"So I was about seventeen years old and I was partying in Vegas. I guess I must have partied a little too hard, 'cause I passed out. And when I woke up, you know who was sucking my dick? Sammy Davis Jr.! So I made him stop and he said, "Can I write to you?"
I must not have looked shocked enough, because The Man From Lady Footlocker felt the need to add another detail:
"Yeah, and some time before that, my brother had to fend off Raymond Burr in the back of a limousine."
This was just one of the countless bullshit lies he told.
He was the bane of my existence. I work in a bar right next to a large shopping center which happens to house a Lady Footlocker store. The Lady Footlocker Man started coming in right after I began working there.
My previous bartending experience, in a civilized corporate hotel, had not prepared me for the crap that I would be dealing with in this urban dive bar. Had I known then what I know now, I never would have let The Footlocker Man get under my skin the way he did. Unfortunately, he caught me when I was still naive and unjaded.
The first time he came in, we got in a conversation about how his daughter had recently died in a car accident. He was in his mid to late forties, and his daughter had been in her mid twenties. He told me his response to her death had been to go on a week-long drinking bender.
Then he told me that previous to this tragedy, his brother had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. He was the one who had to go to his brother's house and clean the dried blood off the walls. He told me the leather jacket he was wearing had belonged to his brother. It, along with other hopelessly out of style clothing items, had come into his possession when his brother died.
He always wore that leather jacket over his green and white striped Lady Footlocker shirt. The rest of his Footlocker uniform consisted of khaki pants and white tennis shoes.
I'd been very sympathetic when he told me about the loss of his daughter and brother. I told him he'd have to let the grieving process take as long as it needed to.
That was my first encounter with The Footlocker Man. He appreciated having a sympathetic ear, and he started to come in fairly often. I figured out right away that he was an alcoholic, as he would sit there all night drinking one beer after another, occasionally throwing in a shot of Goldschlager for variety. He would drink and drink and drink until 12:15 AM, at which point he would have to run like a mad man to catch his 12:18 subway back to Concord.
Early on, I made the mistake of letting him get to know me. I've always been very open about my life, and I made conversation with him about my hobbies, my writing career, my girlfriend, my home life, and everything else. This was a bad idea. It allowed him to think that he knew all about me, and that we were the best of friends.
The thing that made him unbearable is that he would try to monopolize all of my time. No matter how crowded and busy the bar was, he would always expect me to stand there giving him my undivided attention as he took his time to spin some drunken yarn about his life.
What really bothered me was that I would walk away from him and he would still be talking to me. I could be twenty feet away, with no hope of hearing his voice over the din of music and conversation, and he would still be talking to me. I'm a polite person, so I would feel the need to at least try and maintain eye contact and smile and nod when he did this. This only encouraged him, I suppose.
It made no sense. Any normal person would think, Gee, the bartender is taking a drink order from another customer, and now he's walking over to the espresso machine, which is at least fifteen feet from where I'm sitting. I'll just save my amusing little anecdote until he has a spare moment to listen to me.
But not The Lady Footlocker Man, oh no, he would just keep right on talking to me. I could be trying to carry on a conversation with another customer, with my back turned to him, and he would sit there talking to the back of my head.
This interfered with my ability to tend bar properly. A bartender is supposed to make conversation with his customers, to build a rapport with them, to get them talking to each other. It's a bartender's job to entertain people and make sure they're having a good time. That's hard to do when you have somebody talking to the back of your head.
God help anybody unlucky enough to sit anywhere near Mr. Footlocker. He would talk their ear off and make them miserable. One of my best customers told me that on one occasion the only empty seat she could find at the bar was right next to the Footlocker Man.
Reluctantly, she sat next to him. He tried to make conversation with her and then offered to buy her a drink. She declined his offer. His response was to say, "I'm not trying to pick you up." He paused for a moment and then added, "Of course, if you'd like for me to pick you up I'd be more than happy to do so."
My girlfriend came to see me at the bar and found herself sitting next to the man on several occasions. She would politely exchange pleasantries with him and then turn away to talk to the person on her other side. Mr. Footlocker would talk to the back of her head, oblivious to the fact that she was trying to carry on a conversation with somebody else. She found this especially unnerving and creepy. No matter how much she wanted to focus on the other conversation, it was impossible to ignore this hopeless loser blathering at her about the details of his life, with his eyes boring into the back of her skull.
My girlfriend, like many of the people who got roped into conversations with Lady Footlocker, was too polite to just get up and sit somewhere else. Often, the bar wasn't very crowded, so sitting somewhere else would have been futile. As long as you were in his field of vision, Footlocker would try to talk to you.
