I was at the bank yesterday, and Juan, who has remembered my name from the day I met him (although it took him two days of reminding that he must call me “Frank” and not “Mr. Moraes”) asked me, “Do you have any plans for Easter?”
“Is it this Sunday?” I asked like the stupidest man alive given that the bank was overflowing with jelly beans and colored eggs. He gave me the kind smile of a gentle soul who is used to dealing with complete idiots.
Later the same day, I was back at the bank and Juan was gone, but another teller was there and the moment I entered, he called out to me, “Hi Frank!” It speaks ill of me that I don’t remember the name of this teller—especially after this “Norm” moment. I have an interesting relationship with him, because when he first started working at the bank, he didn’t seem to like me, and there is nothing I dislike more than people who dislike me. In retrospect, I think it was just that he was new and insecure and probably thought that being too friendly would get him in trouble. Now I find him one of the most pleasant young people I know.
There are two female tellers who I have similarly good relationships with. Again, I don’t remember their names because I’m a bad person. Also, there is an assistant manager sort of person who I got on wonderfully with, but who has left. Just yesterday, I met her replacement and she seems very nice. And then there is the bank manager himself, who doesn’t seem to know me, but who is nice enough to answer questions that have nothing to do with his job, like, “What ever happened to the $500 and $1000 bills? Why don’t they have them any more?”
This is all a very sad story: nowhere on earth am I made to feel more welcome than at my local US Bank branch. Of course, this does not mean I am most at ease there. I am most in my element at the Northwest Branch of the Sonoma County Library. If I died, I would want my ashes spread there. But only Susan (yes, I learned her name) at my local branch gives me the Norm treatment, by saying, “Hello Frank”—like a good public intellectual, however, she isn’t alluding to Cheers, but Educating Rita. (The allusion may be more fitting than she realizes!) And I will point out that as much as I like the other librarians, it is because of Susan that I give roughly $50 per year to Friends of the Library. (Actually, $1000 per year would be much closer to what I get from the library, but I figure I am doing okay and if my finances ever get more stable, I will give more.)
So the two places I have a true sense of community is at my bank and my library (and with my family, but that is something entirely different). It does seem sad, and yet, I know my bank tellers and librarians don’t have to be as sociable as they are with me. They seem to be genuinely interested in me and the other people they serve. It is as though we are all looking for our own Ballykissangel: a place where we have a place, and a place where we are (for good or bad) individuals. And though we will probably never find a Ballykissangel in the real world, we create it in a virtual sense with a smile, a wave, and the occasional, “Hello Frank!”