Is it decision or is it luck? Harry experiences it all

DAN RODRICKS

April 15, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

"This is a good story because Harry, see, Harry had a lot o bad luck. . . . Or, let me put it this way: He's made some bad decisions. I won't go into the details. I'll let Harry tell you about it."

That's what Harry's pal, a guy named Pat, said on the telephone last week.

He called to report a wonderful thing Harry had done -- something to be held up as evidence of decency in a world that seems, most days, like a garbage heap of human misery. xTC Hearing of what Harry did was like finding a diamond in a Dumpster.

"Especially," says Pat, "considering all he's been through lately."

Right. Bad luck. Bad decisions.

A couple of days later after work, when I'm with Harry in Stega's bar in Canton, I ask about these "bad decisions."

The one that comes first to mind was Harry's decision to fall in love with a receptionist in the office where he was installing air ducts.

I tell Harry I don't think falling in love can be considered a "decision." Choosing gas heat over oil -- that's a decision. Falling in love is an act of life.

But, anyway, it happened.

They met when Harry pulled his head out of the drop ceiling and smiled on her. In a little while, Harry was living with the woman out in Ellicott City.

And a little while after that, Harry noticed something.

When he got up in the morning to scramble eggs, she got up to scramble her brains with bourbon.

"Something wrong with that," Harry tells me. "And I was going out every day, working my heating and air conditioning job, and also doing it on the side for people -- which means I was working two jobs -- and she loses her job as a receptionist, then she's working the checkout at a supermarket for $7 an hour."

Things soured quickly. Too much drinking. Too many arguments.

Last August, Harry left and, at the age of 32, moved in with his mother, back in East Baltimore.

A few months later, his former lover charged him with breaking and entering, which stemmed from the time Harry went back to the house in Ellicott City to get some belongings. Harry went to court, paid a fine and was placed on unsupervised probation for a year.

He was in a traffic accident, too. Harry's car was badly damaged, and the insurance settlement, he says, did not begin to cover his original investment.

"I guess I got this cloud over my head," Harry says.

Still, he plugged on. Went to work every day, installing air-conditioning units and boilers and furnaces.

Last month, Harry was working a job at a convenience store in Randallstown.

He was tearing out an old gas furnace to make way for a new one. He was in the mechanical room in the rear of the store, removing a section of a sheet-metal air duct behind the furnace. That's when he found the bag.

It was full of checks and cash (about $4,000 worth in all, someone later told him).

What did Harry decide to do? Buy himself a new car? Make a

deposit on an apartment? Buy some furniture?

Nah. He decided to hand the bag of money to the clerk.

It turned out that, Christmas Day 1991, there had been a robbery at the store. The cashier that day had reported that a bandit took the day's receipts as well as a videotape from the store's security apparatus. The tape presumedly would have documented the robbery.

But store officials and police didn't buy the story.

They believed the clerk had committed the robbery, stashed the money and destroyed the videotape. (Later, while Harry and his boss were working on the furnace, they discovered the missing tape.)

Harry's discoveries led to the reopening of the investigation.

"Not for a minute," Harry says when I ask if he considered keeping the money. You would think he'd have been tempted.

Should Harry have kept the cash? Did he make another bad decision?

"I was in someone else's building," he says. "If I'd found it on the street, I would have kept it, but . . ."

Besides, certainly the company that owns the convenience store would reward Harry.

And it did. Harry got a nice letter applauding his honesty and -- are you ready? -- a check for $100. A hundred bucks. Makes you all kind of weepy, doesn't it?

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