When my second husband and I divorced in the early ‘80s, our relationship was still very amicable. We’d grown apart through the years and through many work-related separations, but we still cared for one another as one cares for close family. When we divided our community property, we did so in the spirit of fairness and graciousness.
As part of that property settlement, I ended up with some cash in exchange for my half of the (small) equity in our house. It wasn’t a large amount of money, but my husband suggested that if I would put it into a certificate of deposit, it would grow faster than it would in a savings account. And so I followed his advice.
Several years later, I needed some of that money. It’s been so long since this happened that I don’t remember why I needed it, but my best guess would be that my car had broken down. Again. Off I went to the bank, on my lunch hour, to see what I could do.
The bank officer I met with was a woman I’ll call Rusty Soloman (not her real name). At that time I worked in personnel management, and Rusty must have had similar responsibilities at the bank, because she and I were on a couple of human resources committees together. She was then about the age I am now. She was short and stout, with grey hair twisted up in the back. Her lips seemed permanently pursed. The way she tilted her head to peer over her glasses made me feel as if I were under close inspection, like bacteria on a microscope slide. I felt uncomfortable in her presence at committee meetings and even more so at the bank.
That day we met in Rusty’s office. As it was lunchtime, she spread a paper napkin on her desk, pulled an orange out of her purse, and commenced to peel it. While I explained to her that I wanted to cash out the CD, she finished peeling the orange, pulled off a couple of wedges and stuffed them into her mouth. I remember thinking that the remainder of the orange looked like Pacman sitting there on that white napkin.
Rusty finished chewing and began to tell me all the reasons why I should leave the CD alone. She asked why I needed the money, and I told her, even though I thought it wasn’t really any of her business, since I wasn’t asking for a loan. She told me there’d be a penalty for taking the money out early, and I told her I knew that and was prepared to pay it. I don’t remember all the stuff she said that day, but I remember clearly how little I felt as I tried to convince that sour, old woman that I needed to use some of my money, and she tried to convince me I didn't.
I began explaining it to her again. And as I spoke with conviction on my own behalf, something happened that normally would have horrified me: A tiny drop of spit flew out of my mouth, arced gracefully through the sunbeams that were shining through the window, and landed, as if by intent or destiny, smack in the “mouth” of Rusty’s Pacman orange.
I stopped speaking and watched Rusty carefully. Her head was bent over the orange, her eyes focused on it as if in disbelief; then, slowly, she raised her head and glared at me.
I felt embarrassed. I felt like the worst kind of clod. I touched my hand to my mouth and mumbled some version of “sorry, excuse me.” Rusty mumbled something in return, pushed away from her desk, and walked out of the office.
While she was gone, I began to assess the situation. Not in a million years would I have done such an uncouth thing intentionally, but it did kind of sum up my feelings about the whole transaction up to that point. I realized that in spite of some minor embarrassment, I didn’t feel little anymore. I thought it was sort of amazing how one tiny, droplet of spit could shift the balance of power in a room. I thought and thought until I had to wipe the beginning of a smile off my face.
Rusty came back a few minutes later with the paperwork all filled out, and it took only a couple more minutes before the money I needed was in my checking account and the balance of the CD was in a savings account. We said polite but hasty good-byes.
I’m sure my skirt tail hadn’t cleared the doorway before Rusty’s orange hit the trashcan. I'm not proud of it, but I've secretly always hoped she had to ask to borrow money to buy herself a new lunch.