Driving downtown on a Tuesday, I noticed two older men on the sidewalk, sitting in colourful lawn chairs right in front of the only parking spot I could find. It was as though they had come there that day expressly to watch me wedge my car into a tight space, making the already complicated task of parallel parking into a spectator sport. In retrospect, this is possibly the reason that spot was vacant when I got there.
It was my first day volunteering at a nearby shelter and I was running late – I needed a parking spot.
So I paused and took a breath, imagining my driver instructor from high school in the passenger seat. Al, his name was. “Don’t get worked up over it,” he’d say. Forever patient and calm, or perhaps just bored out of his mind and fed up with teenagers. “Line that thing up with that thing. Yeah, like that. Now turn that. Okay, don’t overdo it. Yup. There it is. There it goes. Just slow. Crank it! Good job.”
Before I knew it, I had completed the most perfect parallel park of my life. I felt my face glowing and resisted the urge to glance over at the old men for approval. They probably hadn’t noticed. What is it about people that makes us think everyone is always watching us?
But I stepped out of my car to the sound of enthusiastic applause – the men were clapping for me. They were ecstatic. They had five teeth between the two of them, and I could see every one. They were there to watch parallel parking after all.
“That was amazing,” crowed one. He had a long white beard and his voice was thin and tinny, like he’d almost used it up. “You should be a truck driver!” High praise from him, I could tell.
“Yeah,” said the other, who was holding a little white dog, “I’ve never seen anything like it!”
I laughed and carried on my way.
They were there the next Tuesday, too. I pulled off another perfect park, 10/10.
“It’s you!” said the bearded man as I exited my car. “The queen! Now, look what I’ve done here!”
They had an electric scooter flipped on its side with a wheel off. They were sitting beside it on their lawn chairs.
“I’ve gotten a flat tire,” he said. “Luckily, Harv can fix anything with wheels.”
Harv, the one with the dog, nodded emphatically but did not move.
“I can,” he said. It was enough, it seemed, for everyone present to know that he could fix the scooter, even if he did nothing to prove it.
This time, I had my son, Sullivan, with me. The bearded man, whose name, I would learn, was Harold, called him over. “Come and see this, boy! I bet you’ve never seen anything like this before!” Sullivan had not. He was 2. He had not seen a lot of things, but that day he saw the underside of a scooter.
The men were there the following Tuesday as well. Harv had had knee surgery that week and was in a great deal of pain but still grinned when he saw me, telling me all about his recent hospital stay. “And would you guess what happened today, little lady? This dog ran away!”
“Oh no!” I said. “And you’ve just had knee surgery so you couldn’t chase him!”
“It’s okay!” said Harv. “He came back! He only went just right there!” He pointed to a spot a few feet away from his lawn chair.
They were there every single Tuesday. I know lots of things about them now, about their families and their surgeries and that dog. They live in the apartment building behind their lawn chairs, Harv on the second floor and Harold on the first.
One day, as I was putting Sullivan into his car seat, Harold called to me. “Don’t drive away yet!” He disappeared into his building and when he came back he handed me three small toys – a car and two action figures. They looked very old. He said, “These are for Sully. Don’t let him play with ‘em yet, he could choke. But maybe give ‘em to him in a year or something. Tell him they’re from his good friend Harold.”
I thanked him and he looked so happy to have made me so happy, and to have made Sullivan happy, too, in advance. I was touched.
The next Tuesday, Sullivan and I made a batch of chocolate oatmeal cookies before heading downtown. I carefully placed them, still warm, into a Ziploc bag and gave them to Sullivan to hold on his lap. He had grown to love the little white puppy and the funny old men who owned it and was happy to bring them a gift.
But they weren’t in their lawn chairs that day. We brought the cookies home with us and ate them ourselves. “It’s okay,” I said to Sullivan. “Next week.”
But Harold and Harv weren’t there the next week either.
Or the week after.
For two months after that, we baked a fresh batch of cookies every Tuesday. We brought them downtown and I executed my now-perfect parallel park for no one.
We never saw them again, our friends. It’s been almost eight years.
True to my word, I eventually gave Sully the action figures and the little car from his good friend Harold; they live on the shelf above his bed. And I still think of Harold and Harv every time I do an especially nice parallel park.
I wish I could tell them that.
Suzy Krause lives in Regina.