Sunday, August 17, 2014

Today's Treasure: Some Ethical Dilemmas

"I'm just saying that if it is performance art he wouldn't want us to disturb him."
"I'm just saying that if it is performance art he wouldn't want us to disturb him."
Right between the Weenie Beenie and the river is a day-laborer pick-up site where a bunch of our Central American friends--predominantly El Salvadoran--gather in hopes of being picked up for some very temporary day labor (hence the name).
During the warmer months, some of the guys set up camp along sections of the river where nobody--except Lucy and I--ever goes. They're pretty cool guys and none of us yelps anymore when we accidentally stumble upon each other ... until this morning, when we came upon a body.
Now, we've seen stone-still bodies along the river before, but they were always in one of those well-worn camps which meant that our would-be corpse was just some guy sleeping it off. But today's body was in the middle of some thick and nasty thicket, thicket that's filled with thorns and vines and snakes and poison ivy and, today at least, dead bodies.
We had just started our walk so I was reluctant to see if the guy was really dead because if he was, we'd have to call the cops and we'd miss our morning river walk. And if he wasn't we'd have to engage in an awkward conversation consisting of several different configurations of the same few Spanish words I know, and I just wasn't in the mood. So I told Lucy that if he was still there when we were heading back home, I'd check him out.
Now before you get all high and mighty about how I should have checked right away (Ethical Dilemma #1), I need to point out that I've seen dead bodies before and this particular body, even at 20 yards away, didn't seem to have that unique dead stillness to it. And I couldn't see any blood on him so it was very likely that he had just staggered into the thicket and passed out.
Further, it's is extremely dangerous to wake up anything--people or animals--in the wild. Back in 1983, my friend Mark Burger and I snuck up on an enormous sea lion sleeping on the beach just north of Big Sur, CA. Unfortunately, we had made the terrible mistake of approaching it from the shoreline. When it woke up--startled--it roared (yes, it freaking roared!), lifted most of its 2,000-pound self high in the air, and started undulating toward us with alarming speed. I was literally too frightened to move.
Mark wasn't. He shoved me out of my stupor as he bolted by me. I jumped in the air and started running as fast as my adrenaline-fired legs would carry me. But, as physics would have it, my legs were pumping so fast that I couldn't get traction in the sand. I looked like Wile E. Coyote trying to outrun a falling anvil.
With that experience forever seared into my brain, I calculated that it was in everyone's best interest that I give our new friend a little more time to offer proof of life.
Well, he was still there an hour later. So I told Lucy that we should head home for some coffee and breakfast because if he was actually dead, he'd still be there when we got back and if he wasn't then he surely would have woken up and wobbled over to the day-laborer pick-up site by then.
When we got home, I realized that I should have at least taken a picture of him for my Today's Treasure collection. But that seemed a bit ghoulish (Ethical Dilemma #2), so instead I "decided" that the right thing for me to do was check on the guy, and if I happened to get a photo, so be it.
He was still there.
And I took his photo.
And once I did, I realized that I now had a moral obligation to check on him ... which meant I would have to wander into that nasty thicket like Hans Solo in that trash compactor scene only without the boots (Ethical Dilemma #3).
So I did.
As I walked down the embankment and into the thorns and snakes, I looked back and saw the vines closing up my escape route. And for a moment, I actually hoped he was dead because at least then I wouldn't necessarily have to make a mad dash out of there through those living, breathing vines.
I didn't want to alarm the guy as I approached, so the whole way in I kept saying, "Hey, amigo, you OK?" figuring that we shared at least three out of those four words. But he wasn't moving.
Finally, I got close enough to see the top of his face-down head move ever so slightly in a manner that could be construed as a nod. So I asked him again if he was OK, and once again I saw the nod-like response. I mean, I'm almost certain it was a nod (Ethical Dilemma #4).
Figuring my work here was done, I said, "Bueno," wished him a good day, and scooted out of there at a fast clip, but not so fast that it looked like I was running away from a murder scene, if in fact that's what it turns into (Ethical Dilemma #5).
I'll be heading out there shortly with a box of Pop Tarts and a bottle of Gatorade to make sure my new friend is feeling OK. And if he isn't, I'll let you know. But in the meantime, I'm curious. What would you have done?

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