One of the things about working at Frank's Pizza as a teenager, were the constant cast of characters that came in to talk, flirt, pass time and occassionally eat. Among the most interesting, aside from the litany of ER patients that managed to stagger across the street, were patients from Perry Point Veterans Hospital, located just across the Susquehanna in Perryville. I didn't fully come to be interested in military history until well after Frank's became just a place for stirrups without horses. I look back now and wonder what some of those psychiatric patients might have endured during their time in the military.
One of the regulars was simply known as Mr. Coffee, because, well that is what he ordered. All the time. Coffee, black usually the first cup as we unlocked the door. Mr. Coffee usually was awaiting us at the door when we came in, often talking to himself. No, that's not quite right, often carrying on a conversation with himself, telling jokes and laughing in the next breath. You could never understand what he was saying, thereby ensuring the joke remained his and his alone (or whoever was talking with him in his head). He was always polite, cleaned up for himself, but kept to himself and from what we could tell, kept himself amused.
Margie started calling him Bill. Whether he told her that one day or it was a name of her own invention escapes me now, but Bill Coffee seemed to fit. The guy would somehow take a cab from across the bridge, wearing the same clothes regardless of the weather. He had a full beard, weather-beaten face, nicotine-stained fingers and looked like the dude on the Kansas albums. Most people would say he looked homeless, but to me he just looked lost. I see guys that look like him now more and more often. I wonder what their stories are sometimes.
It must have been the Christmas of 1987, Margie Kline asked us what we thought about buying Mr. Coffee a winter coat with our tips. The tip cup was usually pretty full and funded parties, video games and libations. However, that year we unanimously agreed to buy Bill Coffee a coat. When Margie gave it to him, it was the only time I ever saw him smile. He wore that coat pretty much every day I saw him until Frank's closed and time moved on. I can't come off an interstate anymore without giving a good, long look at the guy at the top of the ramp with a sign. I keep hoping I will see Bill Coffee with a sign that says, "Will Work for Coffee."