The editors at Time Magazine couldn´t specify when the Crocus Hill article would appear. Or, what format it was to take.
The Gulf War was just beginning. January wasn´t looking good. Business was bad. Deliveries were off. The economy was in a downturn. The store was freezing as the one heater, hung high above the butcher´s counter, hardly kept the temperature at a comfortable level. The bills were stacking up. And, although I was reading every issue of Time Magazine I only found the story of the market in the two daily papers. By mid-March the story still hadn´t been published and our losses were substantially mounting. We would now need a small miracle or a large investor to rescue us from our foolish culinary fantasy. The Gulf War kept bumping the story according to our Times sources. By the first day of Spring it looked as though the Gulf War was going to add one more casualty to its list; The Crocus Hill Market.
The refreshed character of the store had changed with the now completed remodel. The tall Campbell Soup Can Red ceiling glistened above the antique school lights that had replaced the dusty fluorescents. The new cases filled with a multitude of salads and prepared foods seemed a bit complex for Clarence and Wayne, but the customers, especially Mrs. Scanlon on Arthur Avenue enjoyed the daily "Specials" that we were offering. The general store counters, freshly varnished and painted proved perfect for projecting what Crocus Hill was becoming. And Kranston had become especially fond of the community of people the store had attracted over the years. Working in corporate retail her entire career she had never experienced a situation where you get to know your customers on a first name basis and interact with them daily.
Betty would show up every morning. Her father, James, was once the chauffeur for James J. Hill´s family, and had raised Betty in the world of St. Paul fringe society. Although very proper, Betty constantly heard voices and saw demons. She had purchased bacon
"They came last night and took my ham from under the bed. I know who they are. But, I need t get more ham for dad´s breakfast. Could I have five slices?"
The act was a ritual. Often, Betty would be in the store, the same time Henry, a retired telephone lineman who had fallen off a pole and sustained serious head injuries would stop by.
"The store is beautiful. I really like the new coolers." Hank would say between cups of coffee. It is a very nice color. Hank was injured years before in a fall from a light pole and couldn´t stop raving about what a great job we had done with the market. And he stopped in every morning to reassure us that he hadn´t changed his mind about our remodel and shared the time over a cup of coffee.
And then there was Mr. Harris. He figured out the system early on. His massive presence, draped in a camel hair top coat, accessorized with a silk scarf and cane, would arrive daily at 2:30, purchase three dollars worth of muffins, and ask for a ride to his apartment on Mansion Row. He would time his daily drop in right after lunch at the Acropolis so he could hop a ride with our afternoon delivery run and beat the four buck cab fare.
But, when John the Savant walked through the front door, opening it as though he were being chased by muggers, the bells on the metal cross bar handle would bang against the glass with the velocity of an ice ball being tossed by a rambunctious teen across the street.
"Where´s my delivery" he would yell as though an aristocratic consumer on the hill of days past.
"You haven´t ordered it yet, John," Lindy would counsel pen in hand as soon as the door sprung open.
"I want to order it now. It has to be delivered today."Lindy would always take the order in the same calm manner that he had for the past twenty years. And, John would then ask Kranston if there were any hot dogs. He actually asked so much that eventually we began selling hot dogs on Tuesday for lunch. And, on the first Tuesday that John ordered his hot dog he shouted his order to Clarence.
"I´ll have one hot dog. Mustard on the right. Ketchup on the left."
"Would you like anything else on it," Clarence asked attempting customer service proficiency.
"Mustard on the right. Ketchup on the left."
When Clarence handed the finished product to John he had forgotten to turn it. The ketchup was on the right, from John´s perspective.
"No, I wanted Mustard on the right. Ketchup on the left."
"Just turn the Hot Dog, John," Clarence instructed.
"No. Do it again. I want Mustard on the right. Ketchup on the left."
That hot dog order will stay with me always. It was the first time a customer sent an entrée back to the kitchen.