From the time I met him in the 1990s as a one-man stampede through local bars and saloons until they found him dead on his kitchen floor, he was a big, belligerent, malignant, wonderful caustic planet orbiting my life in erratic, chaotic, wobbly circles.
A handful of times he’d come bashing at my front door, like it or not, around 6 a.m. demanding I get dressed, give him coffee. (“Not so stingy with the f-ing bourbon this time!”) And order me into my car to drive him around.
Because he’d lost his truck. Again.
It was mostly lost on weekends, always at night, and usually it was last spotted, or maybe last remembered, many hours ago at a bar. At times he’d conjure up a few semi-reliable clues but unless his truck was miraculously parked in my neighbor’s driveway I knew I was in for a long morning. His truck was never parked in my neighbor’s driveway.
This time he’d given the keys and 100 bucks to a guy at Harold’s Club. Wearing a green shirt, maybe. And a hat. Lots of teeth missing. Midnight, maybe?
The guy was supposed to fetch some cocaine and come right back. Sipping bourboned coffee he thought more about it. He might’ve left a few minutes later with John Jensen to pick up some crab the Petersens had caught earlier that day down at the Water Trough.
I asked if the Petersens always caught crab down at the Water Trough.
It took him 30 seconds to finish swearing at me for trying to confuse him because by the time I’d established that John had to borrow someone else’s vehicle to go get crab out of the back of his own truck, and then suggested it had maybe belonged to the toothless wanderer. We were both mixed up but only one of us was angry because only one of us was still out $100 and missing a truck.
Then he thought maybe the $100 wasn’t for cocaine after all. Maybe he’d lost it betting on the Raiders.
“Exactly!” I beamed. “And you probably lost your truck in the same stupid bet, and if your imaginary friend without a tooth was smart he already took it to Alex Tsarnas’s junkyard to meet the crusher. And I’m not sure the Raiders played last night.”
He swore some more. We rolled through a mostly empty Harold’s Club lot, then went south to the Water Trough because that was the extent of our so-called clues. Then Club Calpella and Taylor’s Tavern.
Clarification: My friend wasn’t just a monster kept on a leash in the basement of an AA clubhouse; he was also a lawyer, one of the best in Mendocino County.
He practiced law fewer hours a week than anyone could imagine, including his boss. The rest of the time he dabbled in other fancies: First editions, rare marbles, exotic animals in his backyard ranchette, paintings, carpentry, pocket watches, pelts, skulls and schemes to retire early to run a bait shop in Florida. Today we happened to be chasing down a beater of a Ford pickup.
By the time we got to Vic’s Bar in Redwood Valley the local market was open so he trotted over and got a pint of medicine. Not like it would foul his mood.
Inevitably we drove over to the Broiler just because we were within a mile of it, unlikely as it would be that the missing truck would turn up there. I asked why we kept looking in parking lots because wouldn’t the guy have to drive back home from whichever joint it was? And by the way how did your teethless pal get to Harold’s Club if he didn’t have a car in the first place and had to borrow yours?
“Good question,” he said, and it must have been pretty good because he quit cursing for nearly a minute while sweating out an answer. The healing powers of bourbon had revived him and he was feeling a spark brighter. Several more seconds of silence slipped by, then he looked up and said: “Alice.”
Alice ran Harold’s Club. Alice might know the name and / or whereabouts of the mysterious truck borrower.
Solved! I agreed, and suggested we hurry straight to her house. One of us could knock like hell on her front door Sunday at 7 a.m. while I waited around the corner.
He may have been offended at the heavy whiff of sarcasm, or my cheerful lack of loyalty, or maybe it was the recent infusion of his 80-proof breakfast smoothie. No matter. The phlegm-dimmed tide was loosed and out flooded nonstop waves of cursing mingled with threats, like diarrhea from a lard-fed goose. His swearing was always a thing of inspired beauty even when I was being targeted, as in here and now, including the flecks spattered on my windshield.
One who’s never experienced such verbal blasts cannot appreciate the rich imagery of his cursing, though it takes a hard shell to weather insults directed at your ancestral roots, your filthy sex habits, your deviant spouse, always culminating in predictions I’d spend eternity roasting in the fiery pits of Cleveland. Delivered with typical gusto, they were awesome marvels of the profane orator’s art.
Anyhoo, visiting Alice was off the list.
We always found his truck, each and every one of the six or twelve times I was called upon to serve in his two-man posse of repo men. One time we got back home, defeated and insulted because he knew someone was out there driving his truck, burning his fuel, probably heading for Reno with a hooker and a glove box full of cocaine.
Inside his house, a tiny red answering machine bulb blinked. A voice said the truck was behind the T&C Club a few hundred yards south of the kitchen we were standing in. Parked at 1:30 last night. Keys above visor. All’s well, etc. Also, the personal hangover I’d been hauling around all morning had been curbed by gnarly slashes of whatever cheap brown liquid had been in that pint bottle.
Over and out. And that, my friends, was distilled, 100-proof BS at his finest.
(Tom Hine misses him daily; TWK sez it would be nice to wish him a Happy 70th Birthday.)