On one occasion, my sweetheart was trapped next to Footlocker, and I thought, This can't go on. I've got to do something. I scribbled a note that read, "Please go up to my girlfriend and make up some excuse to get her away from that drunk. If you do this, you will have my eternal gratitude."
I slipped the note to one of my regular customers. Like a knight in shining Armani, he walked over to her, grabbed her by the shoulders, and said, "You're up for the next game of pool!"
I went to his place of work the next day and thanked him for his chivalry. I also told a few of my regulars that anytime they saw my girl sitting near Mr. Footlocker, they should rescue her.
The euphoric haze of his alcoholism made him believe he knew me on a very personal level. He was trying to know my girlfriend as well. He would do things like show me an article in the paper and say, "You should show that to your girlfriend! I bet she'd get a kick out of that."
Then he'd see my girl and ask her if I'd shown her the article. She would have no idea what he was talking about, and he would say to me, "I guess you forgot to show her that article..."
And I would want to say, "No, you idiot, I didn't forget to show her the article. I didn't show it to her because unlike you, I know her, and I know she wouldn't have found it interesting.
On another night he was lecturing me on the medicinal properties of blackberry brandy, and he said, "If your girlfriend ever gets cramps, give her some blackberry brandy and she'll be fine!"
I felt like telling him he had no business even thinking about my girlfriend's menstrual pains, much less telling me how to handle them.
He told me she had a great pair of legs. One night, he was quite sloshed, going on about how pretty she was, and he said, "If you die, can I have her?"
I said, "No, man, if I agree to something like that, you'll probably have me killed."
He then got out a pen and tried to get me to write a will on a napkin, naming him as the inheritor of my girlfriend. I could just picture the stories he would drunkenly spill out to my replacement: "Yeah, I got this leather jacket when my brother shot himself in the head, and then I got this little lady when my favorite bartender met with an untimely accident. Say, that's a nice vest you're wearing..."
If you're getting the impression that he thought of women as objects, you're right. Once, a woman sat near him and had dinner at the bar. After she left, he confided in me, "I'd like to lick her ass."
His creepiness found easy expression in his appearance and body language. He was tall and skinny, with grey hair and prematurely aged features, like some disoriented Daddy Long Legs crawling through cob webs it should have long since abandoned.
When he was sober he did a reasonable impression of a normal human being, but as he began to drink, his position and movements would become progressively icky. He sat at the bar with his head craned forward in a hunch-backed posture. His head was often cocked to one side, giving him an off kilter look. He liked to rest his chin in his hand. His eyes would bug out and roll around as he talked, making him look startled or crazy.
His ability to pass for a normal person and hold down a job was surprising. He worked as an assistant manager at Lady Footlocker, which meant that besides selling shoes on commission, he had authority over other employees and important responsibilities. He was too old to be an assistant manager in a retail shoe store. He was bitter about his job, and he talked about it constantly.
He spent a lot of time waiting hand and foot on people who he didn't like. He dealt with snotty rich women who expected him to kiss their asses. He dealt with arrogant French and German tourists who just assumed they were superior to him in every way.
His most hated customers were the black people. He explained that black "crack dealers and welfare recipients" were especially partial to the Nike, Fila, and Adidas products sold in his store. He would moan about how they were incredibly demanding and dishonest.
He told me they would try to return merchandise they had shoplifted at other Lady Footlocker stores or they would try to steal things from his store. He assured me that he wasn't a racist, and as proof told me that one of his coworkers, a young black girl herself, would watch the black customers just as diligently as he did. He claimed that she would alert him to potential thieves by whispering things like, "Black girl at three o'clock!"
When he told me about this, I wondered out loud what it must do to that girl's psyche, having to constantly worry that anyone who looks like her is on the take. Mr. Footlocker didn't seem too interested in the subtleties of her inner life.
He had a persecuted white male complex. He would rant and rave about how his brother had lost a bid to help build the Denver Airport because he was a white male, and that brought him one step closer to bankruptcy and suicide. I felt like saying, "Maybe your brother wasn't qualified, or maybe he just didn't have a very good reputation in his field."
Nothing was ever The Footlocker Man's fault. As long as he believed that women and racial minorities were getting all the breaks, he had a convenient excuse for his own lack of initiative.
He told all sorts of stories about the bizarre things that happened at his place of business. Once, he said, a tall, blonde, well-endowed lass from Scandinavia came in to try on a sports bra. She went into the changing room, put on the bra, and then came out to get his opinion on how it looked. She was wearing the sports bra and nothing else. Europeans aren't so uptight about nudity, after all. As was his habit when telling these stories, he waited eagerly for my shocked reaction.
