I had seen him circling around the neighborhood before and knew that it was only a matter of time until he walked through my front doors to try out some sort of hustle. Within days my premonition would come true. He rode up on a BMX bike with a small bucket, squeegee, and a dirty rag. Skates was about 6'-6", tall and lanky, he was truly a sight to see on that beat up old BMX, with his head hanging over the handlebars and knees knocking into his elbows.
He walked through the front doors and I was waiting for him. I put on my no bullshit, stone cold "get the hell outta here" face on and waited for him to ask me what I already knew he was going to ask and that was; "hey man, lemme clean your windows". My brain was telling me to say no, no, no, get the hell outta here, beat it, scram, get, go now ! But my mouth uttered the words "sure man, have at it".
Within minutes I was watching my perfectly clean windows getting streaked up, and progressively dirtier to the tune of $15. It was the start of a whole new friendship.
For lack of a better phrase, I let Skates "drink from the well" only a couple of times before it ran dry. His work ethic was pretty shitty, big surprise. He was persistent though, and saw that Stroh's could still be a great source of revenue for him. For Skates, the constant rotation of patrons coming in and out through the front doors and milling about eating their food and drinking their coffee provided him with a whole new set of potential customers for one of his many skills and talents.
One of his favorite rackets was the car wash scam. For a small fee of anywhere from $15 to as high as $60 Skates would wash your car for you using the hose on the side of my building and my water. It took me a little while to catch on because the hose was where I couldn't see it on the far side of the property. Most of the time he would get a small deposit or the whole amount and then say he had to go buy some car wash soap and just disappear for the rest of the day. On the few occasions that he did actually wash a car the results were pretty shoddy and needless to say his repeat business wasn't very strong.
In the early days of Stroh's Skates still had it pretty good by Skates' standards. He had a small utility trailer which was no longer than six feet and no wider than four with high sides and a tarp for a roof. Fully stocked with all the bare essentials; oatmeal, toilet paper, porn, blankets etc. he would lug it from one side of the street to the other by hand (because he had no vehicle) to avoid costly parking tickets for street cleaning. As the "new" Venice was slowly gentrifying the police became less and less tolerant of situations like this which played themselves out over and over in our small beach side community. Because his trailer registration had expired the police now had a reason to tow the trailer that Skates once called home. Early one winter morning they towed it away to the impound lot never to be seen by Skates or the streets of Venice ever again.
The year Skates was relieved of his trailer was a cold and rainy one here in Los Angeles which left Skates scrambling for shelter on rainy days and nights. He must have noticed that I had a lot of empty milk crates behind Strohs that were just begging to be made into a make shift shelter. One morning I stepped out back to carry some boxes out to the trash and saw that Skates had done just that. He used up about all of my crates and hung a blue tarp for a roof and was soundly sleeping in a huge pile of moving blankets. I almost didn't want to wake him up. We didn't use the back of Stroh's for anything other than smoking cigarettes and storing empty crates, but imagine trying to explain to the Los Angeles Health Department why you have a homeless man soundly sleeping in your storage area in what appears to be a structurally sound house made of milk crates. So I rustled him out of bed and had him clean up his mess which was pretty impressive seeing that he had only been there for one night.
For some reason, Oatmeal was the meal of choice anytime of the day for Skates. Maybe it was because he had no teeth, or maybe it was because he had fond memories of his Mammy making it for him and it brought him comfort. Regardless of why he liked it he had a specific way that he liked it. While it wasn't everyday that skates wanted me to make his Oatmeal, it was waaaaay to often and usually at the most inconvenient time like at 5:00 a.m. when I was enjoying the peace and quiet of a clean and unopened store. Or right during the middle of the breakfast rush he would knock on our back door until we opened it because even if you yelled at Skates, you just couldn't be mad at him and he knew this. Because he liked it a certain way and never paid, it was all the more a pain in the ass. He had to have it overcooked and gloopy with a pinch of salt and a little bit of butter. Skates had a special knack for smashing the proverb "beggars can't be choosers" to pieces.
In a life filled with strangers, once in a while one comes along that you'll never forget. Skates was one of them.