As soon as Harry Chimes got to his office, he looked up the word “dauntless” in his dictionary. He had been reading a book about World War II heroes on the way to work and wasn’t sure of the meaning of the word. His dictionary defined it as, “Incapable of being intimidated.”
No wonder he didn’t know the word.
Reading about true heroes made Harry painfully aware that he was not one. He made a lifestyle of avoiding confrontation. This morning, he had stopped at a newsstand to buy the Times and a pack of gum. He glanced at the change handed to him by the man with the fat cigar in his mouth and calculated it was a quarter short. Rather than say anything, he turned and shuffled away.
It wasn’t that he thought the man would physically attack him if he complained, it was just … Well, why bother? It was only twenty-five cents.
Still, a part of him felt cheated. It may have been an honest mistake or maybe the man did it on purpose, picking up an extra few bucks by the end of the day. He didn’t so much blame the man as he was embarrassed by his own weakness.
Harry always felt that way after letting something go that he knew he shouldn’t. A pain in his stomach, a change in his breathing, then he’d shrug or make a joke and it would pass.
This time, though, he couldn’t shake the sense of cowardice. What was it about that damn book? It was just a quarter, he reminded himself, not World War II. A goddamn quarter.
His wife had always told their sons as they were growing up, “Be like your father. A real man avoids fights.” Now that his boys had children of their own, he wondered about the Chimes legacy. It’s a good thing I was too young for World War II, he thought. If it were up to me, we’d all be speaking German.
Harry spent the day in his office reviewing insurance claims and sending his analyses to Leonard who, he knew, would sign off on his findings and report to Finch as if he had done the bulk of the work himself. The game was played that way. Harry understood.
Yet, today it bothered him.
He took a break and walked to the coffee room where Jim O’Connor, a man whose loudmouthed demeanor Harry shied away from, was bragging about the deal he had negotiated on his new car.
“I jewed the salesman down until he practically gave me the automobile.”
The others laughed as Harry poured himself a cup of coffee and returned to his office to review the next folder in his IN box.
But Harry couldn’t concentrate. He looked at the boyhood pictures of his twin sons, Todd and Jason, in their Little League uniforms. Harry knew that at eight, they had already sensed his weakness. He recalled seeing it in their eyes when they were with the other fathers. A boy knows, he thought. A boy always knows. Soon his grandchildren would know.
Harry thought about how his grandfather had changed the family name from Chimensky to Chimes in order to fit in. “In America,” he told his grandson in broken English, “we’re guests. It’s better we shouldn’t make trouble.”
Harry remembered as a boy going shopping with his parents on Blake Avenue in Brooklyn. A table was set up in the street and a man sitting behind it asked his father to sign a petition calling for the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, American citizens accused of spying for the Soviet Union. “It’s time we taught the Jew bastards a lesson,” the man said to his father.
His father signed the petition. “What’s one more name?” he whispered after they walked way. “Better they don’t know we’re Jewish.”
Harry felt his hands forming fists and his nails digging into his palms. He could see the book he had been reading sticking out of the pocket of his coat, which he had hung on a hook in back of his door. He stood up and returned to the coffee room where Jim was still bragging about the deal he got on his new car.
“In the future,” he interrupted his co-worker, “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t use the term ‘jewed down.’ I find it insulting.”
Jim stammered, “I-I didn’t even know you were Jewish. It’s just an expression.”
“But an insulting one,” Harry repeated, staring into Jim’s blue eyes.
Jim looked away. “Sorry, man.”
Harry turned and walked out of the coffee room.
So that’s what dauntless feels like, he thought.