(Blogger’s Note: Every Friday an excerpt from the soon to be published book, Faux Pas is French for Restaurant appears in this space.)
Precisely at seven each morning, Lindy, the tall grey haired, 75 year old Swede would insert the key he had in his possession for thirty-five years into the lock on the front door. Lindy would enter the store, remove his jacket, rest it on the hook behind the second counter position, and put on his worn, maroon LaCoste cardigan.
His metal lunch box, filled with a thermos full of coffee, a sandwich, and a paperback book, was placed on the shelf behind the second counter position. After straightening the shelf with the ritualistic precision of Fr. Sklucazek returning the host to the Tabernacle after Sunday communion at St. Paul´s Cathedral, Lindy would turn and begin his morning opening chores.
Turning on the lights, he would prepare the note and order pads for the day, placing them in front of each of the seven, single line phones. He would then make the daily pot of coffee.
Beginning his career as a grocery bagger with Bill´s father, and working his way from the delivery truck to the number two position on the order taking counter, (number one was Helfman´s), Crocus Hill was the only place he ever had worked and his seniority assured him the clerk´s position closest to the front door.
By the time I arrived at 7:30 Lindy had the Pioneer Press opened and was reading the obituaries."Mrs. Judith Fraily died on Saturday. Doris Johnson finally passed away last Thursday. Ralph Mundt succumbed to cancer over the weekend." This would be my morning greeting. As I stood in front of the outstretched paper waiting for him to complete his readings before saying good morning, I thought how tough it must be to be losing so many acquaintances.
Offering condolensces I would stand and listen as he finished his reading. But why did these names sound so familiar?
In a monotone, morning gruff, he would return the greeting while folding the obituary pages.
The daily ritual became an annoyance.
"Lindy, when you have a few minutes this morning I was wondering if I could speak with you in the office"? I said as soon as I walked in one morning.
"Yeahup, we could do that. Paul Jenson passed on last night. He´d been sick for a while. Catholic Charities" he said.
"When would you be free, Lindy?" I asked.
"How "bout now, I´m just about done with the death notices?"
"Great, when you´re finished come on back."
Sitting down in the paper cluttered cubicle he looked as though he anticipated being fired.
"Lindy, Bill told me that you would be staying on with us for awhile and I just wanted to let you know how much Kranston and I appreciate that decision. We need your help in making this venture successful and would like to know if you need anything from us?" I began.
"Well, if you´d stop makin´ all these changes that would help some. I don´t think the new phone system is going to be much good. The one I´ve been using has been fine for all these years. If you´d stop changin´ things, that´d help. A lot" he said.
"Lindy, I know the changes are going to take a bit of getting used to but I think you´ll like them once you´re used to them"
"No, I don´t think so. With all the new stuff people will start coming in again. They really bother us when they walk in. We should just deliver. We don´t need a bunch of people in here. It just interferes with things." He said.
Explaining to Lindy the delivery service was financially draining and the walk-in business was what we needed to make a profit proved frustrating to the both of us. He wanted little to do with the small talk of personal customer service. I was not about to change the thoughts of a man who made a career of Crocus Hill. I wasn´t too good at grocery employee management, and my ability to persuade someone with his experience that I knew more was pointless. He didn´t much care. He only wanted to handle deliveries and I assured him that would be fine with us.
Finally the obituary discussion surfaced.
As I expressed my compassion for the apparent daily loss of friends I looked into a blank, emotionless face. It wasn´t a comfortable task. When I asked if he could possibly stop reading the obits every morning, as it was depressing me, his answer was more depressing.
"Sure, I´d be depressed too if all the customers that owed me money were dyin’" he said shaking his head and looking down at the new tile floor.
"What do you mean customers?" I asked
"Well, every morning I go through the paper and make a list of who died from our customer list, give it to Joan and she sends out the final bill to the family before the body gets too cold. That´s the only way we can collect on some of them. For the past two years our customer list is shrinking every time the paper comes out. I just thought you´d like to hear the list in the morning, being new here and all."
"Lindy, you´re kidding, right. Those people are all our customers?"
"No, not anymore, boss." He said. "Are we just about done? I´ve got some orders to fill while they´re still breathin. If you need anything else let me know. Good luck with the place" he said as he shuffled out, head down, sweater partially buttoned.
Death notice accounting. I missed that course. However, I learned quickly.