“Mind if I take a picture of you for a Polish newspaper? You have the most amazing mustache. The Germans don’t have handlebar mustaches and they should. You would think they would have handlebar mustaches, but they don’t. You have the most amazing mustache and I would love to take a picture of it for my Polish newspaper.”
He was thin and short with close-cropped black hair and a bit of peach fuzz whisker on his lip. He had a camera dangling around a gangly neck. He never so much smiled as pulled back his lips to show more tooth.
We stood in a cluster by a ticket booth where you could change cash for paper, then paper for beer, sausages and herring sandwiches at Lincoln Square’s Germanfest. After a lackluster parade where I’m told they used to let you fill up beer from a truck, our group had meandered to the fest itself for a day of drinking, rich food and one of our number getting a fan for his curly hipster ‘stache.
“I want to grow it out more and get it into the full Dali,” Rob, the mustachioed member of our group, said after giving the cameraman a good once over.
There were five or six of us — only one baby at the moment, but that would still change. As the fair-goers got more staggery and Germanic and the polka beat swept more away, we leaned on the road railing for the sharp turn along Lincoln.
“That would be great,” the cameraman said. “That would be really good. I saw you had the curly mustache and the Germans should have the curly mustache. Aren’t they known for having handlebar mustaches? But they don’t have handlebar mustaches. I couldn’t find any until I saw you so I wanted to take a picture for a Polish newspaper. You can pick it up it at Gene’s Sausages. they have copies there. You can get it at Olga’s too. There are 30 copies at Gene’s and five at Olga’s but you can get it there.”
“Olga’s on Western?” I asked.
He nodded, even though I realized later I was thinking of a different deli entirely. (Rich’s in Ukrainian Village.)
“I don’t like it as much,” he replied. “It smells, I think. There’s a smell there. But you can get the Polish newspaper there. We send five copies there and 30 to Gene’s.”
“Are you Polish?” I asked.
“I’m German and Sicilian,” he said.
“I’m German and Italian,” Rob said.
The two started chatting. I went to get ice cream from a cart. After the very important ruling to get a Snickers ice cream bar and then some divvying of bites between me and my lady, I tuned back into the conversation.
“They brought the elephants over thinking the elephants could stand the climate, but they couldn’t stand the climate and the elephants all died,” the thin man with the peach fuzz lip was saying. “It’s the second-largest city in Sicily.”
“I wish I could record this,” I whispered to my girlfriend.
This is all re-created, of course. I couldn’t put together his slapdash talk, his mirthless smile, his intolerable, reckless enthusiasm if you put a gun to my head and threatened to kill me as dead as the elephants. As he chattered at Rob of the curl-ended mustache, increasingly rowdy men and women wandered by, some in lederhosen or dirndls, but most in T-shirts and shorts. Polka songs from the tent across the way started and stopped. The man still talked.
I got another beer. The man still was talking.
I got little sausage links. The man still was talking.
Under the sun and sky and too much Germania, the man talked and talked as Rob’s dirndl-clad wife wondered if she would ever get him back.
Finally, the man lifted his camera and click. It was done.
“Thank you so much,” he said, moments before he would slip back silently into the crowd. “You have such an amazing mustache. You can pick up a copy at Gene’s. We send 30 copies there and five to Olga’s.”