Thursday, January 26, 2006

"Lance" the Lobby Man

During my fast food years I worked with several mentally handicapped persons. In my archives you'll find a story called "Whoop!" about a girl named Judy "the jewel crusher"--read that one to see why I call her that. This little story is about a mature gentleman. I'll call him Lance, although that's not his real name.

Lance loved bikes. He had up to twenty bikes in his apartment at one time, all in states of disrepair. If one broke he'd go down to the local thrift store and buy another used one to fill his needs. I don't know how many bikes he's had in his life, but I can only imagine that fifty would probably be a conservative estimate. Of the bikes that he had at the time that I'd worked with him, he rode three: a blue one, a green one, and the red one--it's fast! Lance was in his late forties; a stocky fellow with a great round belly and strong arms and stout legs. His face was robust with expression, mostly sporting a wide open, gapped-tooth grin. His glasses are the type that adjust their shade to light conditions, but always seemed to stay somewhat dark. Lance preferred to accessorize his salt and pepper mop with a hat. Even he was insecure of his male-pattern baldness. His favorite pastimes, besides riding his bikes, was eating, telling jokes, Elvis, and sharing stories.

Lance's stories mostly consisted of telling how fast he rode his bike, then telling the same story over and over again Teletubby style. During the course of telling a story, his eyes would light up punctuating each part he thought was good, then when he'd finish the story his mouth would hang open and the eyes would go from a gleam to a marvelous wide sea. It was if he couldn't believe it himself. It didn't matter if it was that milk happened to be on sale that day or he passed a car up on his bike, he still found it amazing.

What I found amazing was his ability to take five sausage patties and stuff them right into his mouth, whole. You couldn't leave this guy alone with food laying around. I'd cook some bacon, lay it down on a prep tray, see Lance walk by, then the bacon disappears. It was hard to come down on the guy, though; he would flash a shit-eating grin, blush, then let out his trademark two-note laugh: (Huh)low push of air/pause/slurring up two octaves to the (hah) "Huh-haaaaah!" I couldn't get mad at him.

His jokes were usually of the knock-knock variety, but he confounded us with his "Come in Elvis!" routine. Lance loved Elvis. He would sing "Hound Dog" while out in the lobby wiping down tables. The grill team once got on the topic of Elvis. We were talking about where he'd be if he were still alive, what he'd look like, what kinds of things he'd be up to. During all of this, Lance was cleaning the back room. One guy even got talking about contacting Elvis through a seance. After that, we got a rush of customers and had to get cooking again. Once it slowed back down, Lance came by and started knocking on the walk-in refrigerator, muttering in a spooky, low-toned voice, "Come in Elvis...come in!" This mystified the hell out of us, but we got off on it, giving us a good belly laugh. He must've been listening in on our conversation. He did that one over and over again because he knew we thought it was funny. It was even funnier when people who were not in on it got treated to that "joke", especially customers. The repetitive joke telling was something him and Judy seemed to like a lot (see "Whoop!"). Sometimes, the two would be in the back room together jabbering away. You'd hear a loud "Whoop" followed by "Huh-haaaaah". Those were fun times.

Lance's bike riding get up was a windbreaker worn over his uniform, with his work hat on under his bike helmet--this made his helmet stand up high on his head. He always had a full back pack strapped tightly around his broad shoulders, full of sundries and books--ones that he couldn't comprehend too well, but enjoyed nonetheless. His riding style seemed to defy gravity. While he says he rides fast, the fastest I've seen him go was probably fifteen miles an hour. Most of the time he just balances the bike and then lets the rotation of the earth do the rest. I've never seen him frown when he's on his bike: open-mouthed joy...Lance the human fly trap. If he ever saw me, he'd holler out then laugh as we parted. Once my brother, whom I worked with there as well, was parked at a stop light. Lance came riding up behind my brother and started to have a short conversation with him, while riding his bike. That's just how slow he could ride; he could actually hold a conversation with my brother parked in his car, pedal, balance, and steer while looking away from where he was headed, all in the space of a car window.

Lance's bike stories usually were no more than a few sentences long, but as I said earlier, the face, mouth, and eyes told much more. An example: "I was riding my red bike today. It's real fast. It has a speedometer that goes to thirty. That's as fast as a car! When I came down the road, I passed a car. I went faster than a car! (lather, rinse, repeat)."

I always bought into his stories whole-heartedly. I could see him: a big, round muscle of a man with cyclone legs tearing down the main road, the sprocket's teeth flashing, spokes blurred into one solid mass, passing Corvettes, Jaguars, and 911's at full clip. The red paint (the paint that gave his bike magical powers of speed) on his bike starting to peel off from reaching the threshold of the impossible. This is what it must've seemed like to him, I suppose.

After I quit that job, I still saw him around. I know that every Sunday Lance would ride forty miles down to his mother's for dinner, visit for a few hours, then ride back home. I also could tell when he changed jobs--you wouldn't see Lance around the street. But, eventually he'd spring up somewhere else and always had a knack for spotting me, even if I was in someone else's car. One day Lance showed up at my door. This was about six years after I'd worked with him. I don't know how Lance figured out where I lived, but there he was grinning at me.

"Hi, Lance!"


"Uh, do you want to come in?"

"Yes. Can you fix me a sandwich?"

"Yeah sure, man. Come on in."

I fixed Lance three sandwiches, two glasses of milk, a banana, and some soda crackers. He stayed about an hour and told me about his new job and how much he liked it. But, mostly he talked about our former job, Elvis, and his new orange bike. He wore out the red one.


Scott said...

Fantastic post man. that is just a great story.

My buddy's brother has down syndrome,he got lost once and the police gave him a ride home. Well all of a sudden the guy 'pretends' to be lost on a regular basis becuase he likes riding in the police car.

Classic stuff.


The Grunt said...

That one's funny, Scott. I imagine that the cops probably get a kick out of picking him up all the time.

Pokey said...

Great story. I loved it.

Crystal said...

That is an awesome story. Speaking of interesting laughs...there was a kid who rode our bus and he was mentally handicapped. He threw up ON me 3 times no matter where I seemed to sit. His gut was like a rocket launcher. I would always start crying and he would start laughing. HAYow HAYow HAYow. I would love to say that I thought it was endearing how he got so much fun out of throwing up on people. But no. It sucked. I would cry all the way home.

The Grunt said...

Oh wow! That's funny Crystal, but I would never want to have been on the receiving end of that dude.


rjw said...

Grunt, that's a great pen-portrait of an interesting character. I used to work in a restaurant with someone a little like Lance. She was bright really but had communication and physical difficulties. It was great having her around because other people in the workplace and customers revealed a lot about themselves in how they dealt with her; those who were patient, those who patronised her. She had a bad stammer which got worse when people were failing to deal with her. The thing she hated the most was people finishing her sentences for her.
I took a gamble one day and told her I thought she was being a bit lazy and hiding behind her disability. Fortunately, it paid off and we got on famously after that. I think she appreciated being told that she was subject to the same expectations as everyone else and therefore 'normal'.
She continued to be lazy as hell, though.
Haven't done much blogging myself for a while - long hours at work. Not complaining, though.
Hope you are well and keep up the good writing!

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