Marco Serpico


Today a phone call from the affiliate store to tell us a ‘man in a fedora’ is on the way to ask about a shaving related item.

Some time went by and I saw him at the front door,  dressed casually – but like a gentleman and I enjoyed the moment, welcoming him.

He’s like a tiny Robert Duval, I want to say ancient and his skin and hair conform to that description, but he exudes a youthful demeanor – there is a vitality to him that seems to carry the frailty so that you don’t fear for him or feel he’s incapable in any way.

He’s well dressed – not formally, but in clean, well-fitting trousers, a stout canvas cloth jacket with new zippers, a tidy and comfortable scarf in a V at his throat extending out the bottom of the coat – it shows tassels at his waist.

He begins to speak and I find myself trying to understand intent through a kind of broken Italian accent laced with familiar words in English and a scattering of what I assume is a marriage of the two. This is not Hollywood Italian – it’s the source of that kind of invented dialect – it’s challenging, but I’m drawn to him and find myself captured by his courage, the commitment to communication without any dedication to the mastery of the language. In fact the communication is impossible to document – all I can do is explain where I believe he was going and where my mind went as I tried to follow. I wish I had a recording – I’d like to have captured more of the terms he was using.

I understand he’s looking for a tool to sharpen razor blades – this is an item I’ve heard of – discussed in Web-based threads usually – I show him a couple of razors and a couple of straight razors – he insists he just needs something to sharpen his blades.

He’s a pleasure to listen to – his eyes sparkle a little and his head tilts as he tries to conjure the right words. I attempt to follow, but he’s on to something else. He’s explaining that he is self-sufficient and he doesn’t need to purchase blades, he’s capable of sharpening the ones he has. He uses the term ‘realistico’ to describe his command of life – ‘clear eyes and realistico’.

He tells a story about his first house in Calgary – $2000.00 worth of house that he lived in years ago and there was a disagreeable neighbor. The neighborhood was small enough that when they moved the neighbor was able to find them and would come to their home and piss on his garden. I understand there was a nunnery nearby and that everyone was disturbed by this behaviour.

You can see how unsure I am of the progression of the subject matter. At this point I was noticing his fingers – no fingerprints to speak of – just vertical wrinkles on smooth skin. I tried not to stare – attempted to maintain eye contact but at the same time I wanted a photo in my mind.

He tells of the slope of the land on which his house sat – he had to dig holes for concrete posts, and he was better at it than the person he’d asked to help, a “Geographor”. Again, he insists he would not drink while working as this would make him less realistico. I repeated this word to him a couple of times and he nodded in agreement – surely this is a term that illuminated perfectly his meaning.

He delved further into his life at this point to demonstrate the depth of his knowledge. I understand he was a soldier – slightly less in rank than a sergeant, and that he walked alone from somewhere in Italy attempting to get somewhere else and eventually found himself in the presence of two hundred – or two thousand individuals from some other kind of military unit. He endeared himself to a higher ranking individual by twisting wires at either end of a radiator hose on the engine of a vehicle that was otherwise unusable, thus rendering it serviceable. He leaned in close to make a point of telling me that it was a “Government car.”

At this point I began to feel real gratitude for his presence. Time was slowing and I found myself both enamoured of his being and close to him as a human.

His next tack revealed his first name. He was explaining his expertise at something and his dissatisfaction with a Maitre-d – “a female”, who apparently had no talent at keeping serving dishes clean between meals – and he used his name in third person – “Marco, she said,…”

I remember at one point wondering if all this was real, or if perhaps he was some kind of angel sent to take me away; I thought, ‘Maybe I’m going to die right now and he’s going to take me somewhere interesting.’

He kept on – we visited a peculiar dish of spaghetti (rolled his eyes as if to laugh at the caricature) and a fine vat of wine made exceptional by his habit of removing leaves and stems from the grapes prior to crushing them – a secret he kept from his neighbors who still marvel at his product.

Through the process I managed to get his full name – Marco Serpico, and his age – somewhere around 85 or 86 years.

When finally I had to tell him that I was working and that I’d enjoyed his company, but I’d better get back at it, I shook and then held his hand for a minute or two. He thanked me and promised to come back with his razor, the blades he would like to find a sharpener for, and a small sample of his fine wine.

What a beautiful little man.