The Legend of Squeegee

In Restless Native by Chris Wohlwendleave a COMMENT

The top executive, sole employee, and chief window washer of the Kalijah Window Cleaning Service was a small-statured, big-voiced character who was known around town as Squeegee. His unofficial headquarters was the Yardarm, the ’60s-era hangout on the northeast edge of Fort Sanders.

Squeegee was also known to the Yardarm’s habitués, and to the police force, as a troublemaker. He was in the habit of taking a seat at the Yardarm’s bar, engaging adjoining barflies in conversation, then, when their backs were turned, drinking their beer. Herschel, the bar’s owner, had banned him numerous times.

But bartenders change, especially at college-area establishments, and new barkeeps meant unfamiliarity with Squeegee and his tricks. If he stuck his head in the front door and saw an unfamiliar face behind the bar, he would make for an empty stool. And once again he would be a regular, at least until spotted by Herschel or one of the veteran bartenders.

Too, Squeegee had an angel in one of Herschel’s Clinch Avenue housemates. If he spotted Squeegee walking the Strip with his bucket and his cleaning rags, he would offer him a ride to the Yardarm for a beer. Then, after seeing him settled at the bar, he would leave him to his own devices. Afterward, on hearing the rantings of his housemate, he would express surprise that Squeegee had been allowed inside the door, let alone given a seat at the bar.

The police, not interested in what went on inside the Yardarm, knew Squeegee because of his business practices. Riding the bus out Broadway, for example, he would get off with his bucket, his squeegee, and his cleaning rags at a likely stretch of small businesses.

Then at, say, a beauty salon, he would go in and offer his services. If no contract was forthcoming, he might go next door and repeat his offer. But, sometimes, depending on his mood, he might argue with the shop owner. He had been known to run his finger down the shop’s front window and then turn toward the owner and her customers and say something like, “Lady, that’s the dirtiest *$#!!!* window I’ve ever seen.”

Or he might empty his bucket of water onto the inside of the window, recommending that the proprietor clean it herself.

Such behavior often led to calls to the police and trips to the county jail.

But the escapade that cemented Squeegee’s reputation involved a late-afternoon police raid of a notorious downtown bar. Squeegee was inside when he saw the cops coming through the front door and managed to sneak out a side entrance.

Looking for a place to hide, he crawled under a car, lying on his back between the rear tires, feet sticking out. He then acted like he was working on the differential. Unfortunately, the car’s owner was coming down the street, preparing to head home. He climbed in behind the wheel, started the car, and drove away.

Squeegee was exposed, no tools, no differential, no credibility to his story. He was then taken to jail, another tale added to his legend.

Chris Wohlwend's Restless Native addresses the characters and absurdities of Knoxville, as well as the lessons learned pursuing the newspaper trade during the tumult that was the 1960s. He spent 35 years working for newspapers and magazines in Miami, Charlotte, Louisville, Dallas, Kansas City, and Atlanta. As an editor, he was involved in winning several national awards. He returned to Knoxville in the late 1990s and now teaches journalism part-time at the University of Tennessee. His freelance pieces have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and numerous other publications.

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