Candy, Curmudgeons & Bank Tellers
A former co-worker, Mia, liked to tell me that our names were mirror images. A-my. Me-A. I should have been okay with that.
We both worked as drive-up tellers and had many regular customers. A sad woman whose little boy dangled himself out the car window while she tried to fill out a check. A veterinarian who tempted us with adoptable abandoned strays. The owner of the pipe and knife store in the mall whose deposit money smelled of cherry almond tobacco. And then there was Mr. Kline in his green Crown Victoria, with his bitter scowl. He told us the lanes where he had to manipulate canisters to get sucked up into the vacuum tube were too much trouble, so he always came to the first lane with the automatic drawer meant for large merchant transactions. When Mr. Kline arrived all the other tellers scattered. You never got a thank you from him, and he looked over all your work with great suspicion.
One day I told my fellow tellers that I bet I could make Mr. Kline laugh. They sniffed at me, but were eager to let me wait on him so they didn’t have to. They also thought it was an easy bet to win. We were goofy 20-somethings and he was a malcontent 60-something, it was like Sarah Silverman trying to get Lewis Black to laugh about kissing her dog’s butt.
I clicked on my microphone. “Hello, Mr. Kline.” “Mmm,” he’d say back. “How are you today?” I’d ask as I counted his money out. “Mmphh,” is about the best I got.
One day the sad lady came through and as her brat dangled out of the car I dropped two of our give-away lollipops in the drawer, hoping she’d take one. When she drove off Mr. Kline pulled in right behind her, and as I flipped the switch to send the drawer out again I saw the mom had removed only one sucker. When the drawer opened on Mr. Kline’s side of the wall and he saw it sitting in there, he held it up. “It’s for you,” I said into my microphone. The slightest inkling of a smile showed on his face. An almost smile.
The next day Mr. Kline came to make a withdrawal, and instead of just dropping a sucker in the drawer, I turned on the microphone and asked, “What flavor lollipop would you like today, Mr. Kline?” He hadn’t looked up or even acknowledged that there was someone on the other side of the window yet. “We have lemon, grape, strawberry and something blue that I don’t know what flavor it is.” He looked at me for a moment, perhaps not trusting me. Then he said, “Which do you recommend?” “Grape,” I said, “Grape is definitely our most popular.” He didn’t respond. I worked his transaction, then pushed the button to send out his receipt. “Have a great day,” I said. He reached into the drawer and saw that I had put in a lollipop of every flavor. “You have to let me know what you think of the blue one,” I said. He unwrapped it and stuck it in his mouth, and with a stiff laugh said, “Thank you, Mia.” Then he drove off. Mia! Mia had been assigned the merchant drawer that day, and when Mr. Kline saw her nameplate stuck to the window he naturally assumed that was my name.
My co-workers were busy rating the laugh. Did it really qualify as a laugh? No, it was more of a snort. “I heard that same sound when I told him his account balance once,” one teller said. “He probably can’t get much more of a laugh out,” said another co-worker. Mia backed me up and said, “It was a laugh. She made him smile and it had a sound with it. She accomplished the impossible. Accept it.” Our other co-workers nodded and relented. They would have to buy my vending machine lunch that day.
But I was still struggling with the fact that he’d called me Mia. Because of that, I wouldn’t get true credit for the laugh. (I’m known to be proprietary with my sense of humor.) Still, after my free lunch I quit thinking about it, figuring I’d given someone the teensiest bit of pleasure and should be satisfied with that. It wasn’t about me, anyway.
For weeks I continued to work Mr. Kline’s transactions when the other tellers scattered at the sight of his car, and I always gave him a sucker which he took though he never cracked another smile. Then one day, I had been assigned to work the inside bank lobby. On the floor counting rolls of pennies, I was not visible from the customer side of the teller line, when I heard “Is Mia in?” The head teller started to explain that Mia was in the drive-up, but I jumped up and said, “I’m right here, Mr. Kline!” After I’d completed his transaction, I said, “Sorry, lollipops are only available at the drive-up.” “That’s okay,” he said. “I’m on a diet.” He snort-laughed at his own joke. “The drive-up said you were inside, so I thought I’d just say hello.” At that moment, I didn’t care what he called me.
“I’ll be back to the drive-up next week. I’m just covering a vacation,” I told him.
“Good,” he said, with his familiar growl. “I don’t like having to get out of my car.”
You can take the man out of Curmudgeon, but you can’t take the curmudgeon out of the man.
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