Sometimes, going out on my “Thursday Walk” I am unaccompanied by my wallet. I have reservations about such reckless behavior. What if I fall down unconscious on the street and nobody knows who I am so whoever finds me calls the police and I disappear into the “System” never to resurface and my family, after an appropriate grieving period, goes on, as we all inevitably must, with their everyday lives?
It could happen. Still, sometimes you are just drawn to living on the edge. So I do it.
I leave home as an “Unidentified Personage.”
I have a good reason for not taking along my wallet. Its encumbering heaviness weighs down my exercise pants, their precarious descent giving me the incongruous look of a geriatric gang member. A gang member wearing lululemon exercise pants.
Yesterday morning, I pocket my keys – which I require to get back into the house but there are just three of them so they are not inordinately heavy. I also extract from my abandoned wallet a ten-dollar bill and a “single”, the “ten” to cover the price of the coffee, the “one” conveniently available for the tip.
Then, cash and keys but no wallet, I venture anonymously into the world.
Reaching my habitual “Thursday Walk” destination, Groundwork coffee emporium, I step up to the counter, ordering my standard “Venice Blend Pour-Over.” The coffisto rings me up, announcing, “That’ll be four dollars.” I remind him of the “Neighborhood Discount” lowering the conventional four-dollar “pour-over” charge to three-sixty. He tells me they’re not doing that anymore. To which I cleverly retort, “Then I guess I’ll move.” The coffisto appears quizzically confused, so I explain, “I only stayed here for the discount.” The coffisto cracks the lowest category of measurable smiles.
I reach into my pocket, handing him the “ten” to pay for the coffee, and slipping the “one” into a miniature fire-bucket “Tip Pail.” By then, the coffisto is ready with my change, handing me back “a ten”, a “five” and a “one.”
Immediately – and I mean immediately, no shillyshallying around – named after Augustus Shillyshally who took his sweet time about everything – I say to the coffisto, “Did I give you a ‘ten’ or a ‘twenty’?” To which the coffisto replies, “A ‘twenty’, I think.” “Why don’t you check”, I suggest, which he does, immediately discovering that he had mistakenly given me change for a “twenty” when I had in fact only given him a “ten.”
Retaining the “five” and the “one”, I promptly return the unearned “ten”, the coffisto collecting it with a subvocal “Thanks.”
But I am not quite done.
“That was a better deal than the ‘Neighborhood Discount’”, I facetiously remark.
But the coffisto has “moved on”, probably embarrassed that he had messed up about the change. Either that, or he considered me an idiot. I prefer the original explanation. You can easily understand why.
Well, that’s the story, which I tell at the risk of shamelessly blowing my own self-congratulatory horn, but kept deliberately short as a classy gesture of humility.
And so I could knock off a little early.
The Groundwork experience makes a connection in my head:
Back in 1977, I won The Humanitas Prize for writing an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which, the judges apparently determined, deserved acknowledgment for most successfully affirming the prize’s proclaimed mandate to, according to The Humanitas Prize “Home Page”,
“… celebrate television, programs, which affirm the human dignif life, enlightening the use of human freedom and reveal to each person our common humanity.”
It seemed weird to me to win a prize for writing about “our common humanity.” What else are we supposed to write about? Still, in contrast to my recent Groundwork experience, I accepted the prize money, possibly because it was ten thousand dollars instead of just ten, and also because it was not accorded to me by mistake. Although, judging by fellow nominee Alan Alda’s red-faced reaction, he definitely thought it had been.
The thing is…
It should be normal to do the right thing.
So why did I feel like I had done something special? Special enough, in fact, to be worth writing about?
Maybe it was because, more typically in these cases, you hand over a “twenty” and receive change from a “ten”, making this an unconventional “Man bites dog” situation, but with money instead of “Man Rabies.”
Or maybe I was genuinely surprised by my upstanding behavior. Wait, hold on there. That would mean…
Let me ask you something.
Could someone actually be a terrible person and not know it?