Friday, March 28, 2008


It was a busy, rainy Saturday night. The store was hopping. Not only were there tons of shopping, potentially paying customer but, as is always the case when it rains, there were more than the usual allotment of indigent visitors. They come in to stay dry, they buy a cup of coffee with panhandled change that they then nurse for hours. Sometimes they try to sneak a nap, but we're pretty strict about that.

In fact, I have a no sleeping in the store rule, one that I enforce across the boards with no regard for a person's apparent social or financial status. Hey, fair is fair: if the homeless guy without a bed can't sleep in my store, then the well-dressed man who wants to sleep off the wine he drank with dinner while his wife shops the bestsellers and his kids run amok in the music section, or the student who wants to lay her head down and rest her eyes for a few moments can't sleep in the store either. Fair is fair.

So when one of my supervisors came to me on this particular Saturday night to tell me that there was a homeless lady in the cafe who she'd had to wake up twice, I decided to tell her myself.

"Ma'am. Ma'am." She looked up sleepily. "Wake up dear, you can't sleep in the store."

"I wasn't sleeping."

"Yes, you were. Don't do it again, please, or I'm going to ask you to leave."

"I don't care what you do. Go on, call the police if you want to."

"I don't want to call the police. I just want you to stay awake."

But she fell asleep again. So I woke her up again. And she fell asleep again. So I asked her to leave and she said, "Call the police."

I called the police.

In a little while several of our fair city's finest arrived. I explained the situation, pointed out the lady. They asked, as they always do, how I'd like the situation resolved. Since I'd already asked her to remain awake and she hadn't managed to comply, I told them, I'd like her to leave now.

So, one of our socially conscious boys in blue sat down at the table across from her and introduced himself. About ten minutes later he came back to me and said, "Well, she did buy a cup of coffee, and it's still warm [I'm not sure how that could be possible after 30 minutes, but okay]. I would suggest that you allow her to finish her coffee. She knows she's supposed to move on when she finishes it. I could arrest her now if you like, but that will be on you." Not wanting the arrest of a little old homeless lady on my conscience, I agreed to the officer's plan.

He joined his comrades in the front of the store, where they stood and talked as they steeled themselves to head out into the dark, cold, wet night. I busied myself at the desk for a few minutes, then turned around to check on the cafe. There was my friend, arms above her head as she removed her sweatshirt. Lots of people get warm when they're sitting inside drinking coffee, lots of people take off their outer garments. Most of them, however, have clothing--or at least underwear--on underneath. My little lady was naked from the waist up. In my cafe. On a Saturday night.

"Officer!" I called, as I hurried across the floor to where they still stood. "I'd like you to arrest her now."

What I'm reading right now: The Faithful Spy, by Alex Berenson

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