A few days ago I found a beautiful blue envelope in the mailbox nestled in the mounds of junk mail I receive regularly. I peeled away the supermarket circulars and one, two, three lumpy envelopes containing pleas for donations, enclosing a free pen, a dime and and a notepad meant to provide incentive to send back a check. Tearing each piece of junk mail into three pieces before discarding it, I saved the blue envelope for last. In perfect catholic school penmanship with deep flourishes my name and address was neatly written in black ink. The return label was a printed picture of a fancy car on a black and white checkered garage background and displayed the name and address of an old acquaintance, Daniel LaFlouri. He worked in the warehouse of a company I worked for back in the 90’s and as a smoker (I’ve quit) I would frequently go into the warehouse to have a cigarette and that is how I came to know Danny.
No one really gave Danny much respect. He was simply the guy in the warehouse, a necessary evil, doing the job no one else wanted. Various women worked in the office through the years and most avoided him and actually called him a pervert behind his back. His desk was littered with odds and ends that made no sense and in general, conversations with him left you shaking your head and wondering. The company ran two crews one Polish and the other Spanish. The favored Polish workers were always complaining that Danny was incompetent. The owner of the company paid him a decent wage but publicly lamented that Danny was overpaid for what he did. A few years into his tenure as head warehouseman Danny discovered some illegal carting practices and told the boss about it. Since the infraction was committed by the “star” crew it was overlooked because that crew generally made money so the taking of some was forgiven. This was a slap in the face for Danny because the superintendent was told where the information came from, so he no longer kept a civil relationship thereby making the workplace quite hostile for Danny. On another occasion, the owner tried to get away with not paying Danny overtime by promoting him to supervisor and Danny made sure that this did not happen by contacting the state of New York to find out if this was a legal procedure. Since he was the only person who worked in the warehouse he was happy to supervise himself but he expected an honest wage for an honest days work. Eventually Danny just learned to keep his mouth shut unless it really affected him and he did what he had to do. He gave up complaining that equipment needed to be replaced and made repairs and did the best he could with what he had.
Danny’s initial actions surprised me because I thought that he would keep a lower profile, but I liked the way he stood up for himself, he eventually stopped making any waves, but I always admired the old school way he served the company. Based on his appearance and demeanor I figured he was lucky to find work, I considered his bizarre behavior and the inability to understand what he was talking about unless you spoke spanish the impression that he should really try to hold onto this job. Danny was never let go and never quit and that 3,000 SF warehouse was his realm from 1990 to 2013.
Danny is from Chile. A proud man, very lean and tall with long black hair. He always had a thick black mustache and an even thicker spanish accent. He remained fit through the years and in spite of his age, he perpetually appeared to be in his early 40’s even though he was entering his 60’s. Methodically and carefully he would speak to me in broken English and if I really listened I could I could kind of understand what he was talking about, otherwise I had no idea and I would just take in context clues and respond with a titter or an “oh my” and hope for the right reaction. He was a very sexual man, you could tell he loved to look at women and court them and he often spoke of his wife back in Chile and his American wife here and his other wife as well. I politely listened and clarified by asking if he knew that you were only supposed to have one wife but he would just laugh. He delighted in displaying a poster sized photo of a dance crew featuring his son on the grubby pockmarked metal door in the back of the warehouse which was secured with a heavy steel flat bar wedged in between two metal fasteners. It was such a pretty thing taped up in the dirty warehouse and it looked so foreign against the hard, dirty, paint streaked gray and black metal industrial door. It was also disconcerting to see it in close proximity to all the scantily clad women in the photos all over his wall and desk.
Danny’s son was forever captured in a jazz fingers pose wearing a red sequined top hat and vest. He was surrounded by beautifully posed female dancers all dressed in red sequins with styled hair and makeup. They all looked perfect up against a clean, bright, white background. Danny just loved talking about his son. He spoke of his other children as well, all in college or pursuing interesting dreams in medical fields and the arts. I remember the owner of the company once asking me what the hell that creepy picture of gay teens was doing in the warehouse and I also remember the stunned look I received when I told him that it was Danny’s son studying to be a dancer. Somehow it was hard to picture Danny as a family man and yet he was….a few times over.
Danny drove a vintage Monte Carlo. It was charcoal black with tinted windows and chrome spoked wheels. He had a custom steering wheel made of a very shiny metal chain. A giant chain molded and set in to the circular shape of a steering wheel was custom mounted in the car. On his dashboard sat a small barbie doll provocatively posed on her knees and completely nude. This barbie was special as she clearly had silicone breasts and nipples, unlike the kids toys we are all so familiar with, she also had a very sexy expression on her face with her head cocked to one side she appeared to be saying c’mon big guy get over here!. He also had a toy gun that looked real but he would quickly show you that it was only a lighter after you appeared to be worried and a small flag wrapped in yellow fringe hanging from the rear view mirror. The car smelled like the nicest air freshener and in pleasant weather he always left the windows open so you could see the inside compartment and his appreciate his odd treasures.
