Monday, March 3, 2014

A Regular Customer

Sitting in my Rollie chair
at my Thrift store job
in perfect silence.
No customers.
A stack of books before me....
A sip of coffee left in my styrofoam cup.
I hate styrofoam cups.

I am here alone today.
My working partner Sue,
she had a mild stroke
and can not drive yet
But she called me
early this morning
To tell me.

The phone rings.
A regular customer 
Whose last name I do not know.
He is calling to tell us
He won't be in today-
Because of the snow.
He calls to tell us
when he'll be absent,
In case we wonder why

Last time he was absent,
he himself had a stroke.

He's always well dressed,
With a shirt and a tie;
A tweed jacket of some sort;
A messenger bag
across his chest
Which holds the Trader Joes bag he uses to carry his purchases home
and the books he's reading. Always reading books.

He buys ties
Colorful ties
And he wears them in ways
That many wouldn't.
He's got panache.

He carries one of those black leather wallets that's on a chain
The kind Harley riders use;
The kind that has two chrome snaps.

And as he takes his money out
( to pay for the things he's collected and left on the desk while he shopped for 2 dollar ties),
He rethinks each item
to keep within budget.
But he's one of our best customers,
Spending 30 dollars or so each time.

His face, very small for such a large beard,
his eyes deep in his face, below the silver and black preened nest;
a contained pompadour
The effortless kind.

He comes from a large Catholic family
But is largely alone.
Sometimes he brings his art to show;
A sketch or two,
Something he did at the senior center,
Something he drew in his youth,
A photograph of a
well dressed small faced young man in a college sweater

He brought in a sketch of a girl he once knew.
A sketch he had drawn.
a sketch he had given to her
but she had given it back.
And he didn't know why.
He wasn't sure if she didn't like it
or if keeping it might imply something else.

Sue thinks he has a crush on me.
I don't.
I think he's just out there doing his best with the life that is his
And that he enjoys conversation.

He tells us that his brother has moved in with him,
and he doesn't know how that will be.

He thoughtfully chose
an ethnically-colorful sweater once,
and a long black skirt for, who he called his "lady friend."
And he got her a fabulous hat.
The kind of hat I think is fabulous.
And I was glad it ended up with him.

I'd call it an outback hat, of sorts; oiled leather
with leather-twisted braided-strands
secured in back by an etched silver cabochon.
On second thought, maybe it's a Western hat,
or a Mexican hat.
He knows a lot of things, so he might know.
But what he does know,
or seems to know,
or hopes-is-so,
is that it might be his lady friend's style.

I hope he's right. In my heart, I hope he's right.

He walks slowly but upright
his right hand on his cane, but on the other hand,
The one with the pinky ring,
he's young.

He seems younger than the story his body tells.
Today on the phone, he tells me his
aortic abdominal aneurism
will be fixed on Thursday
because the last time it was scheduled was before he had his stroke.

I knew that.

As he says this, I notice a slight slur in his words,
And that the cadence of his delivery is more punctuated and purposeful
even than the last time we spoke,
and I wonder
if he's had another stroke since.

But he tells me he's in "thurapy",
at home, he's in "thurapy."

And He tells me his neighbor brought him a turkey dinner yesterday
"With the snow and all-"

But he says he's ok
It's warm inside
and he has food.

He mentions that
the other day
he went to stand up
and collapsed.

He went to the emergency room
Only to learn
that muscles atrophy quickly with disuse,
"With the snow and cold and all-"
But he's got thurapy
at home, he's got thurapy.

I tell him that when he returns
we'll still have ties and jackets and books.

He buys an equal amount
of books and ties,
Fewer sweaters
An occasional hat
And Sue wonders how many clothes he must have at home.

We talk about food choices
And He looks at my lunch
He wonders what I'm eating.
It's something I've hastily concocted,
to get out the door-
like yogurt with buckwheat groats,
and millet and hemp seeds

We talk about super foods
And I tell him about all the articles
I've cut and pasted
About foods-
and health
about well being
and healing

I've saved them in umpteen documents
and created a file for them,
since I'm not the kind
who retains everything I read
and I need to reread things often.

I decide I'll print them out and
Bind them in a volume
And give it to him
next time he's here as a gift,
And I do.

The next week,
he returns.
He's gone through each
of the hundred pages
In that volume of my saved information
And created an index
So the next person I share it with
can find what their looking for with ease.

I realize how little I rely on indexes,
How audible my inhale was 
and how long my exhale is lasting.

I offered him some Goji berries that day
and Sue shares her dark chocolate
I think about the first time
I saw him
How I thought he was a professor.

That was the day he dropped his cane
and I bent over to get it.

He said, "no thank you,"
His pride.

But asked
if I might re-tie his loosened shoelace,
If I could,
As it would be more difficult
To get up again once down.

He drops his cane each time he's here
and it's hard
To keep
from picking it up.

A regular customer called to tell us he won't be in today.
He calls when he'll be absent
In case we wonder why.
                                                                        And we do.

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