Thursday, December 15, 2011
The Albatross Man At Christmas, Part Two
I walked into my oval office with the one-way mirror which is adjacent to the walk-in safe, a leftover from the days our building was a high class fur coat emporium. The phone book in the shelf on a file cabinet would have the non-emergency number for the First District police station. It's always helpful to know what the cops will do before one instigates a course of action. Awhile ago, I had a customer who became irate when I wouldn't let him use our private bathroom in the rear of the store. In the summer months when the lakefront festival season hosts a different ethnic venue each week, drunks, sickos and people wanting to steal something have asked to use our rest room. In one case, a group of gypsies let their three year old pee in a corner to distract an employee showing jewelry. A quick call to the desk sarge was met with, "How soon do you want us there?" in response to the disorderly customer. The official rule was that we didn't serve food or drink. No bathroom access needed.
Memorizing the non-emergency number, I came out of the office to find the vagrant carrying a fist full of bills, like he had found them on the floor and grabbed as many as he could. It was a not too subtle way of reminding me, "I am a paying customer." I walked to the cash register and checked the locked the drawer, just in case. It wasn't our cash. He learned quickly that cash heals all doubts on the part of a store keep.
"Did you know there's a dead bird on your doorstep?" the next customer walking in the shop asks me. Wow, This is great for business, I ponder. I told the customer, "It belongs to that guy," pointing to the back of the store. I hoped that with additional back-up, I'd at least have a witness. The new customer understood in one look and didn't say much after that. I grimaced at each step he took. I cringed when he touched something. Dead seagull germs could have their own festival inside the store. When the Albatross Man asked a question, no words came out. He just pointed with his fist of money and grunted. We sold tanned buckskin for craft work. Grunt, point. "That there piece of leather is $9.95, sir," I said. The sir part is hard to get out.
This ain't Manhattan. It's downtown in the Midwest. I'm still slightly hesitant to hustle the guy out.
On a business trip to New York, my wife and I stop in a deli. An old guy is rolling a two wheel, wire cart down the aisle pushing customers lined up at display cases out of the way. There's not much room between small cafe tables, a line of people being served and the aisle. A guy behind the deli counter cusses and says, "Get that cart outahere," in a New York voice. The old guy swears back at him, ignoring the command. The T-shirted deli attendant comes from around the counter, grabs the guy by the elbow and hustles him out a side door. No one looks askance, except meek old Wisconsinite us.
Closer to home, actually on the lower downtown and south side of of Milarky where Jacques Vieau had a trading post, seagoing freighters through the St.Lawrence seaway would pull up to load and unload load at Jones island and Hispanic people found inexpensive housing, my wife and I are eating dinner at a Mexican dive famous for the shrimp soup and huachinango in a garlic sauce. A seedy looking man stands in the doorway to the restaurant, waiting for the bus out of the cold. The employees of the restaurant are familiar with the guy. A whole lot of posturing goes on as they escort him to the sidewalk. We can hear the cussing. He's wearing gloves. He swears at the waiter, rips off the glove from one hand, and gives the guy with the white apron, "the finger". In this case it's pretty startling because he has no fingers on that hand.
I have digressed. Fear does that to you. One goes through considerable mental gymnastics in a short period of time. The Albatross Man looks vaguely familiar. Could this be a chunky version of Pee Wee Herman?