A FACADE IN THE CROWD

INSIDE THE ROUND PEG IN LARIMER SQUARE.

Joe from Crest has always been too busy to talk to me. Whenever I am swept into the cyclone of stuff that is Crest Distributing, browsing obsessively, Joe fixes me with his my-hearing-aid-ain't-turned-off-YET look and says, "I know what you're up to, don't think I don't."

But I keep right on being up to it. Today I observe, and duly note, Forties-era Ambrite Old Faithful Colored Chalk, a stack of Perfection Twice-Weekly Time books so old their covers are bound in cloth, and a display of Clingers Stick-On notes, possibly pre-dating the Post-It pad and featuring Clinger himself. Joe follows at a respectful distance and watches me write in an equally ancient composition notebook. Finally he says, "Okay, where are you hiding your money?" and we proceed to discuss and admire the black leather doctor's bag, circa 1930, with the buttery white-leather lining that reminds me of the front seat of an old Mercedes. I have been coveting this bag since December, but since it is sitting deep under one of the many metal desks at Crest, I'm not worried that someone else will find it first.

Joe still wants sixty bucks for it. "It should be more," he points out. "You're letting it get antiquer by the second. Just charge it."

"To who?" I ask.
"Doesn't really matter," he says reasonably.
So I propose a deal. If Joe will tell me his life story--how he happens to be the only landowner who never sold his piece of Larimer Square and still has no intention of doing so, even though this block is now hotter-than-hot, real-estate-wise--I will buy not only the doctor's bag but several other items as well.

But we've had this talk before, and at this point, Joe usually agrees. Occasionally he will send someone next door to the Market for coffee. We will sit down. Then, in his beautiful, soft, West Texas accent, he will tell tales of his childhood, of his land barony, the dining-room set that made him what he is today and the Christmas grenade-launching--but ethics prevent me from revealing the rest. As soon as I try to write these things down, he makes me stop.

"We're just talking now," he says. "I don't have time for an interview."
At first this made no sense whatsoever. After all, were we not sitting around talking? "I'm very busy," Joe would explain. "I don't need the publicity. What was your name again? Oh, yeah--Shotgun."

He has been calling me Shotgun now for several months, which never fails to put me in a good mood. And besides, to make up for these sudden bursts of privacy, he has given me several wonderful things:

A 1940s Jeppesen-Sanderson air-map holder, leather;
Two grenade-launcher sights, wrapped in oilcloth;
A red 45 single entitled "Convertible Myrtle."
Plus, I have purchased: Beautiful old pencils, boxed;

A do-it-yourself embroidery kit of the 48 United States, featuring state flowers and birds;

Several spring composition books.
We have merely to close the deal on the doctor's bag and the life story. It may be quite a wait. Clearly, I have been added to the long list of people waiting for Joe Replin to decide on things.

When I ask Joe how many buildings he owns (more than a dozen for sure, several in booming LoDo), he says, "Why, would you care to lease one?" When I ask him what's inside his many buildings, he says, "Oh, a lot more of this kind of thing." Drifts of office supplies through the ages. Paintings of big-eyed gypsy children. Gold lame handbags. Ancient birthday candles made as a promotion by Standard Oil. Typewriter ribbons pre-dating the computer age. Stacks of children's board games made before I was born. Just thinking about it puts me in a paroxysm of greed.

"Would you ever take me to visit your other buildings?" I asked him once.
"Oh, maybe," he said. "I'm very busy, though."
Joe even works on Christmas Day---not that there's much demand for his items on December 25, but after all, he reasons, he's Jewish. Just what he does all day, any day, is less specific. Once I watched him spend an hour with a gnarled knot of more than a hundred file cabinet keys. Slowly he picked them apart, trying each in every file cabinet he owns. None fit. He kept the keys. Joe is also wont to stack up piles of paper and move them from one side of the store to the other. Once, after I'd stayed away for a month (in hopes that Joe would miss me and relent), I noticed that every display rack and table had been moved--in some cases by less than half a foot. If you are Joe, this makes some kind of sense. If not, perhaps not.

The doctor's bag is still there.
We are deep in the ritual viewing when a woman named Linda Gozzi emerges from deep in the back of the store, where tin ceilings hover over sedimental layers of obsolete office equipment, sees my doctor's bag, and exclaims, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!"

"Now you'll have to fight her for it," Joe tells me, smiling wickedly.
"Brian found an old foot-long Scotch tape dispenser here," Linda says without preamble, "and we're looking for the inch-wide cellophane tape."

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2 comments
missycoyotex
missycoyotex

Old Joe hired me as his bookeeper when I was 15. I lied about my age. When he found out, he let me go. He sure was a crotchedy old fuck.

 
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