Over thirty years ago, I had an after-school job at a dry cleaners, the same place that two of my sisters had worked at more than a decade earlier. The tailor and one of the workers knew me since I was about five years old. Working there was a bit Dickensian with the chemical smells, drudgery, and the oppressive heat. The other employees were great characters from The Carolinas, Jamaica, and Central America, or from right there in Westchester County, New York.
One woman who looked out for me was named Beulah. She was rail thin--wearing a size zero. Beulah was tough, smart and funny. We bonded quickly and would work the late shift together, sharing stories and a little libation at the end of the day. She had three little girls and an abusive husband who drifted in and out of her life. She also knew how to do everyone else's job in that place, and she did so when they wouldn't show up.
One freezing winter night, Beulah stepped out to the corner store leaving me alone briefly. A minute later, a man walked in with a scarf wrapped around his face. I wasn't afraid at first because it seemed that I recognized him somehow. He passed a piece a paper across the counter and I opened it, thinking it was his ticket for a clothes order. "Give me all your money or I'll shoot." All right. Even though he didn't show a gun, I calmly stepped over to the register and opened the drawer. Most customers paid by check, so I had to sift through check after check to pull out a $20 bill here and there. I only managed to take out $80 when the robber grew impatient, saw that Beulah was returning from across the street, and ran out. Whatever steely courage was keeping my spine upright through that immediately evaporated and I collapsed into jellyfish crying just as Beulah walked in. I relived the sequence for her and, in doing so, it occurred to me that I recognized the guy. He had strikingly exotic almond-shaped eyes, but there was a block that kept me from remembering his name.
Beulah was devastated and felt guilty for leaving me alone to be subjected to that even though I wasn't hurt. She called the police and they took me in a patrol car around town in case I might spot the thief on the street. It was useless but I was still wracking my brain for the name that I was sure was tied to those eyes. At the police station, they sat me in front of mug shot books, but there was nothing. Then, it hit me. "Eddings!" The thief was a regular customer who lived in the neighborhood and was one of the few who asked us to keep his tickets in a special box because they knew they knew they would lose them otherwise. When I yelled out the name, the detective said, "Hoppy Eddings, eh."
The next day I heard that Hoppy was arrested at his mother's place around the corner from the cleaners. The note he left behind at the shop was matched to a sheet of paper sitting on the coffee table. He also apparently robbed a travel agency after giving me the heebie-jeebies and apparently with much better success than a measly eighty bucks.
By the time the court case came up, I was away at college and was never called to testify. Hoppy copped a plea, I guess, and I saw him months later during summer break, walking across the street as I was folding laundry.
Beulah had the horrific misfortune soon after of standing up to her violent husband one night. He attacked her so viciously, breaking a chair across her face, that she nearly lost an eye. Her recovery was slow and she cut off all contact with everyone. She planned on moving far away and we lost touch as I moved on too.