I like to think that each day I diminish cumulative global unhappiness ever so slightly. Human destiny is a tangled knot of anxiety I painstakingly unravel through my brilliant problem solving skills because I’m just that kindhearted. I’m like Oprah, the Extreme Home Makeover guy, and Dr. Phil all rolled into one omnipotent entity, a being outside time and space, overflowing with life-changing advice charity goodness love glitter. I am a damn wellspring of compassion, gushing with empathy, ENDLESSLY GUSHING. I bleed sympathy from every orifice of my body. I am a black hole of altruism 4 billion light years across, pulling in goodwill and gratitude with my irresistible gravitational pull/ kindheartedness. This is how everyone knows me, Brad Pike.
Around midnight last Sunday, my landlord called me and asked me to help him out with a tenant on the third floor. A few minutes earlier, she had called him in a terrified panic because her apartment was filled with the intense smell of gas. She wanted to call the city, the fire department, SWAT. She described intense headaches, dizzy spells, and a crippling fear of dying in a crappy old rooming house. The pilot light on her stove had gone out, and unfortunately, he was away on business, so he couldn’t help her. But he knew one person capable of dealing with this problem: Brad Pike, the boy he’d relegated to a tiny windowless room in the basement — but hey, Brad Pike doesn’t hold grudges, no vindictiveness here, not an ounce of spite, no sir. Like Buddha, I radiate peace and tranquility.
So I went upstairs and met the other tenant, a lady in her early 40s, big praying mantis glasses, paranoid and panicked. “Do you work for the landlord?” she asked me.
“No,” I said. “I’m from the basement.”
This only increased her feelings of unease, but I asked her to lead me to the source of the gas leak, and she led me to the stove where the smell of gas was most redolent. With confident deliberation, I waved my hands over the burners, tapped the surface of the stove, and scrutinized its parts and crevices. I examined the back of it, the bottom, and flicked the burners with my finger.
“I’m going to be honest with you now,” I said. “I don’t know how stoves work.” This increased her alarm even further, and then I laughed at her scared face. She was not happy.
At this point, I called the landlord: “Mike? How do stoves work?”
“What is this? Are you being serious right now?”
“The smell of gas is pretty strong over here.”
“Shut up!” he shouted. “Just up your mouth and listen to me! You’re going to upset the patient! If someone has a tumor, you don’t say, ‘Oh my God, it’s so gigantic!’”
“Understood. I’ll act very calm.” The lady blinked at me.
“What? You don’t have to act calm! It’s genuinely not a big deal! One of the pilot lights on the stove’s gone out. All you have to do is relight it. She’s just freaking out because she’s crazy. Look at her!”
She paced back and forth, one hand over her mouth. “Yes,” I said. “She seems clinically deranged.”
Mike instructed me on how to relight the pilot light by lifting up the top of the stove and, with a rolled up paper towel, transferring the flame from one pilot light to the other. I immediately forgot his instructions and called him back. He repeated his instructions again.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “Paper towels don’t generate flame. I can’t use a paper towel to light this.”
“Brad, a two year old could understand this. Take the rolled up paper towel, stick it in the first pilot light, and then use it to ignite the other pilot light.”
I stared at the pilot light, rolled up paper towel in my hand. To the lady, I said, “The only thing that concerns me is that the apartment’s filled up with gas, and maybe when I stick this lit paper towel over the gas, we’ll be incinerated in a gigantic inferno.”
“Oh God! Don’t do it then!” she said.
“Then again, it’ll probably be fine.”
After I lit the pilot light, the lady immediately turned around, fled to her bedroom, and shut the door — done with the whole situation. At first, I was hacked off — a “thank you” would be nice, you ungrateful old bag. Then I thought, ‘No. I’m a pure virtuous soul, bestowing aid with no expectation of gratitude.’ So I returned to my tiny windowless room in the basement, my underground lair, my burrow. I felt empowered by what I’d accomplished. The lady had a problem; I solved it — boom! Solved by a responsible grown-up human with practical life skills. It’s pretty well understood in my family that I can’t take care of real-world business like fixing a leak, getting a job, or washing my clothes, but every once and awhile, I surprise myself with my powers. I’m capable of anything when I put my mind to it. Now excuse me, but this super serious grown-up human is going to play Temple Run on the iPad for a couple hours. Gotta earn enough points to be a Chinese lady.