life lesson in a can

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Word Doodling & Free Writing
my second story

Submitted: May 02, 2016

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Submitted: May 02, 2016



A LIFE LESSON IN A CAN Gregg Pollak 9-14-12

She set the bowl of soup on the table. I was lost staring at the soft pastel redness of the soups surface, a round Ritz cracker floating there drifted across the center of the bowl propelled by the residual currents created by its journey across the room. How was she to know that a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup could have any value to me? After all it was just an ordinary can of soup, nothing special. I had never talked to her about it, not to mention she was just a neighbor and had not been in my house very often. She was after all just helping me recover from the surgery, a little housekeeping and an occasional meal. When she chuckled and said from the kitchen “You must have set that can of soup on the bookshelf when you brought the groceries in, or you gotta a hungry ghost in the back somewhere.” I immediately knew what she meant. “Oh hell it was just a can of soup”.

The cracker had slowed its travel and was near the center of the bowl, I was intently staring at the place where the crackers edge met the surface of the soup, when my mind started to drift.

I got Mary at Ralph’s market, anyone covering south-six?” the call came across the radio. There was a something in the sound of Nancy’s voice even over the scratchy sound of the radio I could hear her agitation building. “Come on guys, she’s a regular I know it’s busy out there. Somebody’s got to help me out here.” I knew as busy as it was most of the other drivers had shut just off their radios, and the rest of them were ignoring the call. Things were hopping and every cabbie was trying to make the most of the rush.

I scooped up the mike and said “Don’t worry Nancy I got her.” Nancy came back on the radio asking where I was. “I’m over by south eleven, but the freeway looks to be moving. Tell Mary I will be there in about ten to fifteen” It struck me as odd that the other drivers did not realize anyone can make money when it’s busy. They always took issue when I got more than my share of the morning airport calls, or when Nancy told me to call her on the land line for something extra good, they just did not understand, I earned that little extra juice. But, honestly I didn’t care.

I turned into the market parking lot I knew Mary would be out front with her standard four bags, always the same. And, sure enough there she was. I had picked her up at least 10-15 times in the past. So I knew the whole bit, two blocks a $1.40 meter drop without even the first 1/5 mile click. Large apartment building on Devonshire, I park in front, she points to the second floor apartment in the back, I grab the bags and meet her at the door, I put the bags on the kitchen table and I get a $1.50, ten cent tip and a $1.40 fare, and goodbye.

I was pulling the cab up in front of the building and looking at Mary in the mirror I was struck by the worry in her eyes, and I ask “Everything okay Mary?” she was staring intently at the meter, and then she said just a little to loudly “That guy sure took his time making that stupid turn.” The way she said it seemed so out of character, almost venomous. Mary was in her eighties very slight in structure and mild mannered so her tone stood out. I heard the meter clicked the 1/5 mile, another ten cents, I said “That guy in the parking lot with the turn and the extra time got ya.”

I got out of the cab, went to the trunk grabbed the groceries, one bag under each arm and one in each hand, as usual. But, for some reason Mary was insisting that I put the bags down on the curb, but that made no sense to me at all, it would take her four trips, and it would cost me less than 5 min. if we just got moving. I was in a hurry, and after all it was busy, so I took off for the apartment.

Mary was following me pretty much the same as usual. She opened the door I put the groceries on the table. Mary was into one of the grocery bags looking around for something. She came up to me with the dollar fifty in her hand, the amount on the meter, she gave me the money. And then, she gave me a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup with the other hand. When I looked at her she had tears in her eyes saying thank you.

Suddenly, I realized she did not have the money for the ten cent tip, and the soup cost ten cents. Memories of other drivers joking and ridiculing her as Ten-cent Mary remarking about no click, upstairs, way in the back, four bags of groceries, all for a ten cent tip the visions were cascading through my mind. And, then the realization hit, this was at least one meal maybe two, maybe it represented a missing ingredient in a more complex dish, and that might last someone like Mary several days.

I was trying to say no when she looked at me with those damn tears and said “Please don’t make me leave another debt”. At first it seemed odd, but it was busy, and I was young, and there was money to be made. I took the soup, and said “Thanks, next time I’ll catch the meter before it clicks.”

As I was running back to the cab the whole ordeal and her words caught hold and just would not leave me alone. Wouldn’t you know business died almost as soon as I got back to my cab?

I started thinking about the true value of things, not leaving even small debts unpaid, miss-judging customers and fellow workers, costing someone a meal due to my not listening. The list was endless, and I spent the next two hours on a cab stand, attaching a part of my very being to a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup.

It was just a can of soup, but one that was responsible for both memories and many stories about the best tip I ever got as a cab driver. It lived for ten plus years on a bookshelf, until served… enhanced with memories of Mary and lessons learned.

The life lesson from a can:

A thing… has no value, unless you personally attach a value to it. The beauty is it can be small and worthless to everyone else, and yet contain as much value as you want to give it.”




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