A man on his toes

Opinions - November 16th, 2001
Robert J. Collins

by Robert J. Collins

A guy in my neighborhood has a little store. It is wedged between other little stores across from the rear entrance to the train station. (For the “rear entrance to the train station” read “grungy old structure with 38 steps up to the ticket machines and 38 steps down to the plat­form.” This is opposed to “the shiny new wheelchair-friendly front entrance up the hill with only five such insurmountable and thereby equally daunting steps for the disabled.”)

This guy and his wedge-mates could never afford to locate near the front entrance. Up there are banks, department stores and every fast-food franchise known to man. The police hang around up there with, I’m certain, other scions of authority—all rubbing their hands in satisfaction over what a civilized and attractive place the whole area has become.

Meanwhile, the guy with his little store on the other end is on the cutting edge. (On the cutting edge of what is still not clear to me, but assuming there’s an edge, and it cuts, then he’s on it.) No breeze of fashion or fad is too soft for him not to notice and position himself accordingly.

I should explain that this guy is probably in his late 70s. He favors undershirts—the kind with straps over the shoulders, and he wears them over his bare arms and shoulders about eight months a year. Weather doesn’t seem to bother him. His slacks are… slack.

The guy is assisted in his little store by his two 40-something daughters. These women are… ordinary. (“If you can’t say some­thing nice about someone,” my grandmother used to say, “then don’t say anything at all.”) Jour­nalistic integrity, however, dic­tates the following intimation. By “ordinary” read “sufficiently buttugly to stop those trains whizzing past their store if they ever took it into their heads to gaze in the direction of the tracks.”

When we moved into our house six years ago, I went to the guy’s little store and purchased a space heater. It was cheaper by almost half than anything I had seen advertised elsewhere. (And it still works.)

I noticed at the time that about half the store was given over to the sale of cosmetics, pantyhose and bento lunches— the kinds of things ladies were rushing in to buy as they went back and forth to work. Electron­ic gear and lipstick made an inter­esting product mixture. All this, mind you, in a store with a cow and a chicken on a sign above the N0.3 entrance. (I asked about that, and one of our neighbors said that the guy had been, for a while, a butch­er. “If you want meat,” I was told, “he can still get it.”)

I kept buying batteries for all our gadgets from him, but the electronics side of his business was evolving into the sale of flow­ers and plants. There was a good smell in there, by the way, with all the cosmetics providing a funda­mental and underlying aroma.

Several months later, I noticed that one of his incredibly sturdy daughters was moving all the cosmetics out to the sidewalk in front of the store to be dis­played on cardboard boxes (next to the flowers that were mostly on the sidewalk anyway). The other startlingly robust daughter was assembling floor-to-ceiling shelves inside the store.

Presto, the little store was now in the CD sales and rental business. The flowers eventually disappeared and used-book tables took their place next to the cos­metics (augmented by various health drink products). I had occasion to patronize the place a few months later when I noticed on a counter just inside the door a pile of gloves. Man, these were not knock-offs. These were very fine leather and woolen products of superior quality. I asked him where he got them. “Accident,” he replied.

I haven’t had occasion to go into the place in the past year or two, but I can report that the CDs are gone. The shelving remains, the powerful daughters remain, but most things in there seem to be in the “health food” category. And as for the cutting edge aspect of this guy’s retailing, my wife tells me that at the end of last year he was advertising on a sign in his window the sale of Viagra.

And for the last two months, he’s back in the meat business— “Not Mad Cow New Zealand Beef,” he proclaims (under a rep­resentation of the flag of Aus­tralia). Packages are displayed on those (former) CD shelves.

The best, however, is his new product. I noticed it this very morning. The guy in the little store across from the rear entrance to the train station has… “The Cure for Anthrax.” Oh boy.