Keep the Change

In New York, one is blessed with good bagels. The best I have found are Kossar’s Bialys on the Lower East Side and Times Square Bagel. There must be dozens of others in the five boroughs, but these are the ones I have made a part of my life.

I found them on accident, between the subway and the office. But you can easily tell which ones are the good ones. The interiors are not clean. Poppy seeds and sesame seeds are scattered across the floor, as if to draw an army of birds. Large salt crystals and flour and flakes of dried garlic and onion. There are no fancy light fixtures or display cases. These places concentrate on the baked goods,not the presentation.

On the way in to work, I stopped at a cafe across the street from my building for a bagel and a banana.

One bland bagel with entirely the wrong texture, plus one banana, which took more energy and expense to transport to New York from the tropics than I can possibly justify with any nutritional benefit, came to a total of $2.50.

He readied his two quarters as I handed over three dollar bills

He dropped the coins into my hand, and before I could walk away, he slipped a bill out of the three I had given him.

He had slightly raised his chin and looked at me down the length of his nose. It was regal or perhaps arrogant. It could even be taken for suspiciousness. Maybe I had given him too much and it was gentle mocking to be more careful with my money.

I reached out and cautiously took it.

Maybe he was mistaken and only thought I had handed him $4 or that the total was really $1.50.

Yes, maybe I was going to end up on top here. Get more than I deserved. Take advantage of someone else’s mistake. I always feel tested in these moments. It was only a dollar. No great loss to him. But what did I think I was getting away with? How petty.

I lingered a bit in this moment, and I decided to say something.

“I gave you three dollars,” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

I raised an eyebrow and cocked my head slightly.

In that moment I realized what that curious look on his face had meant. He was not making an error, nor had I given him too much. His grand expression was one of serene endowment. I am giving this to you, he seemed to say.

“Buy Lotto,” he said. “350 million.”

I’m accustomed to bartenders buying me the odd drink. But I’m not a regular at this cafe. Why would he give me a buck?

Maybe he knows how crappy his bagels are.

Why would he give me a buck? Why not?


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the untallied hours

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