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A Tale of Two Men

February 2, 2012

Archetypical keys

His name is Emilio.  He comes from a long line of male family members who make keys, and own or work in their own hardware store/cobbler shop.  He didn’t paint the magnificent lion that roars proudly from above the outside door, but his uncle did.

I stepped into Emilio’s shop to get two keys made; I had locked myself out of my house again yesterday, and it took several mortifying calls to roommates to find one to let me in.  I decided that if in addition to my key-chain, I put a key in my wallet and gave another to my boyfriend, that even I, of the scatterbrained memory, should probably be able to get into my home on a semi-regular basis.  A bell tinkled as I entered the slightly dark and cramped interior of the store.

Emilio smiled and asked what he could do for me.  I explained my plight and he laughed and assured me that he could make my keys.  He wiped his hands on a rag.  His fingers still had some shoe varnish in the cracks between the skin and nail.  He deftly made my keys as we chatted, and he told me that even with the economic downturn he was doing pretty well.  The total for the keys came to 4 dollars flat.

I looked into my wallet and saw I had only a few dimes.  I offered him my MasterCard, but he said he didn’t accept plastic.  Embarrassed, I told him I lived around the corner and had cash at home.  He could keep my new keys as collateral while I went to get the money.  He shook his head.

“Nah, keep ‘em.  I trust you.”

He trusted me.  He didn’t know me; I could be a petty criminal or unscrupulous college student or just flat broke.  But he trusted me to do what’s right.  Now, I know his risk was small: he could probably afford a $4 loss of revenue.  But in a city, a stranger trusting you, no matter on how small a matter, is a kind of grace.  And it sweetens the whole day.

So I raced home, to demonstrate that I wouldn’t betray his faith that I would return.  His key worked beautifully in the lock.  I swept up a twenty and strode back, my coat flapping.  I entered the store, slightly out of breath.   The bell tinkled once again.

“Thanks,” I said, “For treating me like a human being, and assuming I’d be decent enough to come back and pay you.”

He seemed momentarily confused by my appreciation.  Finally, he said, “Thank you for choosing my shop for your key making needs.”

And that was that.

But why, you might be thinking, did I call this a tale of two men when only one has yet featured?

Right as I left the store and started on my way back home, I saw another man.  His back was to me, and he furtively turned his head to right and to the left, as if to see if anyone was watching him.  He stood before a metal fence that enclosed a front garden.  His hands were low and front of him.  What on earth was he doing?

Ah.  He was peeing.

It was something about the juxtaposition of the two experiences that just made me grin and stifle a snort.  The best and the worst of city living, the intellectual reaffirmation of that trust can exist between strangers with the more rudimentary affirmation that sometimes a man’s just gotta go.  The man zipped up and tried to look casual as he staggered away.  To his credit, he only fell over once.

It was the best moment of the day, it was the worst moment of the day….

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