Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Air Hockey Stanley Cup (and lessons in patience and kindness)

I just happened to stop at a Salvation Army Thrift Store on the way home from a surprise trip to court -- which is a story in and of itself -- and had to pass a large, old air hockey table to get into the store. $19.99 is what the "Must Sell!" tag said was the price. The table, similar to the picture but larger and on legs, was in pretty darn good shape.

Normally I don't buy big items like that at Salvation Army (or anywhere for that matter.) But one payment of $19.99 and that game could be mine? Sold! Well, sort of.

I did some browsing but on my way out, I walked right over to the air hockey table just as a lady in her 60's was approaching it from the parking lot. We both arrived at the table at the same time. A sign taped to it says "It works!" but she wanted proof. Knowing she was thinking of buying my table, I was ready to pull the ca$h out and load it in the van. The lady was really sweet, asking me questions about where to get a puck -- someone had stolen original pucks -- and would it be easy to find one. I was tempted to tell her, "Yeah, they're almost impossible to find. You'll probably have to get lucky and find a used pick on e-bay or craigslist." I knew that would poison the purchase for her. But the "better angels of my nature" convinced me I should be truthful and just pray she didn't want to bother with such a burdensome purchase. "I think you can get pucks for these at Target or sporting goods stores," I replied.

We both went to the counter, her wanting to have someone test the table, me hoping she would get distracted by some nice jewelry or a blouse. A kind volunteer gladly plugged in the table and I went out to take a closer look, thinking the lady would be right behind me. While I was feeling the air pulse through the holes and running my hand over the table top, she was in the store trying to purchase my air hockey table. I was bummed out but not angry.

I could have said, "Hey, lady, I was here first!" but that confrontation isn't in my nature. When I told the volunteers I was satisfied and ready to buy the table at that moment, they asked her what she was doing. "I just put that on my charge card. But, tell you what, since it's you (meaning me) that wants it, you can have it." She seemed genuinely happy to do that for me and I was genuinely happy to accept. It was my air hockey table after all. I thanked her several times and she went on her way in the store.

The cynic in me figured that she just didn't want to be bothered with finding parts and getting this thing home. It is a huge table and needs two men to carry or even lift it. I found that out the hard way. Some assembly and dis-assembly was necessary, plus I had to go to a few stores before I found a puck. This was a several hour project today for me, so I feel good having spared her the trouble. Joking aside, I am thankful for her kind gesture.

It's in the garage now. I put Pledge on the playing surface and felt on the bottom of the paddles. Game on! The kiddo and I played for nearly an hour tonight. She's new(er) to the game but eventually she'll be able to destroy me. A playoff for some kind of trophy, a mini Stanley Cup perhaps, would be perfectly fitting. Since Red Wing Chris Osgood lives about a mile away and we have four paddles, I'll see if "Ozzie" wants to be on my team and the kiddo can have one of her neighborhood friends on hers. I think that's fair.

$19.99 (plus tax, gas and the cost of a few pucks and some felt) was a pretty good price to pay to be reminded that there are selfless people out there like the lady at Salvo. Better yet, I get hours of enjoyment with my daughter, another activity during which we can talk, laugh, bond and make memories. I don't think I could have made a better use of that money than that.

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