I was on my way to an appointment downtown today when the Red Line went down — initially we were told a stuck train at Park, and we would be transferred to shuttle buses at Kendall; then there was another train stalled at Central, and we were told to get off at Harvard. By the time we got to Harvard, it was time for my appointment, so I called and was able to reschedule for tomorrow. Called my sweetheart to figure out when and where we were meeting for dinner. And there I was, in Harvard Square with two hours to kill.
An artifact of where I lived when I first moved here is that my bank is the Harvard Square branch of a small regional bank. The realities of the 21st Century banking mean I almost never actually go into my branch, but here I was, with a check in my wallet I'd been carrying around for a week or so, and less cash in my wallet than I like to carry. At the teller window, I remembered something I've been meaning to do for years.
When I was in the hospital after my stroke, I was trying to arrange to buy a car with an automatic transmission, since it was going to be many months, if ever, before I could safely use a clutch again. I found a good possibility online, had my friend Ken take it for a test drive and a mechanic's evaluation, and agreed on a price with the seller, all from my hospital bed. The catch was that the sellers wanted a cashier's check. I called my bank. No, you have to go into the branch in person to get a cashier's check. My checkbook was, of course, at home, and I had no idea where at home, so writing a friend a check and asking them to go to the bank, cash it, and buy a cashier's check was a... plan that had issues. I called my bank back and asked to speak to a bank officer. Ended up with my branch manager, Helen, who I had never met. Explained my situation on the phone without a lot of hope, and she, bless her, decided to bend the rules and issue the cashier's check out of my funds on hand. Without even the normal fee. It was a little kindness, a little insertion of humanity into business — the kind of thing you hope for when you do business with a small bank, but not really the kind of thing you expect. I've been meaning to stop in, introduce myself, an thank her ever since.
So I turned around, went to the back of the bank, and asked to see her. People apparently don't ask for the branch manager by name very often (or, more likely, people the receptionist in her fifties hasn't seen before don't do so much), but she went back and a few minutes later Helen stepped away from her desk to meet me. I explained my business reason for wanting to see her, we sat and talked for a few minutes. I felt good to finally say thank you; I hope she felt good to be thanked.
Now I'm sitting in the au bon pain, writing this, and watching George, a homeless man I was friends with, after a fashion, when I had cancer. The mental effects that had on me were weird; one of them was that it made me a lot less aware of social niceties. The outdoor seating area in front of ABP was my livingroom in those days, and it never occurred to me that there was anything inappropriate in being friends with a homeless man who also made it his livingroom. At least, not until one day I happened to be walking with a Harvard undergrad I knew when we ran into George. I introduced them, exchanged a few pleasantries, and moved on.
"Are you out of your mind? You just introduced me to a homeless guy. With my full name!" She was clearly horrified, and I totally failed to understand why.
Now my neurochemistry is no longer screwed up and I do have fairly normal social boundaries, and I'm sitting here watching George wander around the area — picking up trash and throwing it away, moving a broken piece of furniture — a trip hazard where it was — aside, and turning it over so the sharp bits are facing the ground. This man, whom I once, when I was unbalanced, thought of as a friend A force for order against entropy — as he always was.
Can any of us claim a higher calling? Yet here I am, averting my gaze when he glances my way, hoping he doesn't recognize me. And feeling like a heel about it.