Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Percy was the night desk clerk in the hotel my grandmother owned in Peoria, Illinois. Everyone called him Percy, but no one knew if that was his first name or his last name.

Percy was five feet tall, was thin as a stick, and had black, frizzy hair with sideburns that reached to his lower jaw. He sported a wispy Fu Manchu type of moustache that he was wont to stroke as if it were an award-winning part of his being.

He always wore white clothes that combined a Kentucky Colonel outfit and a zoot suit. The trousers were baggy, and their waist fitted under his armpits. The coat had wide lapels and long tails. There was an expansive, necktie and a wide-brimmed hat, both white. His shoes were white bucks. His shirt had a black monogrammed PCS.

When I asked Percy what the “CS” stood for, he said “Crazy Spade.”

His skin was a dusty coffee hue. His fingernails were yellow, thick, and long. So long they curved and twisted for at least an inch from the fleshy tips of his fingers.

I used to wonder if Percy’s toenails were also long, and if they hindered his walking. Probably not, because he was rumored to have been a choreographer of a black dance company in Chicago.

Percy was wise in wondrous ways.

“The strenth is all in the nails,” he often declared. “You got no nails, you got no strenth.”

“Thus spoke Zarathustra,” he added.

He pointed a warped fingernail at a light bulb.

“You see that up there.”

It was a statement, not a question.

“That there light bulb is the light of the world.”

I thought about that, while Percy fondled his moustache. He looked into my eyes.

“Live close to the ground and do what you enjoy.”

“Who said that,” I asked.

“I just did.”

“I mean before you.”

“It was a Chinese philosopher named Loochow.”

“Do you mean Lao-tzu?”

“That’s what I said. Loochow.”

Percy was a wellspring of arcane knowledge. He didn’t appear to be a religious man, though he had his own special blessing that he bestowed on individuals throughout the year.

Placing one brown hand on your shoulder Percy would bow his head and declare, “And may all your Christmases be white.”