Standing in line at the bank, the Teller asked if I had a good time in New Orleans. They know me at the bank.
I enjoy standing in line, chatting with Tellers, bringing them snacks, from time to time. Women Tellers prefer cinnamon coffee cake with chocolate. Men Tellers prefer straight-up cinnamon coffee cake.
Women Tellers are from Venus. Men Tellers are from Mars. If they were sharing a Space Shuttle to Outer Space, more than documenting their differences, I’d notice they both share an affinity for coffee cake.
I know these things. Why do I know these things?
Because I’m not in a make believe hurry. As much as I enjoy the straight line of handling my business, as much as I enjoy the straight line of getting shit done, I like meandering, too.
“New Orleans felt like home,” I said. “I could see myself living there. I get it: work hard, party hard, walk the streets, walk the streetcar tracks, beautiful parks, beautiful women, Gumbo with every meal, music on every corner. I’d live on Frenchman Street. I fell back in love with my life on Frenchman Street.”
The customer being helped at the window to my right overheard our conversation. He asked, “How are things since Katrina?”
“You know,” I said, “I was lucky enough to live in New York City for 9/11. I get same feeling about the people who were lucky enough to live in New Orleans for Katrina. It only reinforced how much they love the place they choose to call home.”
“I don’t know if I’d call them lucky,” he said. Then he stopped. Took a good look at me, my hat, my hoodie. “Where are you from? Who are you with? What’s your name?”
“Greg,” I said, “I’m with myself. But I’m from Max’s Deli.”
I knew who he was. I’d known the entire time we were schmoozing. I began documenting his face, passively observing the color, as it turned from chatty acquaintance to righteous indignation.
“I’ve never been back to your deli since.”
“And we don’t miss you.”
The teller handed me the receipts. She smiled, “Thanks Greg!”
I made a straight line for the door.
He was a regular. That is to say, he used to be a regular. Tea with egg whites, fruit, bacon and a fresh tea bag, in a To Go Cup.
The food was never good enough. The service was never fast enough. Every conversation started with criticism. I stopped talking to him months before he called, yelling.
“They charged me for the second tea bag,” he was yelling before I even picked up the phone. “Your brother told me I didn’t have to pay for the second tea bag. And the slow waitress took forever. She’s holding back your business. She’s a terrible server. She deserves to be fired.”
“Phyllis has been here longer than I’ve been alive,” I said. “And Phyllis didn’t take forever, since I make it a point to personally run your order. I know who you are.”
“Who am I?”
“Tea with egg whites, fruit, bacon and a fresh tea bag, in a To Go Cup.”
“Your brother told me I didn’t have to pay for the second tea bag. And Phyllis is a terrible server. She deserves to be fired.”
“In the worst economy since 1938?”
“I’m the customer. I’m the one who’s always right. What are you prepared to do to make me happy.”
“461 Waukegan Road,” I said.
“The address to Max & Benny’s. We can’t make you happy. We’ve never been able to make you happy. It’s official, with this phone call I’m making it official. In your case, we’re done trying. Have a nice life.”
I hung up.
When I walked into the bank, I didn’t see the Cinnamon-Chocolate Coffee Cake Teller, I didn’t see the drop-dead gorgeous 37-year old perfectly accessorized Fuck Toy in hot pink velour Juicy Couture Sweat pants tucked into beige Ugg Boots on an iPhone ignoring her children, I didn’t see giddy children high on sugar sorting through an endless assortment of Dum-Dum Lollipops. This is what I saw…