I'm kind of cynical. So I figured I'd been had.
The old man walked out with the antique lamp. And the clerk looked at me to pay for it. How did I end up in this mess?
I guess it started with stress.
Whenever I hear or anticipate bad news, or worry in general, or worry about worrying too much, I pacify myself via pretty things.
In other words, when the fit hits the shan, I go shopping. I figure it's healthier than boiling crack on tin foil, and only slightly worse than ordering a bowl of gummy bears at Ben and Jerry's, which is my other go-to.
I don't usually purchase anything, because that just leads to more bad news in the form of ramen noodles for dinner for the rest of the month. So I am a looker. A toucher. An admirer from a distance, with such convincing fervor that it's no wonder the older man assumed I was about the buy the lamp at the HospiceCare and Share Thrift Shop in Boulder.
Still, it was glorious: antique and brass, with intricate detailing and accents that reminded me of an old skeleton key. Suddenly, a white head was peeking around the other side of the lamp.
"Hmm, I could fix that," he mumbled, pointing at a piece near the bulb that I hadn't noticed was busted. Suddenly, I felt protective over the lamp that I wasn't going to buy; was he trying to buy it out of my hands? How did he know I didn't want it even though I didn't?
The clerk joined in the conversation, explaining that the lamp had been a set of two, and a well-known antique dealer had bought the other one because it was in better condition. This lamp would be very valuable, if it weren't a total fire hazard, she said.
Eek. Now I knew I wasn't going to buy it. My kid can injure herself on feathers and air.
Suddenly, the man had the lamp upside down and was unscrewing piece after piece, pointing at wires and fuses (maybe?) and spark plugs (maybe not?) and all of the magical components that make electricity go zap. It looked complicated. But now I couldn't just walk away. I was invested, because I was holding the screws.
Trying to draw the attention back to me, and the fact that technically I had dibs on the lamp, even though it was $21 and way out of my planned budget of $0, I small-talked: "Are you an electrician or something?"
"Use to be," he said, while plucking out some more wiry guts. And then, he called across the store to a woman, "Hey, honey, what time is your birthday dinner tonight?" It was at 6. And then to me, "Can you get it before 6?"
I cocked my head like a confused puppy listening to a hamster wheel.
"Here," he said, suddenly grabbing a pen off the counter. He wrote down his name, Bob, and an address. He handed me the paper and walked out the door.
"That'll be $21," the clerk announced, which was my first realization that I had just purchased a lamp. Possibly for a stranger.
As the day grew closer to 6 p.m., I kept eyeing that peculiar piece of paper and wondering what to do. Was he for real? Was it a scam? Was he a murderer, luring in girls in with antiques? Was he going to charge me $600 for the repairs? Because surely, no one would just do something nice for a stranger and expect nothing -- on his wife's birthday, nonetheless.
My curiosity defeated my skepticism, and I decided to scout out Bob's house. If the address was even real.
It was. They probably wouldn't be home.
They were. In fact, when Bob opened the door, he and his wife greeted me with such enthusiasm that I briefly wondered if they were actually my grandparents but I had just, um, forgotten?
Bob brought me to his garage, where he had completely replaced the head of the lamp, installed a three-level dimmer and even given me a fresh bulb. It looked brand new, and he assured me it was just as safe. I prepared for the catch.
"So how much do you want for the repairs?" I asked, while imagining ramen noodle salad and ramen noodle sandwiches for the next three weeks.
Bob laughed. Now it was his turn to look confused. The thought had never crossed his mind. He was the real deal. An honest to goodness pure and undiluted Nice Person.
Whoa. It was like being face to face with an endangered ivory-billed woodpecker.
Every night now when I get home from work, I flip on my beautiful brass key-pattern lamp -- my absolute favorite possession -- and it instantly diffuses any stress and worries. It fills my house with light and love, like the unsolicited light and love poured into it by a stranger. And it reminds me to keep spreading mine.
And that sometimes the most unexpected, and even unwanted, gifts can be the best.
Read more articles from the weirdest city in America, Boulder, Colorado, here: Only In Boulder.