The pillow from hell
Karma is a Buddhist concept which basically says that our destiny or fate is based on a series of causes and effects; if we’re doing good things then there is a possibility that good things will happen to us. A demonstration of this can be witnessed every day when we see people holding the door for total strangers as they trundle by with hands full of stuff — papers, pastry, and cumbersome cups — at the local coffee shop. We see this at stop signs when we allow a car to go when it’s really our right of way. If we pay it forward, some good stuff will come back to us. Conversely, this karma thing can go sideways and flip on us. Then, it can come back to haunt us — badly.
About 25 years ago, a guy who worked on the docks got his brand-new Cannondale mountain bike stolen. Someone lifted this bicycle from URI while the guy was taking a summer course. He was not happy; the new rig cost him about 800 scoots. At work, he expressed his anger to me, and rightly so. A few weeks later, on a busy Sunday, we were collecting passenger tickets. The guy, whose name is Pat, hissed, “Hey, Joey, that guy’s got my bicycle!” Pat was nodding to a pretty stylish-looking guy who was rolling a shiny new red Cannondale up the ferry ramp. He was also rolling with, ahem, a very pretty girl who was also guiding a bicycle up onto the ferry. Pat was ready to confront the guy, but I told him to calm down — he was ready to go big on the neatly coiffed Cannondale guy. It would’ve ended badly and Pat would’ve been fired — he was not the kind of guy you provoked.
After the ferry left, I asked Pat if he had a bill of sale from Stedman’s Bicycle Shop — he did. I told him to go home at lunch and get it. Then, I said, we’ll have the guy come to the freight shed — with a policeman standing by — and then simply compare the serial numbers. After lunch Pat came back with his bill of sale. Sure enough, at the end of that long busy Sunday the guy with the shiny bike and pretty, tanned and tousled-haired girlfriend came rolling and happily chortling down the ramp. About four freight guys and the policeman surrounded the dashing couple, and the policeman said, “Could we speak with you for a minute, sir.” The guy did a terrible job of looking befuddled. His girlfriend looked genuinely perplexed.
Once inside the garage, Pat immediately compared the serial numbers. Bingo! Busted! It was a classic moment of complete and unraveling awkwardness. The policeman explained that the bicycle was stolen from Pat, who was presently glaring at the guy. After a short Q and A, the guy admitted that a “friend let me borrow it.” The policeman asked, “Who is your friend?” The guy said he “couldn’t remember his name.” It was then explained to him that he was “trafficking in stolen property.” The pretty girlfriend — with a less-shiny Raleigh bicycle — posed, blushed and sighed — with a dramatic hair flip. They were led away, and Pat got his new Cannondale back without as much as a scratch. Karma, in the colloquial sense, was observed that day.
There are certain things that a guy shouldn’t do — besides stealing bicycles — because they go against being a guy. For example, if a guy flips a coin with another guy, he must honor said flip if he loses. Heads or tails is the age-old equalizer for settling a stalemated situation. It’s a fair way of doing business.
About five years ago, there was a pillow in the lost and found bin in the freight shed — it had been sitting there for a year. For a pillow, this was a slick and stylish looking rig. It clearly looked like it was not your standard issue, run-of-the-mill pillow. I had to have this thing. Another freight guy, Matt, had dibs on the pillow, but I said, “Hey, Matt, I need this pillow for my boat. The thing looks comfortable. I gotta have it.”
“Oh come on, Joey, I had dibs on this a week ago,” he said.
“I’ll flip you for it,” I said.
“Okay,” he said.
We flipped the coin. Matt won. It is here that I broke the guy rule. I figured seeing that I was the senior guy on the job; I could renege on the flip.
“Matt, I’m reneging on the flip. Sorry, I need this pillow,” I said.
“Joey, you’re reneging on the flip,” he asked.
“Yes, I’m reneging on the flip,” I said.
“But... but... it’s the flip, you’re reneging on the flip,” he said incredulously.
“I know it’s the flip, Matt, but I must renege,” I said.
That day I broke a very important rule, and it has haunted me ever since.
The aforementioned pillow was still in the wrapper when I brought it to my sailboat. The design was odd, but I figured it must be comfortable. It had a little scoop that ran the length of the square and rigid form — that confused me. Since that unwrapping, until this very day, I have never gotten a good night’s sleep with this ill-gotten pillow from hell. I’ve squished it, plopped it, wedged it, folded it, crunched it and stomped it — to no avail. I’ve used it as a seat cushion while steering my boat and even that was uncomfortable. Additionally, it looked like a total geezer rig. But why would I keep this pain-inducing object? This question has plagued me for five years and the answer is simple. This is my karmic drubbing for reneging on the flip, as it sits unused in the cabin of my sailboat. The lesson learned here, kids, is we must honor the flip — always.
Nota bene: Just before starting this scheduled karma column, I noticed that someone stole my beat-up bicycle from the back of my truck — it happened last night. As I drove down our street on my way to Newport I saw my bike lying on a snowbank six houses down from us. My one-geared specialized bike’s bald tires were very low, and the chain is rusty — only the front brake works. I figured that the hapless thief went tearing down the hill — bad idea — and veered off into the snow bank, and did a face plant in a pile of dirty slush. ‘Nuff said.