A Great American Moment

I knew it wasn’t going to be a good day. I felt it in my bones. It was the day my wife was preceding me up north for a family celebration. In our house, the day we leave for anywhere turns into a “balagan,” which is Hebrew for Chinese Fire Drill.  This entails, for instance, looking for this, put that back in the closet, compiling lists of to-dos for my 97-year-old mother-in-law. And the inevitable “oooops.” That means there’s at least something we forgot to do that is going to take me beyond the four walls.

Would I go to the deli and get mom her sandwich (tuna cut in quarters, hold the lettuce, tomato, and onion on the side and two little potato salads only one of which “comes with” as we Brooklynites say? Oh yes, and her 10 days worth of medications. Take them too.  And then go to the money machine and make a deposit.

The deli was a madhouse. I had overslept, hoping to get there before 9:30. Ten thirty was my arrival time to find myself the last person on a line that stretched out the door. Grumble, grumble. While I waited I played eye-games with the three-year-old happily hanging from her daddy’s neck but I had to stay sharp. My last trip ended in my delivering a sandwich cut in half, not quarters in spite of my strict instructions. Assuring the counterman that I knew the extra potato salad “cost” (another homey expression), I gathered my goodies and headed to the bank. Now I was running late, it was hot, and I had spoilable goods in the car. I decided to bring the food and medication to her first. Then I went to the bank.

Tick tock, the clock in the car was telling me it was almost departure time. I hopped from the car, ran to the machine, slipped in my card and deposited the check. Muscle memory is a funny thing. If you are withdrawing money there is a process that goes with it. Money, receipt, card come out in that order. The point is you have to move your hand three times to take things out of the machine’s mouth. Ahhhhhh but when you deposit a check, there’s nothing that tells you your card is yet to be returned. I grabbed the receipt and took off. Now we get to where it gets great.

There’s only one exit to that strip mall, so I had to drive the length of a city block to get to it. Looking to my left, I see someone who surely is Ethiopian, a 20’s young man, racing on his bike. I stop the car and wave him by but he comes to a screeching halt. “Hey man, there’s a black guy back at the bank yelling for you.” At that moment a picture formed in my mind. Following me to the machine was a young, clean-cut also 20’s African American. I realized why he was calling me. I’d left my card in the machine.

Of course, the turn I had to make was allowable only in the direction I didn’t want to go. He would think whatever thoughts that concluded with I wasn’t coming back. The traffic coming at me was intense. It took a few minutes for me to wheel my car around. I floored it up the block, hung a “U-ee” got back to the entrance and now floored it back up the same block but now within the confines of the strip mall. He was still there. I bolted from the car and ran up to him from the side so I wouldn’t scare him to death. I was a huffing, puffing mass of anxiety. I asked about my card. “When I saw you leave the mall area I went and rapped on the door and gave it to the cleaning people. The bank was closed it being Saturday. Next great thing.

I was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. My eyes must have been as wide as saucers from pumping adrenaline. In a word, I wouldn’t have let me in a bank. However, the cleaning man, responding to my rapping on the door so hard it hurt my knuckles, opened it, retrieved the card, and gave it to me. Whew!

The young man was still there. I thanked him profusely. I said, “Boy would that have been a pain in the ass!” He said, “Believe me, I know.” We shook hands and parted.

As I headed home I realized two people had been let into a closed bank. Neither was asked for ID. I got my card just by saying, “Someone just turned in my bank card.” I was not asked for an  ID and I stood in the lobby for the minute or two it took to get my card. No security anywhere. The theme of a neat bank robbery movie zoomed through my head.

Having worked 8 years at the Sheriff’s Office, it was seconds before I had a letter composed to the bank about security. But then I realized I’d be getting the cleaning crew in trouble for doing a good deed. I had my card due to the kindness of three total strangers. Two of the three were immigrants. America was having a great moment.

Security was the bank’s problem–at least from my perspective.


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