Danny began his work in the construction industry as an insulator. He spoke with great pride of his days in the field. He believed himself to be the best insulator and that is how he landed his job in the warehouse. His ability to know the tools and items that would be needed to finish a job made him a perfect choice to pack the trucks and watch for theft and keep the jobs running efficiently.
I left the company for a few years in between and I never really kept my promise to keep in touch. Like Danny I did not understand some of the strange practices, didn’t feel like just settling in and left in frustration to seek other opportunities. I was asked to return in 2013 and decided to give it another try as I loved being a part of the company back in the day and now hearing that it was floundering I looked forward to doing some fancy sales and earning my keep. The shorter commute and pay increase made it worth my while and even though so much had changed from the day I left there to the day I returned 10 years later, one thing remained in tact and that was Danny. He served and remained loyal to that company to the very end.
Sadly, greed and bad management decisions left the company in tatters and there was really nothing that could be done to save it. Those of us who were left after the valiant effort to keep it going did not willing let it go. The company had become a family and we could not believe it was ending.
Danny was let go when we closed out the last job, however, he continued to report to work each day. Danny’s good friend and I explained to him that the company would no longer be doing business and he would no longer be receiving a pay check but he continued to show up day after day. Crushed by the economy, unions, abuse, illness and bad decisions there was no way to continue. Danny did not stop coming to work, he remained hopeful that things would find a way of straightening out.
When the buyers came to look over the equipment in the warehouse Danny accompanied them and explained the history and usefulness of each machine, lumber or pre fab they were interested in purchasing. He helped load the equipment into the trucks as they were hauled away. Danny went through old file boxes and helped to prepare files for long term storage and labeled all the stuff that was meant for the trash. He joined us in the conference room for lunch and then went back out to the sparsely filled warehouses to spend his days alone as it had always been. His head was lowered and he shook it back and forth. None of us could believe that we couldn’t pull it off. It was over. The sequence of events that lead to the company’s demise went around and around in our heads. It just wasn’t right, a perfect storm that left 15 of us and some 200 field workers alone after belonging to this company that united us all in some way since 1985.
Marketing and sales were no longer necessary, so I took a position with a friend that had served as our rival and peer in the industry from the start and I managed to set up an interview for Danny. My new employer impressed me as he was willing to take Danny on without even meeting him after hearing of his history at the other company. I was shocked when he came back to tell me that Danny refused the job. How could that be? Where was he going to go? The new company had a bigger warehouse, 5 or 6 workers as well as a repair shop full of tools and benches. All the shelves were lined up neatly, clearly labeled and inventoried, I thought Danny would love it. An added bonus, he only lived a few blocks away from the new company thus ending his years of driving 70 miles a day in brutal traffic to get to the office and back home. I studied spanish on and off and hoped I had enough skill to try to converse with Danny so I called him. He explained to me that the new employer offered to pay him 15 dollars an hour and that it was not worth his time and effort for so little in return. After being in charge for so many years it would be difficult to assimilate into the new position and he was just too old, set in his ways and tired to do it. So it was the end.
Eventually some of the remaining employee’s including Danny’s friend joined me at the new place and it all turned out nicely. We keep dibs on each other here and there, oh yes so and so is doing fine, I hear Dina will be a grandmother soon, Lana’s son is graduating this year, just like that the people we see everyday—we stop seeing—and just like that we move on.
Closing up that shop was very difficult for me and my friends, but one of my most saddest memories was seeing Danny’s desk packed away. Through the years I had visited that warehouse on different occasions, once with a broken boot, Danny took it, popped it on his bench and secured the sole with a powerful glue. Another time he provided me with a button and some needle and thread to repair my jacket I had caught on a nail during a site walk.
Before we turned in the key to the landlord of some 20 odd years, I took one last walk into the warehouse to unwind a bit. I was not a smoker anymore so it was simply habit to get away from my desk and the barrage of phone calls from creditors and confused customers. Danny was there of course and I told him that I had finally convinced my husband to let my son have a dog. Danny asked me what size my dog was and when I told him he went into his desk, rustled around a bit and came out with a harness and a stuffed dog toy with the tags still on. I just looked at him in disbelief and a little tearfully as I knew that his days of being the warehouse guy, who pretty much could come up with what ever you needed, were over.
I asked him for his address before we parted ways and sent him a Christmas card which prompted his response. I carefully sliced open the blue envelope to reveal a card of black with red foil flourishes printed on heavy stock. When I opened the card I saw the salutation in lovely script wishing my husband and I the best of everything in the year to come. It was the most elegant card I received from anyone this year. He had meticulously printed 2014 in the left hand corner and 2015 in the right and his writing was loaded with lots of swirls and it was a little hard to decipher our names. Much like his accent made me listen harder I had to look a little closer to see our names in the fancy designs.
I am so glad that I took the time to come to know this gentleman.