Charles “Dickie” Floyd died earlier this month at the seasoned old age of 80 and was buried next to Myrtle, his mother.
If he’s spinning in his grave, I won’t be a bit surprised.
To many, the developmentally challenged man with a big nose and blue eyes will be forever affectionately known as “The Spinner.”
The nickname grew out of the way Dickie turned and spun as he walked the downtown sidewalks of Spokane.
Dickie was impossible to miss during the 1980s and 1990s. His daily excursions through the city’s core made him an endearing fixture.
It’s said some people march to a different drummer.
Dickie whirled and twirled to his own internal polka band.
But despite his peculiarities and cerebral limitations, Dickie was blessed with a gregarious nature and childlike innocence that won him friends and fans. Many of them will be inside the Satellite bar at 4:30 p.m. on June 4, hoisting a drink to The Spinner’s memory.
The wake was called by Dave Albertini, one of the people who knew Dickie best.
“I’m telling you that little guy was special,” he says. “He was an icon in this town.”
Albertini is himself something of a civic icon. For 21 years he was the proprietor and entertainer in residence at Albertini’s, a popular watering hole and restaurant at 518 W. Sprague.
Albertini once made a failed stab for mayor. What a shame. One can only wonder what hilarity Spokane missed out on by not electing this trumpet-playing, wisecracking barkeep.
It was into Albertini’s that Dickie wandered one morning in the early 1980s.
Dickie had spent most of his previous life in the care of Lakeland Village, a facility for the developmentally challenged in Medical Lake. Then came the time when many people like Dickie were “de-institutionalized.” The idea was to ease them back into society where they could supposedly live more independent and productive lives.
Dickie moved into a boarding home and was soon spinning his way through the city.
“He came downtown and survived very well,” says Albertini.
Most business owners would have taken one look at the spinning, muttering man and escorted him firmly back outside.
Albertini was intrigued.
“B-b-beer. B-b-beer,” stammered Dickie.
“You want a beer?” asked Albertini.
“B-b-beer,” affirmed Dickie.
Albertini told Dickie that money was needed to purchase beer.
“G-g-got m-m-money,” said Dickie.
As proof, Dickie dug a wallet out of a pocket. He pulled out a dollar and held it up by his face, holding each end with his fingertips.
Then he put the dollar back in the wallet, which he tucked safely away into his pants.
Dickie apparently knew it took money to buy things. He just didn’t want to part with any of it.
Albertini cracked up and poured the man a beer.
“He was 10 times funnier than David Letterman or Jay Leno,” says Albertini. “He just didn’t know it.”
Thus began a friendship that lasted until Albertini sold his joint in 1993 and left the downtown area.
Dickie lived in a strange world of routines and habits. Stopping at Albertini’s quickly became one of those rituals.
“He was there every morning to ask me one question after another,” says Albertini. “I never made fun of him. He knew I would never, ever, ever belittle him. He just made me happy.”
Albertini fed Dickie regularly. He bought him used television sets for his apartment. He once took him to the lake and let Dickie drive his boat.
Dickie had a nickname for everyone he met.
Albertini became “Dibitz Martinis” in Dickiespeak.
Others were kind to Dickie, too. Cooks at the Ridpath Hotel gave him a cheese sandwich whenever he stopped by.
Dickie had his dark side. His mind didn’t adapt well to change. Anything unexpected or outside his routine could cause Dickie to storm into an expletive-laced rage.
Albertini says he just accepted that part of the man. Sometimes customers weren’t so forgiving. They would complain and ask Albertini why he would let someone like Dickie hang around.
To which Albertini would respond: “Cuz he’s my buddy and anybody who don’t like him can keep their ass out of here.”
Dickie spent the last 10 years living at Moore’s Boarding Home in Browne’s Addition.
Geri Sherrill, who helped care for Dickie, worked with him to stop his swearing and read the newspaper to him. Sometimes Dickie would go downtown and try to direct traffic. “He always thought he was a cop or a fireman,” she says. “He once gave the assistant manager here a ticket for speedwalking.”
Afflicted with arthritis, Dickie was in chronic pain during the last months of his life. He was frustrated by not being able to roam the downtown. Finally, his condition deteriorated. Dickie had to be moved to a nursing home.
“All of us went around in tears for a week before he left,” she says. “We just didn’t want him to go.”
He died two months after leaving his apartment. At his memorial service, those in attendance sang Dickie’s favorite song: “The Beer Barrel Polka.”
By so-called normal standards of success, Charles Dickie Floyd didn’t accomplish much in his 80 years on Earth. But he left a lasting impression on a number of hearts.
“I could be in a bad mood and Dickie could come in and have me laughing in five minutes,” says Albertini. “I got more out of him than he ever got out of me.”
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