Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Damrow's Lore ~ "Vern"

Disclaimer: I don't know how much of "Vern's" story is true. He's dead now. I only remember the wild rumors and I've been told that my memory can be a bit inventive at times, too... :)

Vern was a large man with slurred speech and a drooling problem. He was missing most of his fingers on his right hand, yet he insisted on rolling his own cigarettes. The result was a thick brown slime on the formica table consisting of slobber and tobacco. Had he been a sweet man, these things would be forgiven quite easily, but his personality is what made the other setbacks so disgusting. The wait staff was constantly being yelled at by him--they couldn’t understand most of it, but the message was clear between the “goddamn”s and the way he urgently grabbed their arms. Other customers never understood why his abusive behavior was accepted--why he wasn’t kicked out of there or even arrested for disorderly conduct.

That is, until the day Vern didn’t come in. The whole place seemed quiet and restless. Jeff, the schizophrenic dishwasher, sat down for a cigarette break.

“He’s not so bad, you know,” he said as he sparked up his Kool. “Vern. You know, in a lifetime, you come across one or two people who are really special. It’s rare, damnit. Every day people just pass him by like he’s scum.” Jeff exhaled hard and started flicking his ashes where he must have remembered there being an ashtray.

“Did you know he was a concert pianist? Well he was, and goddamn brilliant, too. He made grown men weep, you know. He touched souls. He had a full scholarship at LU but he worked at the mill to support his parents--both drunks by the way. He was in love with a pretty young girl who saw the star in him, and they were engaged. It breaks my heart to think of. Shit, “ he lit another Kool and looked over both shoulders. “One day at the mill he cuts his damn fingers off. Everything over. No concert pianist life, no lovely wife. She couldn’t invest in a man who had no future. Hell, he couldn’t even work at the mill anymore. I saw him a week later and his hair was white. He was a sensitive type, you know, it just crushed him completely. Shit. I never saw anything so damn sad,” Jeff blinked hard as he lit a third cigarette, “He stopped talking, stopped doing anything. It wasn't long before he was committed. So, here we are today, and he’ll never leave that halfway house, everyone knows that. They give him five dollars a week and he gets to come down here and have his cup of coffee. I mean, coming down here and cussing us all out puts a smile on his face, and I don’t mind because I’ll never forget that blank stare he used to have. Truth is it warms our hearts to see him get lively. You know what I mean?"

And with that, Jeff bolted up and was back in the kitchen with his headphones on.


Zip n Tizzy said...

I've known too many people like that in my life, and they seem to always have a story like that. That of two extremes.
It makes you count your blessings.

womaninawindow said...

OH, girl, you can set a story. A story with depth and lots of questions remaining. Wish I woulda seen this one sooner. It deserved a post of the day! Putting this one in my side bar. It's not much but it's something.

(and thank you for writing more)

Anonymous said...

I worked at Damrow's as a dishwasher during my school vacation as a teenager. I remember working with Jeff during training. He would curse at the voices in his head whilst washing dishes.. Jeff was a man with a big heart and a poor memory.
I barely remember Vern though. Here's what I remember... Slaving in the kitchen washing dishes on a Saturday while Tom Jr blasted Rusch Limbauh on the radio. It was on saturdays I missed the regular cook.. Betty I beleive was her name. She was a spunky middle aged gal and didn't let the pot used for Bill's poached eggs boil dry like Jr. did. We had an interest group of patrons. We had Pearl..a very nice lady but way too much cheap parfume. I could always tell she was there with out seeing the dining area because the pungent smell of her parfume would waft into the kitchen.
There were too elderly twin ladies that would come in, order breakfast and talk for hours about the cats/kitties they had in younger years. To my suprize a few months ago I saw them walking out of the Darboy Walmart. Donned with the usual 3+ coats each even in hot weather such as that day.
There where two waitresses I worked with, Suzie and I don't remember the other one's name. The other one (drawing a blank) was an aspiring actress. She would sing for the customers. Before her break she would notice the daily special of a Ruben Sandwich.. She would comment on how she could really go for one but they were fattening and she was not a skinny girl. I still miss that restaurant to this day. Tom Sr. ended up closing it because he was retiring and his son didn't want to take the business over...

Hilary said...

@ anonymous... Vern's story... Well his name was LaVern, and honestly today I can't remember any of what I wrote here, so maybe I made most of it up. I know that these were the whispers among employees, though.

Pearl! She had some kind of obsession with nickels and the moment she spotted anyone she would start yelling from across the room, "You know I was halfway here before I realized I forgot my nickels! Three flights of stairs I have to walk up..." etc.

Tom Sr. always said, "OH YEAHHH" every time he got up. Tom Jr. was apparently a real ray of sunshine until the day that he saw his fiancee killed in a car accident...

I loved Jeff. Just loved him. Like a big kid. He always had good stories and would then just get up and take off super fast.

Suzy was a friend of mine...

I remember the other waitress, Nicole...

Joey the paper boy.

Charles the florist and his table of friends, the ex nuns and the guy in the wheelchair who always wore purple. They were so fun.

At some point I think most of my friends worked there... Suzy, Rebecca, Ian, Jarrett, Sarah, my brother Shannon, I think Marc might have worked there too...

I miss the boomerang pattern on the formica tables, the old black and white photos, the weird gourd lights with the holes in them, the 50 year old carpet. It was so gross but I totally loved it all.

They had awesome hash browns and fried egg sandwiches and you can't beat 58 cents for a bottomless cup of coffee.

Hilary said...

See a previous post