Friday, December 4, 2009

A Deal is a Deal

When I moved to HotWinds, I went to work in a downtown store that had books, and coffee, and comfy chairs. It was a homeless magnet, you may be sure.

We had several characters. One would look at art books (I don’t mean pornography) or pretty complex works of history in the café. Periodically, uncontrollable rage would spew out of his mouth, loud and obscene. At the neighboring tables, the NewsMag journalists and the luncheon crowd would suddenly stiffen, electrified.  And the café staff was always afraid.

There were five managers taking shifts in that store. Four were guys. Two of the guys were scared of this man. Two enjoyed throwing him out. I had the middle road. I thought this man had maybe Tourettes Syndrome. If not, it worked out to the same thing.

So we had a ritual. I’d get a complaint, go over to him.
“How are you doing? You seem a little upset.”
“I’m fine, I’m just fine.”
“Okay, just checking. Other people are trying to read or talk, you know. You can keep it down, right?”
He would nod and look back down at the book. He was always careful with the books.

Second time: there was always a second time. “Hey, you still seem a little upset. I don’t want you to go, but if you scare people again, you know I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

One time a mom with two grade-school children complimented me. Usually, mothers with grade-school children are angry about stuff like this. I still remember her, because it was nice.  She was calming her kids down, by handling it like that, too.

Third time: there was always a third time, too. So, out.

Social services made a difference for this man. He started showing up in clean, crisp shirts, snazzy check patterns, as good as the NewsMag guys had. His hair started to shine jet-black and clean. His eyes were brighter. Things were looking up.

He still exploded spontaneously though, but by then we knew each other pretty well. After the second visit, and the third explosion, he would close his book, square it neatly on top of the table, and leave on his own. Then he’d come back in a couple days, to learn more about Eugene delaCroix or the Napoleonic wars.

I suppose we had what you call a gentleman’s agreement.

2 comments:

Slamdunk said...

I know several managers who should tack this post to their bulletin boards and review it daily.

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
People are so afraid. I hadn't thought what a burden that was for you all. I always assumed it was up to me, as manager, to be the front line for my cafe crew, and so . . .

But anyway, I liked this guy, too.

Thanks for reading,
Ann T.