Gentle, Angry Lou

Written by Jim Knipfel on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.



Morgan and
I were having dinner with a couple friends of ours last week, when one of them
said, “You heard that Lou died, didn’t you?”


We hadn’t.
I can’t say it was a shock, really. Just a little sad.


I didn’t
know Lou all that well. In fact, he only spoke to me of his own volition once,
and that was to ask if I wanted a pretzel. I think I took one just to be polite.
He didn’t
look
at me as he spoke then, and I can’t say as he looked at me—or anybody
else—very much at all. He always kept his eyes averted.



I think
I should back up here a bit.


It seems
so long ago now. Back in the mid-90s, New York Press was located on the
eighth and ninth floors of the Puck Bldg., at the corner of Lafayette and Houston.
I was the receptionist back then, which meant that I worked up on the ninth
floor. In retrospect—though it didn’t always seem that way as it was
happening—they were very good days. A bright and interesting crew of people
was working in the office at the time. Artists, musicians, pranksters, goofballs.
It was a lively place. That’s where I met Morgan, and a number of those
other folks remain good friends to this day.


There were
exceptions, of course—the creepies and the nutjobs and the cokeheads who
could make life an annoying ordeal, but every office has those.


Then there
was Lou. I never saw that much of Lou—he was an ad salesman who sat in
a back corner of the office, near the supply closet. He usually came in at 4
p.m., and worked late into the night. Some say it was because most of his clients
were people who lived in other time zones, others (myself included) just figured
he liked having the whole place pretty much to himself.


He was a
large man, with thinning hair on top and a heavy red beard. His eyes, like I
said, were perpetually averted. He would come in the office every day wearing
a tattered, rust-colored sweater and carrying a bag from the corner deli, which
contained snacks—chips or pretzels—and a two-liter jug of Diet Coke.


I didn’t
know too much about him—few people seemed to. There remains to this day,
even, some question as to what his actual last name was. There were a couple
possibilities floating around, all of them pretty closely related, but no one
was absolutely sure. I think Lou himself used a couple different names.


Despite
the air of mystery (whether it was intentional on his part or not) and his general
silence, Lou did have his favorites around the office, those two or three people
he would talk to. I wasn’t one of them—Lou, it seemed, only liked
the women. He would always be offering them snacks, or giving them little trinkets
of some form or another. He always sounded nervous when he spoke—his voice
a low but gruff staccato. It might’ve been the result of all that caffeine.


The first
thing I learned about Lou’s personal life, as I remember, was that he didn’t
have a bed. His apartment, in fact (I was told), was devoid of furniture of
any kind. He slept on a thin pallet on the floor. It was an odd thing to imagine
for such a big man.


That lead
to the revelation that he was a member of a very strict, ascetic Christian sect
that, among other things, demanded that he donate all of his money (less what
he needed for absolute bare essentials) to the church. That’s why he didn’t
have any furniture—he’d sold it all (again, so I was told) and put
all the money into the church’s coffers.


Someone
who knew him better than I did only recently told me that this “all money to
God” business went to some ridiculous extremes. Lou, for instance, in order
to save money, would walk to and from work every day. Thing is, he lived in
Brooklyn, and so every day, rain or shine, he’d have to walk across one
of the bridges.


One night,
he told her, he was walking home over the Manhattan Bridge, despite the fact
that there was some construction going on. Only when he arrived on the Brooklyn
side did he discover that the bridge was closed, and there was no way through
for him. So, having no other option, he turned around, trudged all the way back
across the bridge, found his way over to the Brooklyn Bridge and took that one
home instead.


He also,
it was no surprise, didn’t drop a lot of his paycheck on clothes. Every
day, again regardless of the weather, he would slink into the office wearing
the same tattered sweater over the same, vaguely yellow shirt. One day his supervisor,
after much soul-searching, finally had to sit him down and suggest that a new
shirt might be a good idea.


He was a
hell of a salesman though. I have no idea how or why—maybe on the phone,
he came across as gentle, soft-spoken, even a little hapless. And I guess he
was that, in his own way.


Given all
those other things, though, I suppose it should’ve been no surprise to
discover that Lou was also a man full of rage. It was always there, right under
the surface, threatening to blow. You live like he did, you figure there’s
got to be a mountain of anger at play. Fortunately for those who worked with
him, he always took it into the hall before it erupted.


I remember
the first time I heard the howling outside the office door, I didn’t know
what to make of it. Especially when the pounding started. Only after the second
or third time it happened did anyone dare peek outside to discover that it was
Lou, standing around the corner by the bathrooms, screaming a bitter, barking
scream and pounding on the walls with his meaty fists.


I never
knew, and no one ever fielded a guess as to what, exactly, set him off each
time. Maybe nothing at all. Every two or three months, though, he’d step
outside, calm as can be, as if he were making a normal trip to the restroom.
A few seconds later, the near-biblical pounding and wailing would begin—and
continue for about 10 or 15 minutes.


Thing is,
though, although it startled me that first time, I always empathized with him.
Partly because I had a long history of rage seizures myself, and partly because
I knew that damn near any job can make you want to scream and pound the walls
sometimes.


Weird thing
is, those episodes left me with a greater respect for Lou, somehow. I mean,
sure, I always suspected (and I certainly wasn’t the only one) that one
day, he was going to stroll into the office toting a sawed-off shotgun, an AK-47
and about 1200 rounds of ammunition. But that was okay.


One morning,
long before Lou showed up, a thick-necked, beet-faced, coked-up 40-year-old
fratboy who worked there rifled through his desk, just for yuks. There he found
a personal letter Lou had written. In proper stupid fratboy fashion, he promptly
made several dozen photocopies of the letter and distributed them around the
office.


Most all
of us thought the act was cruel and unforgivable—not to mention illegal.
Lord knows what he’d have found had he gone through my desk. Still, I have
to admit that I read the letter. I’m not proud of the fact, but I did.
And only after reading it did I come to more fully understand the depths of
Lou’s anger. And with that, I felt a deep sadness for him.


The letter,
written in a hard, printed scrawl, was addressed to God Himself. In it, Lou
asked God why he was being tortured after all the work he’d done and all
the sacrifices he’d made. And why, he also wondered, were all the people
around him (his coworkers, I’m guessing)—people who openly mocked
God—being rewarded? He wanted to know what he’d done wrong.


The letter
went on for a page, and was signed at the bottom. I’m not doing justice
here to the palpable rage that came through in both the words and the handwriting.
It was the kind of thing you’d expect to find on the desk of an employee
who was planning on coming back the next day with a cache of weapons strapped
to his body.


He never
did, though. And though a few of us talked about it, nobody ever said anything
to Lou about that letter.


Not long
afterward, Lou was let go. I no longer remember who did it, or what specific
reasons were cited. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the letter
or the screaming. One day he just stopped coming in.


I never
saw him after that, though I did think about him every now and again.


I’m
told now that it was about a year and a half ago that someone heard that Lou
had been diagnosed with something awful, and was only given a few weeks to live.
Whether or not he actually did die remains something of a question. Not knowing
that last name of his for sure makes checking out death certificates something
of a problem.


I guess
what that means is that he’ll remain as mysterious as he ever was. And
who knows? Maybe that’s the way he would have preferred it.


..