The Most Forgettable Charactor I Ever Met

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He was Jewish, 50 or so, with a soft paunch, rounded shoulders, jet-black hair, and lifeless eyes the same color as his hair.

He peered at me over the top of thick eyeglasses, sizing me up as he read the application I had just completed.

"You're lucky," he told me. "We have an opening."

And, so, I met my new boss.

I'll call him Lou Meyers out of respect for his privacy, even though he is gone now.

Lou had taken over as manager of the small auto and home store in which I had worked before the Air Force called up my Air National Guard outfit during the Korean War.

He was wrong, by the way; I wasn't lucky, and it made no difference whether he had an opening or not. Because I had been called up during the war, the law at the time guaranteed that my job would be waiting for me when I got back.

I didn't debate the point.

"When do I start?"

"Tomorrow morning, eight o'clock." He eyed me over his horn-rimmed glasses again. "Sharp," he added.

I'll be honest; I did not take a liking to Lou Meyers during that first meeting. He struck me as a small man filling a job that was too big for him. It would have been an accurate assessment too, except for one thing; the job itself was smaller than I remembered it being.

I was 18 when I was called into the service and 21 when I got back. Those three years matured me and raised my horizons, raised them so much in fact that the streets in New London, Conn. looked narrower, the buildings looked lower, and the whole town looked dirtier and more rundown than I remembered it being.

In truth, Lou fitted his job perfectly. Being manager of a small retail store during the recession of the middle 1950s required a special person, one able to do a lot of bean counting and backslapping.

It also required someone who could manage a smile on his face, regardless of how tired the body that went with that face might be.

Staying in business at the time, called for attention to all the "little" things that can make or break a small store, in an equally small town.

Lou had exactly what it took; no more, perhaps, but certainly no less.

I learned a lot about Lou Meyers during the two years I spent in civilian life, before I discovered the fact that I belonged back in uniform, as a small part of what keeps this nation safe.

In observing Lou, I learned that under the surface of the institutions that seem to keep this planet spinning--the governments, the armies and navies, the businesses large and small, the thrumming manufacturing plants--are layer after layer of small, quiet, unassuming, easily overlooked men and women who simply do their jobs, collect their pay, go home and drink a beer and watch a little television, roll into bed, and get up the next morning to do it all over again.

Lou, God bless him, was one of those.

I remember just one time when Lou rose above himself and said a few words worth quoting. It happened this way: We were having a sale on small red wagons.

We had about six or seven sizes of them. A size that normally sold for $5.98 was on sale for $4.98. I happened to overhear a woman giving Lou a hard time about the sale price.

"That's no bargain," she said. "At the store up the street, they're $3.98."

Lou, as serious as I had ever seen him, and obviously impressed with the price offered by our competitor, said, "Oh, that's a good price. At that price you should grab it."

"I can't."

"Why not?" Lou asked.

"They're out of them."

I've never forgotten the quiet smile that lit up the face of Lou Meyers at that moment. "Well," he said, "when we're out of them, we sell them for $2.98."

There's a spark of greatness in the least of us, I suppose. Or maybe it's just the reverse; maybe the very least of us have to be there so the "great" ones have someone they can strike sparks off.

Where, after all, would the steel be without the flint?

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