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Good Samaritan: Clean It Forward 

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I RARELY WASH MY CAR. MAYBE ONCE A YEAR. AND IN A CITY LIKE LOS ANGELES, where you are what you drive, this makes me a pariah. A pariah of little consequence, but a pariah nonetheless. At stoplights, homeless men with spray bottles pretend not to notice my filthy Honda Civic, knowing that even a $50 tip won't compensate for the amount of intensive labor needed to clean my windshield off.

I consider it a mark of good character. I won't give in to an image-based culture. I am above this adult version of materialistic peer pressure. Also, I am lazy. And car cleaning gets pricey anywhere west of Vermont, with a do-it-yourself hose-down costing upward of $6.

But last weekend, I went to a dinner party at the house of a friend. I parked my Civic on a street off Fairfax, confident that even if somebody wanted to steal my car, it was so dirty they would rethink their plan and hit the nearby Daewoo instead. (I had parallel parked under a bird-dwelling palm tree that afternoon. My hood boasted no less than eight missile-drop zones.)

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Halfway through dinner, I heard my car alarm go off. Like a negligent mom who turns down the volume on the baby monitor to get an extra hour's sleep, I ignored it. My car alarm is always going off.

"It's probably just a garbage truck driving by," I explained to the other dinner guests, despite the fact that it was 10 p.m. on a Sunday. "It always does this."

Someone else chimed in, "Besides, Liz, your car's way too dirty to steal." The table nodded in agreement, and another bottle of $4.99 Ralphs Club Special wine was opened. Later, as I started to drive home, I spotted a note tucked underneath my windshield wiper. "Oh, great," I thought, "someone hit my car." I pulled over to the side of the road to survey the damage. But I saw no damage. As I scanned the side of my car, everything seemed fine.

And that's when I realized it. Somebody had cleaned my car.

They -- some anonymous stranger -- had actually cleaned it. From bow to stern, so to speak, the decks had been swabbed, wheels included. It was shiny. It gleamed. Be it with soap, water or spit, my Civic had been immaculately washed.

I reached over, opened up the folded note, carefully printed on a ripped sheet of yellow legal-pad paper. With suspiciously haiku undertones, it read:

"The car wash is a gift to an angel.(Whoever you are.)Birds dropping bombs.That eats throughthe paint.It takes prob. 4 days before you can see it,but it does slowly happen.A friend."

I looked around, but the mysterious car washer was gone. I felt humbled. My social righteousness had been unmasked as nothing more than mere irresponsibility about maintaining one's personal items.

So now, a few days later, I'm unsure what to do. Do I track down this Robin Hoodian car custodian to pay him or her back for the work? Or am I now sucked into the vortex of an irreversible pyramid scheme of do-gooding myself, à la the film Pay It Forward? Should I go find another dirty car parked in the 90035 ZIP code and clean it, just in case? Or, should I perhaps craftily continue my careful bread-crumb trail, slowly, eventually luring this considerate person into mowing my lawn and re-grouting my tub?

Faced with the shocking and unexpected prospect of receiving a Good Samaritan deed in Los Angeles, a girl is stumped.

--Elizabeth Hackett

Lost Treasures: What Judy Toll Left Behind

AT MOOMBA RECENTLY, A BAR FULL of people sat laughing at a TV pilot called Me and My Needs, which will never be made into a sitcom. This is because the woman who created the pilot is dead. Judy Toll was a writer for Sex and the City, and she continued to write for the show up until she died, four months ago, of cancer. Her pilot, like most good sitcoms, sounds like nothing special when described: It's about a woman named Judy Toll who's a television producer and whose life is a series of small disasters that she charms and wheedles her way out of.

The show is funny; you want to know what's going to happen to this person.

Before she broke into television, Toll did standup. You can hear her on a comedy CD put out by Uncabaret. She talks about her experience with what she called "The Church of Something-ology." She joined at a particularly low point in her career and really threw herself into it, wanting to be, as she put it, "the best Something-ologist." A year later and $34,000 poorer, she defected from the church and immediately turned the whole thing into a series of standup routines. She fearlessly laid out the whole experience, with all her desperation and judgment lapses intact.

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