No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

April 20, 2011

My mother-in-law (whom I love dearly) uses that phrase. Anytime someone does something for someone, it rings in the back of my mind. And as much as I am reluctant to admit it, well, dadgummit, she is right too often. I don’t want to admit it, because as an old Boy Scout (do a good deed daily), and because I long for a world filled with greater compassion, I want people to do good things for others, and I just don’t want to deter them by this phrase.

But case in point:

During the ten years that we lived in Pascagoula, Mississippi, we had Gus and Katherine Spyridon as neighbors. We enjoyed and appreciated them, our daughter Kathryn claimed Gus as her “adopted hometown Grandfather,” and they helped us learn more about the Gulf Coast. Sadly, Gus’s cancer returned and he was promoted to the Church Triumphant. Through Katherine’s force of personality and stern will, she finagled things so that I was allowed to participate as clergy in Gus’s Greek Orthodox service.

A few years after Gus’s death, Katherine decided she wanted to sell his Honda Accord. It had been sitting in the driveway for far too long, and she came over to our house one Friday (my day off) and asked if I would help her get it started so she could get it ready to sell. I pulled my car around, and jump-started the Accord. It took several tries to get it started long enough to keep running (I’m no mechanic, but something bad had happened to the gas and oil). I suggested that I drive it around the block just to get all the fluids going, and Katherine agreed. I made it less than 100 yards, when it died again. I walked home, got my car, drove down there, jumped it off again, and this time made it around the block. I pulled into the parking place, put the car in Park, and set the parking brake. I walked back and got my car, put it in our carport, and Katherine and I agreed that the Accord should run for a little while to charge the battery. She went into her house, and I went into mine.

It was now lunchtime, so I zapped some taco meat and fixed a couple of tacos. I was standing in the kitchen, eating a taco (you do that when you are home alone), and looked out towards our swimming pool, the opposite direction from Katherine’s house. “Huh, I wonder where that fog is blowing in from,” I thought. Sometimes on the Coast you get these thick–I mean really thick–fog banks that move in and blow around. I turned and looked out the kitchen window, towards Katherine’s house, to see if the fog was coming in off the water.

And I saw Gus’s car on fire.

It was one of those freeze-frame moments. I turned towards a part of the house, wondering if I should grab the fire extinguisher. Then I looked the opposite direction, thinking I should call 911. Then I looked back thinking about the fire extinguisher. Then I looked towards the phone. Then I looked back, and thought “Where the heck IS the fire extinguisher?” That’s when I grabbed the wireless phone off the wall, as I ran out the door, dialing 911, calling in the car fire. As I got off the phone, I was bursting into Katherine’s house, screaming “Katherine, the car is on fire!” She jumped out of her skin (must have been a really good soap opera) as I ran back out.

I headed towards my garden hose, thinking I’d get started trying to fight the fire, when I had a rational thought about gas and a possible explosion. Katherine was wisely lowering her garage door at this time. About then, the flames and heat melted enough of the gasket, and the sunroof fell into the car. With the added oxygen, the flames kicked it up a notch with all that foam rubber, and it REALLY started boiling. The plume of flames and smoke was about 20 feet into the air, so I backed off, since I could now hear the fire engine on it’s way.

The firefighters showed up and did their thing. The flames were knocked down and the entire car cooled off in seconds thanks to a copious amount of water. We stood around and Katherine and I explained what had happened, as the firefighters filled out an incident report. They left, Katherine went into her house, and I went home and ate cold tacos.

Later that afternoon I ran a few errands, and by the time I arrived home, the car was gone, there was only a black spot in the parking area where it had been. My family trickled in from school, I told them the story, and we all had a good laugh before leaving for the soccer field, where Kathryn (our daughter, not our neighbor–note the spelling difference) had a game.

During the game, I saw my friend Lynn Jacobsen on the sidelines, and since he was an insurance agent, I walked over.

“Hey, Lynn, if a car catches on fire because of an electrical short (that was our best guess), is that covered?”

“Oh, yeah,” he laughed. “I hear you barbecued Katheryn Spyridon’s car today!” he hooted. Everyone around us listened to the story, and I was the laughingstock of the soccer team for a few weeks.

All because I was trying to be a nice neighbor (I would have said good neighbor, but Lynn was not with State Farm).

No good deed goes unpunished.

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