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The day started out innocently enough. My neighbor Gina, of the blond wig and tiara fame, phoned me to ask if I was interested in going with her to the local food bank that afternoon. This month’s budget had been crippled by the annual car registration fees, a smog certificate and unexpected medical bills so some extra help in the grocery department would be great. Sure, I blithely replied, and offered to drive.

By the time she knocked on the apartment door an hour later she had picked up another neighbor named John who also wanted to go. We trooped out to my car and I flipped the switch so all the doors were open. I left them to get in and settled while I took a bag of trash to the dumpster.

Twenty-three and one-half seconds later I was back and saw that Gina had made herself comfortable in the back seat. I heard her say to John in her Tweetie Pie voice, “She’ll open your door as soon as she gets back.” John, who had been ineffectually tugging at the handle of the front passenger door, looked at me over the roof of the car.

Hadn’t I already opened all the doors? Oh, well, I thought, then beamed a friendly smile at him. I ambled, which is like strolling only more roly-poly, to the driver’s side. I reached down and gave the handle a tug. Locked. I glanced through the car window and saw my purse and keys lying on the front seat.

“Gina, this door’s locked too. You’ll have to open the car from the inside,” I called.

“How do I do that,” she asked.

“On the driver’s door there are lots of buttons. Push the top one.”

She reached over the front seat and began poking the various buttons on the console. “They’re not working,” she said, a hint of agitation circling her voice.

“Don’t bother with the window buttons,” I explained calmly. ”Push the top button on the left side.”

“It’s not working!” she cried, her Tweetie voice going up to hummingbird level.

“Don’t panic, Gina!” shouted John, who was bobbing and weaving on the other side of the car and periodically tugging at his door.

“It’s getting hot in here!” Gina squealed. “I feel dizzy!”

“Gina, calm down and listen to me.” I thought my voice sounded very self-contained considering my teeth were clenched.

“Help!” cried Gina. “I can’t breathe!”

“Don’t panic!” shouted John. “You’re not going to die!”

I shot John a look that in some countries might be listed under Grievous Bodily Harm. I wondered if I could get away with a plea of self-defense when they found the bodies in the parking lot.

“Quick! Break a window!” Gina gasped, which is like breathing with your stomach.

“Gina,” I said as my hands twitched in choking motions, “do you see all the buttons on the door?”

“Call 911! I can’t breathe,” she said while draped over the seat back.

“Yes, you can. Now press the top button on the left side. It’s a toggle button and goes up and down. Press it up and down,” I said

“Ahhh,” she whimpered and stretched out a shaking finger.

Wiggle, wiggle, pop! I pulled that door handle like a parachute ripcord at 1,000 feet.

“Good going, Gina,” I said, grabbing the car keys in a sweaty hand and collapsing into the front seat.

John got in and as he buckled his seatbelt turned to Gina and said, “Boy, you sure get upset easy!”

Twenty minutes later we were all seated on metal folding chairs at the Baptist Church, the location of the area food bank. Now as fully recovered as she would ever be, Gina chattered about her dietary requirements and how she hoped they would give her lots of vegetables as she was a vegetarian.

“I eat a lot of celery,” she said. “It’s real good for your nerves.”

“Maybe you should carry a few stocks in your purse in case of emergencies,” I offered with some asperity which is like vinegar but more bitter.

While we were waiting, Gina regaled us with the highlights from her recent colonoscopy ending with the statement, “John had one too only his polyps were bigger,” to which John responded, “Thanks a lot for sharing  my personal information,” and turned his back on both of us.

I was circling the edges of hysteria when my number was called – which is better than your number being up. An hour later with the adventure over and the time for reflection at hand, I felt grateful, not only for the generosity of the food bank but for the delightful people I continue to  meet on this journey.

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