It’s impossible to truly see the impact of a moment before it happens. You could be eating a burger when you get an email from an editor saying he wants to publish your book; you could be driving through an intersection and some asshole runs a red light and t-bones you; or you could just be walking into a bathroom at a grocery store. When that moment hits you and shocks you to your core, most likely you will never have seen it coming. Let me explain.
I was driving back from playing music in West Hollywood, when my wife, Heron, asked me to stop for groceries. Of course, I obliged — happy wife, happy life — but I had to pee so freaking bad. So I went to the bathroom in the grocery store in West Hollywood. I walked through the double doors and into the back room, passed all the inventory, and down a flight of stairs. It was sketchy. No one was around. Boxes of produce were stacked like stones climbers left to mark the places they reached. As a writer, I seek out these moments, and my imagination began to wander. Could this be the set for a scary movie, an adventure story or a murphy’s law comedy?
When I opened the door to the bathroom, a hipster in suspenders, a checkered shirt, and a fedora was trying to button his fly in front of the sink. I thought I heard someone in the stall. The hipster looked at me and said — “Can you help?”
Here’s where things get surprising. I felt suddenly like Gaylord Faulker in Meet the Parents — accidentally stumbling upon a gay sex scene at a highway rest stop. Nothing wrong with that…just not trying to be involved.
I looked at the hipster, and he was so well put together. I thought for sure he was fucking with me. I swear I heard someone roaming around in the back stall, and I thought he wanted to get a second run on whatever fun he just had.
“I think you can figure it out on your own,” I said.
Moving toward the urinal, I started to mark my territory all over the American Standard.
He was frustrated. He kept trying to button his belt, which was actually a seat belt. It seemed like both his hands were working.
“I had a stroke,” he said.
I flushed the toilet, wondering if he was for real. Then he clipped the seat belt together, and it seemed like he figured out his belt, and his stroke line was just some bullshit he threw in to cover up the sex he really wanted to have.
“For real?” I asked.
I started to wash my hands, and he walked out of the bathroom. I didn’t think anymore of him, imagining that he was fucking with me. So I finished in the bathroom and went about my day.
Then what I saw nearly broke my heart. The hipster was standing outside of the double doors to the back room, and his pants weren’t fully pulled over his ass. He had on boxers, but his pants were so tight and his buckle so fucked up that he couldn’t cover his gluteus maximus. He was talking to two older women. I would deduce it was his mother and grandmother.
“Listen man,” I said, “I can help you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” the hipster said.
“I don’t mind. Let’s go back to the bathroom.”
“He had a stroke,” the older woman said. “He doesn’t have the use of half his body.”
I could tell the hipster was embarrassed. He kept trying to pull up his pants over his ass, but his motor skills were just too slow.
“Let’s go back downstairs to the bathroom,” I said.
“I have problems walking up stairs, too” he said.
That’s when I realized what a journey he had been on. Just walking up and down those stairs to get to the bathroom, for him, was like walking across the fucking Mojave Desert. And what would it be like to actually ask for help? And then be denied?
“Let’s just go back into the room,” I said.
“No worries,” he said.
“I want to help.”
We walked back into the back room, and I told him to stand against a metal beam. I pulled his pants above his ass, which took some work because he wore tight ass pants, and then I zipped his fly. I then buckled his belt — literally some stylish version of a converted seat belt. It took a moment.
“I had a stroke,” he said. “I’m withdrawing from alcohol.”
I looked back at the hipster. I could have missed all of this. I could have walked on by thinking vain thoughts. I could have missed a moment.
“My name is Joe,” I said. I shook his hand.
He smiled. “So is mine.”
“You need a better belt man,” I said. “And to be more upfront. I thought you were fucking with me.”
I walked out and the mother and grandmother thanked me profuesly. Then I went about by my groceries for my wife.
When I think about this moment after the fact, I’m almost sick to my stomach. Not because I feel bad for this guy, but because I almost didn’t help. That I almost didn’t realize why I was in a moment. I could have missed something so important to someone else. A simple humanly gesture. I almost missed it.