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September 15, 2014 / 20 Elul, 5774
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My Hero


When my big sister was in fifth grade, she came home one day with a new trick.

“You take a paper,” she demonstrated, “and you fold it back and forth, like a fan.” She expertly turned and folded, then pinched and held the “fan” in the middle to form a sort of bow.

Holding the bow under her nose as a huge mustache, EG assumed a wicked expression and said in deep, cruel, tones, “You must pay the rent.”

She moved the bow to her hair, looked worried, and whined, “I can’t pay the rent!”

Back to the mustache. “You must pay the rent.”

Hairbow: “I can’t pay the rent!”

Now she held the bow under her chin as a bowtie. A gallant voice proclaimed, “I’ll pay the rent.”

“Why thank you!” Hairbow gushed.

Mustache wrinkled his face in anger. “Rats! Foiled again!”

Hairbow sighed with pleasure. “My hero…”

We watched, enthralled, and then got to work on our own mustaches.

Erev yom tov was not my best day.

In the best of times I am not super organized. On a day when the List Of Things To Do was scratched in favor of simply running around like a chicken without a head, trying to do everything, get everyone everywhere…well… you can imagine.

I had dropped off two kids at the sefarim store and allowed just-gotten-permit-sister to drive me to the cleaners with only two screams as we almost-crashed. Or almost-almost-crashed. I jumped out of the car and made sure Tatty’s credit card was still in my pocket. Oh no, it was drizzling again. A look in the car window confirmed my fears. My hair was…. “pre-shower” would be too kind a description.

Soon, soon…  I thought, yom tov will be here… it will be done…

I opened the door to the cleaners and almost stepped right out again. The line of customers stretched from the counter to the door. I had never seen this place that way. Sigh. Sukkos comes only once a year, right…

Well, at least it was all men, I thought with relief. Nobody here to recognize me on my bad hair day.

The line crept slowly forward. A man in a raincoat was telling jokes to a group around him. The laughing was nice. His smile was kind, too, I thought.

I checked the time again. Five minutes, ten minutes… I imagined the little kids in the sefarim store, growing bored, waiting to be picked up, anxious… my sister in the car, getting antsy… my mother at home, wondering where everyone was…

I tapped my foot and obsessively watched the progress of each man or boy in line. One less… and another done… twenty minutes.

The nine-year-old boy ahead of me grabbed his huge pile of shirts and turned away. Yes! My turn!

I stepped up to the counter and gave my phone number to the man behind the counter. His identical twin whisked a neat bunch of gleaming plastic onto the rack.  Ahhh… the sight warmed my heart. Freshly pressed clothes does bring simchas yom tov.

I slipped the card out of my pocket and slid it onto the counter.

“No credit card,” the man informed me. “Only cash.”

I blinked. “But… but don’t you usually take credit card… over twenty dollars?”

“No credit card,” he repeated shortly. “Not today.”

I stood there dumbly. “But… I don’t have anything else…”

It was a dumb thing to say, I knew, but… they had to take it…they had to!

Ching Li was firm. No credit card.

My mind lamely tried to come up with a plan. “Umm… I guess… I’ll go home… and get money… can you leave my clothes here… and I’ll come back soon…” and wait for another half hour… and the place is probably closing soon… and Mommy needs the car… and you need to get ready for yom tov…

I felt like I wanted to cry. After all that waiting… I was unraveling.

The joke-telling man was suddenly trying to get my attention. “I’ll give you the money; don’t worry.”

In a moment he was at the counter, pulling open his wallet. “What’s your name…Reich?” He must have seen the name on the card.

“Thank you… thank you so much…”   I was way too grateful to protest. “I’ll pay you back right after yom tov...”

Ching Li accepted the money, handed over a receipt, ka ching! A whisk of plastic, it was all done…

I turned to my rescuer with relief. “Thank you so much…” I had no words.

“No problem,” he assured me with a smile. He gave me his name and stepped back in line. As I left the cleaners I heard him calling my father and telling him that all was fine with the kids. I grinned and stepped out into the beautiful rain.

“You MUST pay with cash.”

“I can’t pay with cash!”

“You MUST pay with cash.”

“I can’t pay with cash!”

Ill pay the cash,” says a face with a kind smile.

“Why thank you!” she simpers, weak with relief.

Wong Long scowls. “Rats! Foiled again!”

(I sigh in blissful amazement.) “My hero.”

 

To me, that is a hero. A person who sees someone in need, and stands up, and steps forward, and reaches out a helping hand. To friend, or to stranger. No, he hadn’t known who I was before he saw the card. To be a man, to do what needs to be done… and to do with a smile, and a cheery air…

That is a hero.

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