I started the weekend early by slipping out to go to the ear doctor. Most people wouldn’t call that the start of a weekend. But my ears have been clogged and itchy on and off for some time and more and more people have told me that they’ve been to the ear doctor and the problem was wax. Deriving from a deep-seating egotism or martyrdom — I am not sure — I assumed that the ear doctor would look into my ears, faint at the sight of the wax and then, once regaining consciousness, would suit up (a HazMat, of course) and begin excavation.
He looked into my ears, my ears and my throat. He said, “No wax. Your ears are clean.” He looked at my expression and asked, “You were hoping for serious wax, weren’t you?” I nodded. He felt bad. He said, “I am really sorry, but your ears naturally dispose of excess wax, just the way they are supposed to. And it just may be allergies causing the itching and clogged feelings.” I was so dejected. He started to feel really bad. He continued, “Look, I kept you waiting for 30 minutes and there was no wax, so I am waiving the co-pay for the visit.” I protested, after all, it wasn’t his fault about the wax and he apologized for being late the moment he walked in the room, so my anger at that was assuaged. “No,” he insisted, “give it to charity.”
I walked onto the street and tried to hail a cab during that ridiculous time of day when ALL cabs are “off-duty” — why every cab company must have the shift changing times is beyond me. I inadvertently cut in front of a guy and ran to an off-duty cab because sometimes the driver will take you if the destination is on his way to the designated shift-changing location. I felt bad — I don’t usually cut a line and this was right after the doctor waived a co-pay. The guy looked odd but harmless enough. So, I offered him a lift to his destination — Port Authority. This is a very non-New York thing to do. A cab is one’s (rented) private domain from the beginning to the end of the ride. Don’t get between a New Yorker and his or her cab. It would get ugly fast.
It turns out the stranger in my cab was a doctor and a sheep farmer near Binghampton, NY and was in the city for a medical conference. He hates the city and the thought of living on a farm gives me hives. So, total opposites and that does not bode well for the 20 minutes remaining in our time together. That is an eternity in a small space with a stranger who somehow feels beholden to make conversation. And he was clearly not a natural conversationalist. For example, he mentioned that not only does he get wool, milk but he also gets hides. Picture a dead Bambi starring in the movie, “The Silence of the Lambs.” He had noooooo sense of humor and seemed somewhat sad. When we got to Port Authority, I declined his offer of payment and told him that my doctor waived the co-pay, and telling me to give it to charity and so I am doing the same here.
As the cab driver and I continued on to my destination, I said congenially, “Was I crazy to give a stranger a lift?” The cab driver looked at me in his rear-view mirror and said, “You seem like a very nice spirit and a professional, educated person.” I knew that that was a compliment and a way to say he thought I wasn’t crazy doing a good turn for a stranger, but it is fascinating how different cultures and the “immigrant experience” shape our language. He then asked rhetorically, “You are Jew?” Turns out Moustafa is a Muslim from Egypt and a civil engineer. (A weird factoid: he is the third cab driver — all were Egyptian — to ask if I were a Jew.) We had a wonderful chat about life, happiness and universality of humanity.
It is crazy how a doctor’s waiving a co-pay led ultimately to a conversation with Moustafa. A conversation that lifted my spirits and reminded me of our common humanity.