I didn't look shocked enough, so he felt the need to throw in another detail: "And just as she's coming out of the changing room with nothing on except the bra, in walks this nun! She was looking for shoes for the children at her orphanage, and she had these pieces of paper with tracings of all the childrens' feet!"
Mr. Footlocker was a pathological liar. He told tall tales every night, and the drunker he got, the crazier the stories became. Telling lies was his primary mode of relating to other people, and this was the strangest, most remarkable thing about him.
He told me about his first sexual experience with a woman. It seems there was this extremely rich widow who was friends with his parents when he was fifteen. She asked his parents if he would like to be employed at her house. She would pay him some absurdly high salary to live on the premises for the summer and exercise her dogs.
He went to stay with her and was surprised to find that he had the freedom to smoke cigarettes openly, which wasn't the case at his parents' house. When the widow caught him with a cigarette, her only response was to say, "Why light it yourself?"
She summoned the maid to light it for him. He was living the life of Riley, with no restrictions on his freedom and, curiously, no work to do. She never once asked him to exercise the dogs. He was a little suspicious, but too young and naive to really know what was up.
Then, one fateful night, sure enough, this lonely widow crept into his bed and gave him a blowjob. He told me it felt really good, but that he also felt violated. He called his mother the next day to tell her he wanted to come home. He never told his parents what happened. "You, know," he said, "You're the first person I've ever told about it."
Then there was the story about the first time he actually had intercourse with a woman: He was still fifteen, and he was visiting San Francisco with his parents. Mom and Dad wanted to go to The Opera, something that would not have interested young Footlocker. So they left him alone at Fisherman's Wharf, with his father's stern admonishment not to get in trouble.
He explored Ripley's Believe it or Not Wax Museum and whatever else one finds at Fisherman's Wharf. Then as he was standing on a street corner, a woman said to him, "Would you like to have a date?"
To which our innocent young hero replied, "Yes! Would you like to go to the movies?"
"Why don't we go back to my place?" she suggested.
He described her as being black with a British accent. She had a great body and wore hot pants that showed off her ass quite nicely. They went back to her apartment. To hear him tell it, he was so eager and excited and filled with pent up sexual energy that he lasted for about a minute before unloading a geyser of semen into her body.
Afterwards she said, "That'll be ten dollars, love."
"Ten dollars? For what?"
"For the sex, love!"
At this point he remembered a line from a Shakespeare play he'd been reading in school: The Harlot will kill you. He realized with horror that he was with a Harlot, and he didn't have ten dollars. Panicking and confused, he ran into her closet so fast that he hit his head on the wall and knocked himself out cold.
When he regained consciousness, he explained that he had no money. "You're just a child now, aren't you love?", said this classic example of a hooker with a heart of gold, "Well, you can just give it to me next time."
Back at Fisherman's Wharf, his parents picked him up, and they rode home in his father's Cadillac. His dad was watching him in the rear-view mirror, because he knew something was up. Finally his father said, "You got a hooker, didn't you?"
His father wasn't angry, of course. He almost seemed proud of his son.
At this point in the story I stopped him and asked, "Now wait a minute, your dad said this with your mother in the car?"
"Well no," said Footlocker, "We had already parked in the driveway and my mother had gotten out."
His stories always had little holes in them. Weeks later, when he was telling the story about getting a blowjob from Sammy Davis Jr. at the tender age of seventeen, he said, "That was my first time."
"Wait a minute," I said, "I thought your first time was when you were fifteen."
"Well I meant it was my first time with a man."
In his stories, he got to have all the inadequacies of life corrected. In the real world, no woman in her right mind would have anything to do with him, but in the world of his pathological lies, his sexual misadventures were legendary.
Another big theme in his stories was the punishment of wrongdoers. He told me he used to be a bartender in Chico. The bar was popular with a bunch of World War II veterans who liked to drink and reminisce about The War. At the time, the people of Chico were constantly being terrorized by a group of young toughs, miserable little punks whose median age was sixteen.
"They rolled me a few times." He told me. Not mugged, but "rolled", as in "rolling a drunk." The criminal justice system couldn't really do anything about these kids, because they were all so young.
Then one night a regular customer of his, who happened to be a middle-aged female midget, came staggering into his bar. She had been jumped by the young punks, who had robbed and beaten her severely. Worst of all, he told me, "One of her eyeballs was hanging out of its socket!"
He immediately closed the bar and one of the veterans, an 80 year old man who walked with a cane, rallied the crowd, saying, "Boys, let's go kick some ass!"
The whole crowd of geriatric veterans with their canes, hearing aids, and pacemakers marched over to the park where the juvenile delinquents were known to hang out. They proceeded to give the little bastards the sound thrashings they so richly deserved. Mr. Footlocker even got to beat up the ones who had mugged him.
