grimace. For all the world, his face looked like a Halloween horror mask.
I took a few more steps as I passed him. You see we New Yorkers don’t react strongly to sights we see on the street. We can pass Leonardo di Caprio, a bearded dwarf wearing a dress, or a skinny sixteen-year-old-girl walking twelve large dogs without doing a double take. You see that kind of stuff all the time if you live here.
But that man—with the awful injury and the vague expression in his eyes? He needed help. So I dialed 911. And I waited around, following him, until the rescue squad truck and an ambulance showed up. It only took about four minutes.
Then, I continued on to the restaurant, where KB still did not show up. It was not until early that evening that I got a call from Cousin Fritz. After the cops broke down KB’s door, the EMS folks had taken him to the hospital. As I write this two days later he is still resting comfortably there.
I said earlier that I was complaining. My beef is this: Last year and this year, I have gotten too much admiration for doing something when my friend did not show up for appointments and otherwise behave normally. Also from people on the street who began to take an interest while I was following that old guy with the fright-mask face. When I told them I had called 911, they said things like “God bless you.” and “You are such a good person.”
What I did deserves no such special recognition. It’s embarrassing. I did only what I would hope someone would do for me if I were to be an injured or a missing person. Why is such behavior considered so extraordinary? What has happened to the Golden Rule? Has it become tarnished on this crowded planet of ours?
That would make no sense at all. We all need to do such things because we are all in danger of needing such help. And after all, what did I do that was so difficult? Last Thursday, all I did really was show up for a lunch and make a phone call when KB didn’t. And for that poor injured man, I made one call and waited around for four minutes. Is this such a very lot? Last year, I took the subway to Brooklyn and banged on my friend’s door until he answered. But come on. We have been friends for over 35 years. Doesn’t that require that I make sure he is okay, even if that means a couple of hours of my time?
People should not be thinking that these acts deserve so much admiration. Such behavior should be so common that it is hardly remarked at all.
When a woman with an infant strapped to her chest told me what a lovely person I was for calling the ambulance, I said, “We are New Yorkers. That’s our credo: ‘If you see something, say something.’”
This anti-terrorist slogan became prevalent in New York after the September 11th attack. But it is also applies to getting help for people who need it. Do it.