The Twenty Dollar Rule



There is no good excuse for bad manners –Geekus Extremus

Being a Gentleman seems to be a lost art these days. I will do my best  to explain  the art  the way I was taught it growing up.  I could begin this by giving you the root meaning of the word Gentleman.I could tell you the use of the word  from its inception. I could explain to you the history of its practice… about birth right and breeding… about land and title… and about honor code and coat of arms. The truth is that I did not learn the art of being a Gentleman by learning the history of the word or its practice.

I learned it by example.

Growing up I was surrounded by men who believed that it’s not your possessions or your wealth or your social standing that makes you a person of honor and integrity. These are found in how you carry yourself. How you deal with others. How you treat the opposite sex. Being a Gentleman was expected. At all times. Regardless of the situation. Both a pauper or a King can be a Gentleman.

So I’m staying with my uncle Richard for a month. I’m between 8th grade and freshman year. He lived in Washington D.C. We are grabbing a quick lunch in a diner. The waitress is extremely rude and ill-mannered. My uncle, in-spite of how absolutely terrible this woman was, pleased and thanked her back and smiled all the while. I told my uncle not to tip her. Or to just leave her a penny.This was 1979. The entire lunch including my malt was about six bucks. He tipped this woman $20.

“Hey Mister you left your money on the table,”  she said. The woman actually followed my uncle into the street. She was rude but honest. “Here.”

“No that’s yours,’ my uncle smiled.  He would not take the twenty back.

What happened next blew my mind. The woman started crying and apologizing.  She had woke up to an eviction notice on her door. She tried to call in to work but her boss told her that if she missed another shift she would be fired. To get even she was apparently taking it out on the customers. Crying as she told this story she kept pushing the twenty back at my uncle. He would just brush her hand aside.

“I can’t take this… I treated you terribly,” she said. She was crying and had raccoon eyes from her makeup. My uncle took her hands in his. He held them like he was trying to teach her to pray.

“Take this money and let it be the beginning of your change of fortune.” he said smiling.

I don’t know if you have ever noticed this. A woman cries when she’s sad. But she cries even harder when they are tears of joy. I learned that in front of a diner in 1979.

I love toasted everything bagels with cream cheese. The best ones are from Dunkin’ Donuts. There are Dunkin’ Donuts all over Chicagoland. But I only like them at the one by my house. I could eat them every day. But I Don’t. I get one on my day off. Before I start doing my chores. One toasted everything bagel with cream cheese and one large black coffee…to Go.

The Dunkin’ Donuts that I go to has a bunch of old men sitting around talking and arguing over horse racing forms. I see them every time I’m there. On a few occasions I even sat and talked with them a while. Most of the time I just nod and wave. One sunny day-off morning I was walking out with a bagel and coffee in one hand and my cell phone in the other. Talking away, indifferent to my surroundings.

As I reached my truck from behind me I heard some of the foulest nastiest language I have ever heard in my  life. Some woman was really letting some poor guy have it with both barrels. I had to see who this woman was. I got off the phone. I had to see who these people were.The woman with the biggest foulest mouth I ever heard was a small black woman. She was as wide as she was tall.

The man… the man apparently was me.

Yea, I did it. I did that  “who me” point at yourself thing.

“Yes I’m talking to you,” she cried. ” Ding bat / pound sign / curly- que” (That’s suppose to be really nasty language) She was cussing me a blue streak.

Oh and she called me  “cracker. ”

Which as a white guy I prefer “cracker” to “Honky.” When I hear the word “Honky” I imagine some filthy depraved clown with one of those U-gah horns.

“Honky” the clown scares me.

But seriously this was not good. The old men were watching, the employees were watching and people in the parking lot. I kept looking for someone else this woman could be cursing at. But it was me.

Now there was a brief moment, a split second, where I tried to remember some foul things I could say back. The truth was I did not know this woman at all. I was more curious than upset. So I walked right over to her. She was standing in the door way.

” You let the door swing on me,” she explained. Her coffee was on the ground spilled out. She was holding the cup. She backed away as I came closer.

“You mean I did not hold the door for you,” I smiled. She had very beautiful brown eyes. I noticed as I opened the door for her. I gestured for her to go in. “Please.”

The entire place was at a stand still. Whatever was going on outside… was outside. I was bringing it back inside. Everyone had heard this woman. I walked up to the register and handed the clerk a twenty.

“Please give this Lady whatever she would like,” I said. Our little drama was playing out for everyone, so I spoke loud enough for all of them to hear. I then walked back to her.

” I am very sorry. My mother raised me to be a gentleman. If I had seen you I most certainly would have held the door for you.”  Then I pointed to the clerk. ” That mans name is Jon.” I explained.”Please go and order whatever you want and accept my apology.”

With coffee and bagel I once again headed for the door.

“Mister,” she called. ” I’m sorry too”

I stopped. If you had only heard the things that had come out of this woman’s mouth. You would have been  amazed  to hear her say “I’m sorry too.”  I know we were.

” You have very beautiful eyes.” I smiled. ” Even when your angry.”

She stood smiling. I left.

There are moments in your life you remember forever. The sounds. The images. The way you felt. For me it’s the sound of metal tapping glass.

I walked out of that Donut shop smiling. I was feeling good. Then I heard the tapping. One of the old men was tapping the glass with his ring to get my attention.  I turned and looked to see what the noise was. All the old men held up their coffee cups.

They were saluting me.

I have never hit a home-run or caught a touchdown. So I don’t know what those moments feel like. But I’m pretty sure it feels the way I felt looking at those old men.

I am and always will be a Gentleman.


May the Love of Christ be with you always….

…Live long and Prosper










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