Bent Words

Bent Words

February 26, 2006

They come in all shapes and sizes -- carved carefully out of wood or molded from heavy ceramic. Traditionally, they are considered a garden accessory and often noted for their tall, red pointed hats which curl over at the top. Their old faces stare out at something far off in the distance, as though immersed deep in thought, and wrinkles draw deep on each side of their upturned pug noses.

Gnomes are supposed to bring you good luck.

All or more of four years ago, when I was working in sales at Lake Country Powersports, we had a regular window shopper whom no one on the floor wanted to talk to. Lets call him Henry.

Henry was mentally challenged and we had delegated him as one of the 'Scooter Brigade;' a group of travelers in the Waukesha area who dangerously roamed the busy streets of this town solely on scooters (perhaps you recall the story of Kevin White). Each member was intimated for their slow thought process, reckless driving skills and often stubborn attitudes. Despite their frequent visits, it was impossible to get any of them to actually buy anything.

We called these people 'Floaters.' The ones who would float about the showroom floor without any intent to buy.

Henry was, indeed, a Floater.

He owned an old Honda Elite Scooter which maybe hit a top speed of about 30 MPH (if he was traveling downhill). Yet Henry dreamed of something more. He longed to be the owner of that red, automatic 250cc Helix we stored in the rear showroom and he would come in, perhaps once every week, just to sit on the scooter. He would open and shut the rear trunk, measure the rear fender for the fitting of a basket and engage the service department with questions regarding the internal mechanics of the machine.

We sighed as Henry cooed over the possibilities.

"Would he just buy the damned thing already?"

I was the only one who emanated patience for Henry and he soon became 'my Floater.' But the patience paid off when one day he came in with one of his caretakers and finally purchased the used 250 Helix.

On the day of his pickup, he strolled in through the door with a proud, beaming smile and handed me a ten pound, pointed mass of a Garden Gnome. It was his way of saying thank you.

I turned the heavy creature over in my hands and noted the price tag still stuck to the bottom.

"He paid TEN BUCKS for this?," I thought. Yeesh.

But I placed the unsightly paper weight on my desk and wrote 'Wheelie the Danger Gnome' on the mushroom which he sat. He became the mainstay at the shop and made for some great conversations between me and new customers. I had something better than the weather to discuss and many employees dropped by just to give Old Wheelie a good luck rub.

After I left the shop to take on new endeavors, Wheelie stayed and kept one of the technicians at the shop company. He then made his way down to the Warehouse where he would catch your eye as you passed by. As legend purports, Wheelie the Danger Gnome traveled.

He traveled through the hearts of those that I had left, reminding them of me.

And although it seems like a simple, childish story, it's good to remember those days of old at the shop. When business was booming and I was the top sales person -- able to sell recreational vehicles to some of our most frustrating Floaters. When we all got along and worked so well together. When someone was always working on their own equipment after hours and we would linger, sharing a few beers and a story. The weather never seemed hotter, for a shop without air conditioning, and it was ingratiating just to sit outside on a humid summer day and watch the traffic roll by. The peak of my career and the intensity of the sport that I adore -- all wrapped into one locale and a handful of co-workers.

I suppose I never realized how lucky I was in the midst of it all.

But at least I'll always have Wheelie the Danger Gnome to remind me...

*** Thanks, Gayla, for the mini-gnome and, most especially, for sparking these memories ***

Written at 10:21 a.m.