2.28 The Lighthouse: Doug Sole

The usual route to work takes me through The Lighthouse Shopping Centre and Condominium Complex. The subway connects to The Lighthouse and is located in a newly gentrified downtown neighbourhood. There is every store you can imagine, library, condo building, restaurant, movie theatre, bar, gym and food court. There is no need to go outside – everything is accessible through an interconnected series of tunnels. The Lighthouse Series showcases the various inhabitants, employees and idiosyncratic characters I have met by spending way too much time in this complex. Doug Sole’s wife died ten years ago.

Doug, and his wife Chloe, did everything right. They met at university, personalities couldn’t have been any different: Chloe outgoing, Doug introverted. They pursued careers, she as a journalist and he as an architect. Moved in together. Chloe became pregnant and while giving birth, she died. Doug held his daughter in his hands, looked from his dead wife to his living daughter. Death-life. Death. Life. When the nurse handed him the newborn, she summed it up, “Congratulations. I’m sorry.”

The baby was put up for adoption that night.

A DAY IN THE LIFE #1: through his job as a janitor for The Lighthouse, Doug has done all of the following and more to keep shopping centre clean: washed, wiped, emptied, sprayed, swept, scrubbed, removed, picked up, discarded, fixed and squeegeed.

Doug returned to work, didn’t know what else to do. Co-workers whispered behind his back, they were unsure of how to deal with his tragedy. Eventually, his superiors forced him to take a leave of absence. Personal reasons. He never returned.

Doug’s 87-year-old mother Margaret Caulfield lived in a condo building attached to The Lighthouse Shopping Centre. Recently, Margaret’s neighbour and partner in crime, Mary ‘The Hammer’ Hammerstein passed away. Doug moved in immediately. He saw a sign advertising exciting new positions with The Lighthouse and set up an interview. The CEO of the establishment, Germaine Stout IV, personally interviewed him. Marveling at his over-qualifications, he asked Doug if he was running from something.

“Just need a little break,” Doug replied. “A little time to think. Reflect.”

Germaine nodded and hired him on the spot as the latest addition to The Lighthouse’s custodial team. Doug had very little responsibility and not much thinking was involved with the job. Exactly what he wanted.

A DAY IN THE LIFE #2: part of Doug’s job was to empty the garbage cans. One day in the food court, a customer came up to him asking to unlock the garbage can (the garbage was contained in boxes and had swing doors to access but which were locked to discourage rooting and tooting) because she accidentally dropped her keys into it. Doug tried to minimize his interactions with customers and told her he could not help. She didn’t listen and walked over to the garbage and pointed at it. Doug stood by his pushcart and shook his head. It was just too much paperwork to get permission. She shrugged and dug her arm right up to her shoulder and felt around. A smile came across her face when she found them. She pulled out her soiled arm and waved the keys at Doug. Apparently, she wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.

The years passed. Ten years, to be specific. At the beginning, Doug would clean the exterior windows, but soon asked his co-worker Hugo to take over. Good guy, that Hugo. The condo building where he lived and the shopping centre where he worked were attached via a series of pedestrian tunnels. There was no need to step outside. So he didn’t.

A DAY IN THE LIFE #3: Doug pulled his pushcart into the east end bathroom. A man in his 60s stood in the middle of the room with his pants around his ankles. There were nickels and quarters and pennies on the floor around him. His head snapped up and he locked eyes with Doug. He shuffled into the nearest stall – Doug really hoped he didn’t fall – and slammed the door shut. A hand appeared from under the stall reaching for the discarded change. Doug kicked some coins towards the extended hand. Another man entered the washroom and went about his business. Doug thought about how it was unfair: the man peeing in the urinal had no idea what just transpired and will never know. The man washed his hands and on the way out stopped and picked up a penny. He threw it in the air and caught it and said to Doug, “lucky penny.” The old man in the stall sighed.

After ten years, Doug was contacted by the adopted parents of his daughter. Hannah was ill. A name: Hannah. It was very manageable, her adopted mother said. We just need you to do some tests. So he did the tests. But perhaps he could do more.

The first step outside was difficult. After that, some steps would be easier than others. He repeated this mantra: The city was a larger version of The Lighthouse, the world a larger version of the city. Doug was on a pilgrimage. In places he passed and people he met, he soon became known as The Walking Man.