There was a surprising amount of noise for an early morning. Most of it radiated from one makeshift circle. Around the circle were eight very animated old women and one very quiet old man. I’ll call the man "Old Joe."
Conversations built as every woman energetically had her say simultaneously. Old Joe was tethered to the well-put-together woman who was the ringleader.
How did Old Joe endure his predicament? Manfully. Joe resorted to neither eye rolls nor soulful sighs. One might understand his passivity as a tactic of denial. Not once did Joe make eye contact with any of the eight. This presumably spared Joe from joining the scrum.
Instead, he alternately studied the tabletop with forensic intensity or looked up at the ceiling, where his craftsman’s eye would no doubt notice various small stains from past leaks in the roof. Perhaps contemplating the origin of such leaks, and the problem of their repair, provided Joe a salutary out-of-body experience.
What evidence did I have that Old Joe had a craftsman’s eye? Joe followed a universal male signaling convention. On his gray head sat a ball cap with a simple message: “Hemi.”
With that one word, and with his rigid posture, it was obvious that Old Joe was silently broadcasting an SOS. Upon receiving that SOS, any decent fellow would immediately face a moral dilemma. Should he breach the circle, trying to rescue Old Joe while also avoiding a vortex of conversational fury that could suck the rescuer into the same emergency?
Looking around, I realized that I was the only potential savior. Though I ultimately lacked the guts to mount a rescue, I did formulate a plan of attack. My play would have been to sidle up to Old Joe and say, “Hey, buddy, you know anything about engines?”
But when I weighed the costs and benefits of intervening, I slunk away. Eight against one is bad, but eight against two is not much better.