It could have happened anywhere, but as fate would have it the anywhere was North Carolina, land of the Good Ole Boy and home of the homophobic, anti LGBTQ no-transgender-bathroom law. (Rescinded 03/30/17)
Roy was north of sixty, possibly a decade my senior, and inordinately proud of his half-century-old, fillet brazed, orange Schwinn Super Sport. So proud, that when I mentioned in passing that his bike was quite the classic, he effused about its Chicago lineage and Ohio made Ashtabula cranks.
I smiled, ready to move on, but Roy had a secret to share. “You know what I just picked up?” he asked, eyebrows reaching for his now long forgotten hairline.
“A two-thousand-eight Electra Pajama Party Blue Star cruiser! Found it at a garage sale. Fella had it for twelve dollars but I Jewed him down to nine. One a them suckers sold on e-Bay for eight hundred! Bet I can get me four, no problem.”
Stunned, I hesitated.
What to say?
That, “Hey! The nineteen-fifties called, and they want you back?” How about, “Yeah? You know my sister-in-law’s Jewish. You two should meet. She’s nice.” Or my favorite, “You know, Jesus’ mama was a Jew.”
I could have, but I didn’t. I just looked at good ole Roy, tilted my head to the side and replied. “Well good luck with selling it. Hope you get what you want,” and bid him “Shalom!”
Arriving at work, feeling sad and dirtied, I spoke to my young friend, Queso Dios. (Her mama named her Mackenzie. Queso Dios is my nickname for my diminutive, mid-twenties year old amiga.) I told her about Roy and his, vile, off-handed anti-antisemitism and casual slur and she turned her big brown puppy-dog ojos to me, and in a more in sadness than in anger voice told me that I should have said something.
She was right of course. I should have.
They say Karma is a bitch and they say God’s grace is infinite. Fortunately for me I received some of God’s infinite grace later that day as I was checking in a customer’s bike repair.
I am a talker. Truth be told, the main reason I work is to interact and meet people. Earning spending money’s nice, but I got me a Corporate Cupcake, Dynamite Dame of a wife who could keep us afloat if I decided to become a man of leisure. (Right. She’d just give me a never ending to-do-list, but that’s another story.)
I talk to customers because it’s good business, but I talk to customers because it makes me happy.
A man ten years my junior rolls his bike up and after I greet him with a, “How are ya? What brings you in today?” I hoist his velocipede into our repair stand for a quick diagnosis.
“I got an email about your tuneup special,” he replies. “Haven’t brought the bike in since it was new, and I thought I’d take advantage of the special.”
My eyebrows go up and I bite my lower right lip. “Oh. Well, that ended yesterday, but let’s just take a look and see what she needs.” New to Raleigh, I’ve only been on the job seven weeks, but I’ve been given the latitude to do what I feel makes sense, so I ask, “Last name?”
“Crownover. Just like it sounds.”
I type in Crownover and ask, “Bruce? Any relation to Chrystie?”
“She’s my ex,” Bruce replies.
“No, no. Don’t be. We get along great. We’d better, after twenty years and four kids together.”
“Ah,” says I, and tell him my stock line when people ask me if I’m related to Patricia Kenel, which is, “Ew! No! she’s my wife! what are you? Sick? That’s disgusting,” and Bruce gives me a little chuckle.
As I talk with Bruce I’m checking his bike for tire wear, chain wear, frayed cables and a host of other wear issues. I tell him he needs tires, a chain and cassette. I use my standard line of, “But that’s a good thing. Means you’ve been riding. No sense having a bike if you don’t ride it.”
Bruce concedes this point, acknowledges his love for his bike and I recommend some best practices to get longer wear out of his ride. My hands move and my eyes scan and my mouth only stops long enough to listen to Bruce’s answers. Answers to my questions about his bike but also answers to my questions about Bruce.
I ask him where he’s from, how long he’s been in Raleigh, how old his kids are. I do this a lot and if the person with whom I’m speaking has lived in or near one of the ten cities I’ve lived in I try to find common ground. Bruce lived in Northern Virginia for a while, I lived in Silver Spring, Maryland for about fifteen years. We compare notes and I ask, “Did you say you have four kids?”
“Yep. Four,” he says with a nod.
“I have two. Two boys.”
Bruce inhales, hesitates and nods.
“How old?” I ask.
“Oldest is twenty, then I have a seventeen-year-old, a fifteen-year-old and the youngest is eleven.”
“Nice. My younger turns 25 in May and my elder was 27 in December. And we have a grandson who turned one at Thanksgiving. Twenty-year old in school?” I ask, just making conversation.
Bruce hesitates, then answers. “No. She’s had some difficulties but she’s doing better now.”
“Yeah, I understand. My younger one was hitchhiking down to Tierra del Fuego a few years back. Kids. Gotta love ’em.”
“South America?! Wow,” Bruce responds. “My daughter is transitioning,” he answers.
I stop. I stop moving my hands, stop moving my mouth and look at Bruce. “Really? How’s that going for her?”
I stop, and Bruce starts. He tells me intimate details. About his daughter’s pain, about her seeing her grandfather for the first time after having breast augmentation, about how proud he was of his father’s acceptance of his granddaughter, about her having found a partner to love. He talks, and I listen.
Carefully, I respond. I tell Bruce about a young friend of mine who was my son’s Best Man. How his Best Man had been a girl when I met her and how for years I didn’t use personal pronouns when discussing this wonderful young man who had been a wonderful girl, always saying his name.
I say how sad it is that so many cannot love someone once they have transitioned. How disappointed in myself I was for needing two years to embrace the man who was every bit as lovable as the girl had been. I am careful to make clear that his journey as a father must be thousands of times more difficult than mine as an avuncular friend but that I have a clue.
“Yeah,” he says, “my biggest fear was that she’d never be able to find someone. That her circle of friends would shrink to nearly none. She lost a few, but she’s doing alright.”
I gave Bruce the tuneup at our discounted price. Not because of his daughter, not because of his story, but because it was the right thing to do. We shake hands and I tell him we’ll email when the repairs done. He nods, smiles, says, “Thanks,” and exits.
Sometimes Karma’s not a bitch.