Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Question

Today was an exercise morning. Since the weather was good, and I had a book to drop off at the public library and a deposit to make at the CIBC Instant Teller, I decided to walk downtown, a distance of two or three miles. You know, kill two birds with one stone.

When I arrived at CIBC, just before opening time at nine-thirty, I walked up to the Instant Teller, pulled out the two cheques I had to deposit, and discovered I didn't have my CIBC Convenience Card. Chris's and my accounts are joint at BMO now, so, naturally, I grabbed my BMO bank card and left my CIBC card back home in my wallet. Oh, well. I told myself I'd have to return to the bank some other time to make my transaction.

Across the street at the Civic Centre, I dropped off my book at the public library. Just as I was walking away, something occurred to me. Since I had my BMO bank card, I could make my deposit into our joint account there, withdraw in cash the amount I needed to for my payment, , then walk down the block to CIBC. Only trouble was, could I deposit cash to my account at another branch without presenting my bank card? I was willing to find out.

I stood in the queue at CIBC for a few minutes, looking at the teller line. There were six tellers in all, five female and one male, and I was reminded of CIBC, Capri Centre, in Kelowna, when I worked there in the early 1980s. We had four wickets then, three usually manned by women and the one closest to the front counter filled by me, head teller at the time. I wondered how the young man felt about working with all those women, whether it made him uncomfortable, and if he'd been teased for being the only male in a branch filled with females. I had been, but maybe things were different now.

He was tall and thin, with short dark hair. He looked like he was in his early to mid twenties, his skin olive-colored, and his ethnicity perhaps Hispanic. I was surprised to see that he didn't wear a tie. When I was a teller, I always wore a tie, except for a couple of weeks one summer, when my manager called Personnel at Regional Office in Vancouver to ask if I could go without one during our hottest weather. Maybe the young man today didn't have to wear a tie because of the more casual business district in downtown __________, I thought. I was happy to see him more comfortable than I was for so many years.

At the head of the line, I waited for the next available teller. The young man's customer walked away, and, quietly, he said he could help the next person. I walked up to his wicket, and I asked if I could make a cash deposit to my account at another branch without a bank card. When I worked at the bank, eighty-six years ago, anyone could deposit to anyone's account, especially cash. I hoped the rules and regulations hadn't changed.

Joey, the young male teller, pressed a few keys on the computer in front of him and asked for my phone number. Next, he asked for my first name, then my last. Finally, he asked for my birthdate. He took the ten $20 bills I'd placed on the counter between us and counted them. He asked me how much my deposit was for. I confirmed the amount of $200.

As Joey input the deposit details in the computer, he said to me, quietly, "It says you're 49." I clued in he was talking about my age. I guess the computers are more sophisticated now than when I was a teller.

"I'll be 50 in less than a month," I responded.

"You don't look it," he said. Then, in a voice that made his sexual orientation a secret no longer, he asked, "What's your secret?"

I was caught off guard, both by the compliment and the question. When I'd gotten up this morning, I'd dressed in my workout gear, and I'd combed my bed head, placing the flattened and messy hair the best I could, which light wind had ruffled during my walk anyhow. Huffing and puffing on my walk downtown, I was tired and sweaty standing at Joey's wicket. I can't imagine that I was worth looking at, let alone complimenting, yet there he was in front of me, an attractive, and obviously gay, young man, asking my secret for aging well. When was the last time I'd been asked that--by a gay fellow?

Times have changed. As a teller all those years ago, would I have asked a male customer, old enough to be my father, what his secret was for not looking as old as his chronological years? Not a chance in hell.

First, straight men don't ask each other questions like that--ever. So, if you do, your sexual orientation is a given. No way in the early '80s could I have risked asking that question of an attractive man, in part, because, no matter what everyone else may have thought, I wasn't gay. I might have looked at every attractive man who walked into the branch with an expression that unmistakably said I was attracted to him, but I wasn't gay.

Second, if I'd had the good fortune to wait on said handsome man, it was all I could do to get the words out that I needed to complete his banking transaction, let alone ask him how the hell he looked so good for his age. And looking at him directly while he stood in front of my wicket was nearly impossible, since I was too ashamed to let on that I found him attractive and would have liked to get to know him better.

And, third, there's surely a complement implicit in asking such a question, but I suspect few men, especially straight men, would appreciate it coming from another male. So wasn't Joey the least bit concerned that I might be offended by his question, bring it to his manager's attention, and get him into trouble?

Or did he somehow know I was gay before he asked me? As I walked away from the branch, I wondered how he could have known. I doubted my flame had burned that brightly when I walked in, and I'd only said a few words to him. Then it occurred to me that he'd seen my bank profile, and that my financial advisor had likely recorded Chris's name as my partner. Still, I thought Joey had been forward with me, much more so than I would ever have been.

I'm afraid I didn't have a good answer. I was too flustered by the unexpected compliment, and I couldn't think of anything during those final moments as he finished my transaction. (Of course, afterward, lots of answers came to me: I don't drink, smoke, drug; I eat right, exercise, take care of myself; I'm happy for the most part; and I'm deeply in love with the most wonderful man I could ever ask for.)

I'm not dead, right? The complement from Joey was unexpected but welcome. I recalled the words, "What an ego boost," Chris had uttered when we'd been on board a BC ferry en route to Horseshoe Bay from Departure Bay several years ago. It was late June, the sun was brilliant, and the temperature warm.

A tall, handsome, young man removed his shirt and laid bare chested on an upper deck of the vessel. Digital camera in hand, I crouched within a few feet of his head and snapped numerous pictures of his muscular torso and hairy chest, while he lay relaxed, his eyes closed. Chris was convinced he knew I was there taking his picture, and that, not only did he not mind, but all the attention he was getting, even from other fellow, had been an ego boost.

My ego was boosted this morning too, when Joey asked me a question I had no good answer for at the time. I wondered if he'd been attracted to me, even if his question had been a form of come-on. Who knows? Maybe I flatter myself.

But, as I walked home, listening to tunes on my iPod, the late summer sun warm against my skin, perhaps my step was just a little lighter than it had been on the way downtown less than an hour earlier.


  1. I don't think you look 49 either!

  2. Thanks, Wendy. You're sweet for saying that. I appreciate the compliment.