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Everyday Is Payday

August 28, 2015

A long time ago, I heard the words but being young, perhaps I did not understand them. I hear them still but now I am able to smile.

Sixty years ago, the man at the Safeway market was standing in line to checkout his groceries. When his items were tallied, he presented the cashier with a personal check as he had done for many years. The cashier looked blankly at the piece of paper and rudely tossed it back at the man. “This is no good!” The man was puzzled and shyly asked, “Why not?” The young man behind the counter was well prepared to do verbal battle and said in the snidest of voices, “Because you wrote a check here once, and you did not have sufficient funds in the bank!” The man sat his groceries down and tried to explain that yes, on one occasion he did not have a full checking account due to loosing his job. However, the situation had passed, he had the money in his account, and he wished to purchase groceries for his family. However, the youngster insisted that he would not accept the check. This middle-aged man calmly put his groceries back into the empty cart, retrieved his check, and tipped his 1950’s hat with a smile. “I’m sorry” is all that he said and with the same smile and congeniality, he left the store. That man was my father.

Some weeks had passed after this embarrassing incident, when I finally found the courage to ask my father what had happened and why. He explained that he indeed had been embarrassed in the market. I then asked, “But why weren’t you angry with the boy in the store?” My father replied that, yes indeed, he had been angry but moreover embarrassed, and that in the end it does not cost anything to be nice. I found this explanation odd and I did not accept it at the time. However, I remembered this incident all of my life.

As the years moved on, I watched my father more closely for the ways in which he interacted with other people. He most always maintained the simple dignity of being pleasant, even when things seemed very much not to be going his way. There is a blur of half-recalled days when I can remember my father being pleasant to people who were not. These days were on the city streets of Los Angeles and along the mountain streams of the Sierra Mountains. I began to write-off this behavior to the fact that my father grew up in Europe. Hence, he must have been European to a fault, kind of old worldly like some character out of an old Sherlock Holmes film. I just didn’t see that kind of attitude paying off and so I did not adopt it as my own.

Like many of my time, I spent much of my youth angry at many things. After engaging in one endeavor or another without success, I always seemed to have found that I was being too nice. I would say with exasperation, “It just doesn’t pay to be nice anymore!” The world had become too rough. This became my mantra for much of my youth, for poised as I was to “be nice,” it always seemed to me in the end not to pay. And, so I tried for a while not to be too nice; I reserved a bit of myself to be taken out of the public array and tried to be more forceful. I would bargain hard in business and when I was confronted by adversity, I would strike out, never tipping my hat in defeat. Life had taught me the mother of cliché lessons: nice guys finish last. Certainly, I did not intend to finish any race at the end.

My mother was a great fan of old movies. She had the uncanny talent for not only recognizing most of the character actors and bit players from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, but she almost always found some little quote in every film to call her own. One such favorite film was Harvey with James Stewart. There is a part in the film where Stewart’s character, Elwood P. Dowd, is being confronted about reality while speaking with the director of  a psychiatric hospital to which his sister has tried to commit him. He has been told about the virtues of being smart and successful by his sister. While speaking to Dr. Chumley, he says pensively, “My mother used to say to me…. In this world Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. For years I was smart… I recommend pleasant. You may quote me!” My mother adopted this little bit of philosophy from a man whose best friend was a six foot (actually 6 foot, three and one-half inches) high rabbit pooka and she tried to pass it on to her children. She repeated this scene often with her three children, hoping that some of the moral would stick.

They say that having your own children makes you sane and makes you finally understand what it was that your parents were trying to say. Perhaps this is true or perhaps it is only the reflection of lessons learned. I began to realize that I did not have the power to change the world. I began to accept fate as a partner of sorts. My world slowed a bit and I began to experiment with some old ideas. The very first time, I actually tried being pleasant for a joke of sorts, I was dealing with a world-class jerk in the business world of oil and gas. As I listened to this demon drone on and on, I thought to myself, “Why not kill this guy with kindness like out of some old Beatles tune?” I poured on an extra dose of honey to soften the sarcasm. It actually worked and over time our working relationship actually became quite good. This initial experiment turned more and more into habit and after some years a way of doing things, as we say. It also became genuine over the years.

Time shapes all things and a man is no exception. Perhaps I have learned to see a bit of that big white rabbit peaking over James Stewart’s right shoulder myself. Perhaps I still hear my father’s voice. Nice guys don’t always finish last. I have learned too to believe that it costs nothing to be pleasant, that no loose change is lost in the transaction and that in the end indeed, with a smile, everyday is payday.

Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at Amazon.com

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2 Comments
  1. Helmuth permalink

    Nice, Allen…I enjoyed reading it. I too will try to kill with kindness….sometimes…LOL

    Like

  2. Feed the deer, kill the deer, give your friends the deer….

    Like

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