Column: Act of kindness gets him bent out of shape

By SCOTT SAALMAN

I was the victim of a random act of kindness — again. It’s not the first time that some do-gooder’s public display of benevolence ended up biting me in the butt.

My latest example of woeful kindness occurred in the Wal-Mart produce section, where I had long struggled with opening those flimsy plastic courtesy bags in hopes of dropping a few apples inside.

There was something about those bags that I just could not figure out, usually resulting in me trying to tear a hole in their sides to create my own, ultimately ineffectual, opening while uttering a few choice curse words. Frustrated, I’d toss the uncooperative bag aside and retry the process with a succession of other obviously defective bags, leaving an embarrassing amount of unopened bags about my feet.

One day, though, during yet another grudge match with the bags, a little girl, aged five or six, a wee sprite, walked up to me, a total stranger, picked a bag up from the floor, and said, “Say, mister, this is how you do it.”

I did not see the sprinkling of her apparent pixie dust, but the little Wal-Mart nymph opened the plastic bag within the time it takes an eye to blink, smiled and presented her gift to me, its top spread widely apart, ready to swallow my awaiting apples. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. Such flawless execution. I wanted to adopt her then and there.

I said, “Do that again. But slower. Teach me.”

She pulled a fresh bag by its perforation from the roll and this time repeated the process in what seemed like slow motion (her little faerie wings no longer blurred as they fervently flapped). She held the bag between both tiny hands and rubbed them together vigorously, the friction causing the bag to open. I stared in wide-mouthed awe. It was as if I had been given exclusive insider knowledge from a great magician about how a magic trick is actually done.

Since that day, I became very proficient at bagging produce, remembering the kind little girl each time I mimicked her bag-rubbing trick, always thinking fondly of her and her random act of kindness.

But today, as I try to type this column, I can’t help but admit to a change of heart on the whole matter. You see, a couple weeks ago while in my kitchen, I excitedly told Brynne about what I had learned from the little girl, and, lacking an actual bag to clearly demonstrate what I was taught, I pretended to hold a plastic bag, pantomiming the rubbing method. I did so with great passion and intensity. To a fault, I guess, because my left hand’s middle finger—yes, the infamous “bad” finger—somehow jammed into my right palm. As a result, the finger’s top phalange became grotesquely locked in a bent-forward position.

Panicked, I pushed the phalange back into its proper position, making the finger straight again like the others surrounding it, but as soon as I let go, it drooped again to a gnarled state. I repeated the process over and over—but to no avail. Clearly, I was deformed.

According to the Internet, I now suffer from “mallet finger.” What a hideous term. I don’t want a malady that sounds like it could be a name for a James Bond villain. It sounds as unsettling as “hammer toe”—yet another good name for a Bond villain. I have no idea what hammer toe actually is but it sounds like it could at least come in handy during home improvement projects.

For the past three weeks, I have worn a splint on my mallet finger, mainly to spare innocent people from viewing the deformity. The freak injury interferes with my typing of the letters D, E and X on the laptop keyboard. To compensate, I peck at those three letters with my left forefinger like a typing class dropout.

When people ask me what did I do to my finger, I remove the splint for a private showing. When they see the unnatural bend in my finger, they gasp, look down at the floor, and beg me to re-splint the deformity. “I am not an animal,” I want to shout. “I am a human being.”

That it’s my “bad” finger seems to tickle most people’s spirits though. When asked how the injury occurred, I typically say it’s the result of overuse, in particular at the intersection of Sixth and Newton (now when I “flip the bird” there, it loses its intended effect). This explanation seems more believable than the truth, for surely I must be the only person in the world disfigured from pantomiming. Darn that little girl and her random act of kindness. No apple’s worth such hardship.

Scott’s new humor collection, “Column Writing is Not Pretty,” will be available by mid-Dec. $10 cost. Contact scottsaalman@gmail.com to pre-order.




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