In the 80s and 90s I was working at JP Morgan & Co and doing a lot of work-related travel, particularly as I lived in San Francisco and Morgan was a New York-based firm. One Friday, it must have been in the early 1990s, after spending the week in New York, I took a car service to JFK airport. That particular week I happened to be with my wife and we had luggage to check. When the car pulled curbside at the American Airlines terminal, a Red Cap eagerly stepped over to take our bags. He looked to see if they were tagged. They were. He was an African American gentleman, possibly in his late 60s or early 70s. I felt a pang of self-conscious guilt having an elderly person lift my bags, but this was his livelihood. He completed the curb-side check-in process for us and, naturally, I pulled out some cash to give him a tip.
“I can’t take your money,” he says.
I was brought up to be reasonably courteous with everyone, so I was a bit surprised. “I’m sorry, I say. Have I done or said something to offend you?” I was prepared to apologize for whatever that may have been.
“Oh, no,” he says, amicably. “I just can’t take your money.”
“Well, it’s not really my money. I get reimbursed for my travel expenses. But may I ask you why you can’t take a gratuity from me?”
“Your name is Kunstler, he says.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Your father saved my life.”
I caught on that he was referring to William Kunstler.
“He’s not my father,” I inform him, a little regretfully.
“Your uncle, then.”
The way he looked at me, he was clearly referring to facial features some people think I share with Bill Kunstler, although it has yet to be proved that we are, in fact, related.
He proceeded to whip out his wallet. From it he pulled Bill Kunstler’s calling card. He had actually laminated it, to protect it form wear and tear.
“I know that if I am ever in trouble, I can call him. He is the greatest man alive. He saved my life. The least I can do is help his family with a couple of bags.” I could not imagine this perfect gentleman of a man ever being in trouble.
I did not press the point of the unproven lineage — and, admittedly, I like to think it is real — and, thankfully, persuaded him to accept a tip, but only after I convinced him that the money really was coming from JP Morgan.
Another life touched that day. Several actually.