The rate of exchange didn’t fluctuate much for people like your resident doorman who doubles as a columnist.
The few quarters I carry in my pocket remain there, even after an exchange of pleasantries and cash as my entry fee to local businesses.
We’re referring to two things here: My habit of asking for a quarter tip when I hold the door open for someone; and the ceaseless greetings by some mendicants who ask for “spare change” of customers when they enter — and leave — restaurants.
Last week’s column covered some of the interesting people one meets by the mere act of holding the door open for them. As you may recall, I reported on a tense confrontation in Santa Fe, when I asked for a quarter and got a not-too-subtle refusal.
Apparently a number of people remembered that column; one can always tell when readers tell me about their own similar experiences. As the resident door-holder-open, I was surprised by the question posed by two former schoolmates, Dolly Martinez and her exercise companion Henrietta Duran. They arrived at the city Recreation Center as I was leaving. One of them asked, “Are you going to open the door for us?”
I rushed up to accommodate them before I snapped that the center has a pair of huge motion-detecting glass doors. Well that kind of operation, which also exists in places like Walgreens and Walmart, might just put me out of business.
And I should have made it clear that the tips I receive for extending this simple courtesy don’t necessarily turn me into a payday loan operation. Two Camp Luna neighbors, Ron and Monica Maestas, stopped their pickup to ask if I could lend them a quarter. Sorry, but I try to make the quarters flow only one way.
The word in the barrio of my youth would have been pronounced “tie-teh,” to describe someone who’s — well — “tight.” But yet, I think I was “un tie-teh” when I willingly parted with the six singles — dollars, not quarters — after meeting a pair of men who stood watch over the sliding doors at Lowe’s on Mills.
Apparently I’d driven up too close to a shopping cart that Guard No. 1 conscientiously pushed aside to prevent damage to my car. That act led to a conversation that brought back many childhood memories.
The first question on first meeting someone is, “Where you from?” The next question is, “Do you know _____ ____?” When I discovered my new acquaintance and his 51-year-old buddy both came from the same block of my youth, the 900 block of Railroad Avenue, it seemed like old home week.
I first rattled off the surnames of people on my side of that street, the east side: Maestas, Trujillo, Baca, Vigil, Gallegos-Higgins, Martinez, Lopez and Martinez again. And on the west side: Peña, Kemm, Greenway-Sisneros, Bustos, Herrera, Gonzales, Duran, Anaya.
My new acquaintances must have thought I made up the names; they came up with their own list, few of which I recognized. They mentioned the Tranquilino Vigil family, and the sons, Junior, David, Phil and Raymond, neighbors I remember. But let’s face it: after the passage of almost 50 years, things change, people move, and die.
Yet, in addition to the reminiscing that afternoon, I believe the reason for the interview was for a handout, which they received.
I drove by my childhood haunt after bidding my amigos goodbye. Actually, the departure included the words, “orale, ese bro,” not “Bye.” With that signing off, I was ready to scout the Tough Street neighborhood.
In past columns I’ve bragged about having been inside every house along that seven-block area, from about Douglas to Mills. I knew most of the neighbors, as a friend or as an Optic carrier, who’d visit each Saturday to collect my 30 cents.
We played outside all day. Unlike this past Saturday’s trek to my old neighborhood, in which I saw absolutely nobody on foot, Railroad of the ‘50s teemed with humanity. I can recall the days in early spring, when dress-wearing girls jumped rope and bike-riding boys often got that same jump rope tangled in our sprockets as they/we accidentally rode through the circle of girls during the red-hot-pepper phase of their activity.
Every kid I knew had pants that bulged; no boy ever carried his marbles in a bag or a sack; no sir, we filled our pockets with the marbles, ready for any challenge. Did you ever try to walk with the big steelie taking up prime real estate in a pocket?
We all carried something that seemed the size of a bowling ball — some called it a steelie — which we used to knock the smaller marbles out of the circle. Kids on my block took marbles seriously. Now, I wonder if one can even buy a sack of such marbles. Today, when a kid pulls something out of a pocket, it’s likely a cell phone.
• • •
Judging by how easily I part with my spare change, few people would ever imagine I would hope to build my retirement cottage with pocket change. So lest there be any misunderstanding, I’ll continue to hold open doors for people, compensated or not, and even when some people are grumpy.
On that subject, Jim Terr, who said he’s been dwelling for years on the subject of small kindnesses, attached the following bit of verse from Princeton-educated Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddist monk:
“If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”