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While navigating a street walled by snow and rutted with ice, I observed two young men with shovels attempting to free a car. This was back in the era of constantly digging out, which we easily recall as after two weeks of melt the slush piles still linger. As I drew nearer I recognized one of the individuals as a fellow of recent acquaintance. In the vernacular of another time, he had of late been calling on my daughter.

I have policies regarding such dudes: Welcome to our house. Respect earns respect. We are not pals. That said, the respect standard had thus far been met, so I pulled a U-turn and approached.

Current Dude — let’s go with that, shall we? — looked up and recognized me. To his credit he did not flinch, but smiled and shook my hand. “Gotta get your car off the street before they tow it?” I asked. The city had been enforcing snow emergency rules of late. “It’s not mine, it’s his,” said Current Dude, pointing to the other guy, now belting himself in behind the steering wheel. “I think we moved enough we can push him out,” said Current Dude, sticking his shovel in the snowbank. I went around behind the car with him.

The snow was cleared, but the car’s tires were sunk into the ice, and spun. Current Dude and I leaned into the trunk of the vehicle and began to rock it. Push, pause, push, pause, push … the key is in the timing. Push too soon, push too late, and you are fighting physics. We quickly got the rhythm, and were smooth in tandem. Vehicle-rocking is a genetic trait triggered by generational exposure to subzero temperatures and bald tires. It seemed a good sign this boy had it.

There is a point in the process when the sine wave of advance and retreat achieves an amplitude such that a single ounce of well-timed force will provide the momentum necessary to break the apex of the curve, and the car shoots free. We were almost there, so I adjusted my hand placement, increased the angle of my lean, drove hard with my legs, and shoved the heel of my hand right through one taillight. The car’s spinning wheels caught the asphalt, the vehicle shot forward, and the driver accelerated out of sight.

By the look on his face, Current Dude wasn’t quite sure what to say due to current respect parameters. Unfortunately, the look on mine betrayed that I was perfectly aware of what I’d done.

“Man,” I said, “when your friend gets back, tell him I’ll take care of it.”

“But I have no idea who he is,” said Current Dude.

This was a twist.

Turns out Current Dude lives across the street, just happened to see the other fellow struggling, grabbed his shovel and went over to help. “Well, if whoever it was comes back and says you broke his taillight, you know where to find me,” I said.

I figure that busted taillight drops my Good Samaritan rating to above “middling” but below “would recommend to a friend.” Current Dude is still not my pal, but having caught him doing a good deed for a stranger, I declare respect earned and given.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio”(tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.

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