The police arrived and just stood there watching. The veterans were finally doing to the punks what the cops wanted to do but couldn't.
The Lady Footlocker Man was a real problem for me. One regular customer told me that he and his friends would come into the bar, see him, and say to each other, "We'll just have one drink and then we'll leave."
He was driving away good customers who tipped well. He, by comparison, would drink all night and then leave me two dollars. The I.R.S. estimates how much a bartender makes in tips by looking at his gross liquor sales, and taxes him accordingly. So I was paying taxes on the huge amounts of beer and Goldschlager this idiot was consuming. His mere presence in my bar was hurting me financially.
One of the other bartenders told me he dreaded coming to work because he knew Lady Footlocker would be there.
One night, Footlocker came in and told me he thought he was about to be fired. He had spaced out that morning and forgot he was supposed to open the store an hour earlier than normal. The store had to pay a $1000 fine to the mall any time it opened late. He was sure he was going to be fired. He told me that if he lost his job, there would be no way he could afford the train fare to get to San Francisco, and therefore I wouldn't be seeing much of him. I hoped with all of my heart that he would get fired. It didn't happen soon enough.
He continued to be employed and make my life unbearable for a while. Then one glorious morning, the day bartender called me at home to tell me Footlocker was at the bar and that he had lost his job. I couldn't believe it. It was too good to be true. He had been late for work again, and the store manager had at last given him the axe.
Here's where things get really weird: The day bartender told me Footlocker had met a woman at the bar and he'd left with her! I couldn't imagine what sort of woman would allow herself to be picked up by this man.
About a week after he got fired, I met his new friend. He came into the bar with her, and at first, I didn't recognize him. Instead of his usual Lady Footlocker uniform and his dead brother's leather jacket, he was wearing a suit and tie and a pair of glasses. He looked like a completely different, more respectable person.
The woman was with him. She sat at the bar and I could smell the alcohol on her as she introduced herself. Her name was Laura. "He just introduces me as 'the lesbian from New Jersey' because I won't sleep with him!" she said. She ordered a Long Island Iced Tea without the lemon garnish, triple sec, or sweet & sour mix, "...so I can taste the tequila."
The Lady Footlocker Man, who I suppose was no longer The Lady Footlocker Man, was wearing the suit and tie because he had gone to the store to pick up his final paycheck, and he wanted to look successful.
Laura was fresh off the train from New Jersey, and on her first day in San Francisco, she had been robbed of all her belongings and money. The next day she wound up at my bar and met The Man Formerly Known as Footlocker, who had just been fired.
She stepped away from the bar and Footlocker told me Laura was staying at his apartment in Concord, and the two of them had just spent the last week drinking. He said she was somebody to "commiserate" with, and he figured maybe she could get a job and help out with the rent.
He told me she drank too much. He said he would wake up and look over at her, and she would be lying in bed drinking cheap vodka straight out of the bottle. He said she drank so much that she didn't even get hungry, and he had to fight with her to get her to eat something. When The Lady Footlocker Man thinks you have a drinking problem, it's time to get help.
He told me she had a nice body underneath all that clothing, and that he had tried to have sex with her twice. It was pathetic to think of him wanting to have sex with this lumpy boozer with her puffy cheeks, blurry eyes, and unkempt greying hair.
One of my fellow bartenders later told me that Laura had come into our place of work on her fateful first day in the city, and he and one of the waiters had befriended her, giving her advice on where to find a cheap residential hotel. They warned her to stay away from Sixth Street, which has a lot of residential hotels, but is quite dangerous.
She promptly went to Sixth Street, got drunk, and got robbed. Then she came back and tried to borrow money from the waiter. That's when they realized she was the wrong person to make friends with. The bartender told me Laura was gay. Mr. Footlocker may have been joking when he referred to her as "the lesbian from New Jersey", but the truth of the matter was he didn't have a chance in hell of having sex with her, and he didn't even know it.
I got the feeling she was stringing him along, allowing him to think that sex was a possibility, so he would keep paying for her liquor and letting her live at his house. She was going to bleed him dry and then probably disappear with his stereo.
In a rare moment of straight talk, I told Footlocker that I thought this woman was bad news, and that it could be a mistake for him to get mixed up with her.
He doesn't come to my bar anymore. I'm glad I don't have to deal with him, but I do feel bad for the guy. For him to allow this lush from New Jersey to mooch off him, he must have been profoundly lonely. Now that he's unemployed, I can only imagine what a swirling, sucking, eddy of despair his life has become. Alcoholism is hell.