There are places where the lonely men congregate
: Men who are not homeless
, but who are way too old to still be single and eating frozen dinners for lunch. Sometimes these places are in the middle of a large city, and one would wonder how their daily behavior could be allowed by the neighbors.
In Memphis in the mid-1980s it was a row of brick apartments, sitting perpendicular to Belvedere, between Poplar and Madison. I don't know who owned those apartments, but I know that every tenant there was an alcoholic tradesman and there was a year or two lived in those cubicles which most of them would like to forget.
I treaded lightly on those grounds and tried not to stay too long at any one time. I was dreadfully fearful of catching whatever the virus was which led these men to become permanent members of this community. I had several friends who had become tenants in these so-called "apartments" and I must admit that I did enjoy their company when it was time to toss back a few.
My best friend was Steve, the acne-scarred guitarist and drywall hanger. Steve was from a well-to-do family in Virginia. His dad had been a test pilot during the early days of The Right Stuff. He was the black sheep of the family, but there was genius underneath that scruff he carried like a badge of honor. During these days in the mid-1980's, he drank only enough to become witty and have flashy fingers with that six-string. He and I would serenade the crowd most evenings, while they dug a hole and started a fire in the wooded area fronting the apartments. There was a horseshoe pit and a dart board nailed to a tree and plenty of empty milk crates on which to sit and sing. The trees had that sort of Memphis old-growth forest feel, and I suppose they protected us from a lot of neighborly scrutiny. We could have used more scrutiny. It might have saved some folks from falling off that edge which is always just there, right there, one or two more steps away.
The parties would begin each day around five PM, if the weather was good. Those summer afternoons seemed to stay light forever, and Steve and I would entertain until our fingers got tired and we'd had maybe just one too many drinks. It was the days when the weather was bad when the problems seemed to arise. You see, these guys were painters, carpenters, plumbers, etc. and on rainy days, their work was often called off. That's when the drinking would begin around noon, inside, in those dingy apartments. By afternoon on those rainy days, it would have been unusual if someone wasn't bleeding or suffering serious psychological damage before bedtime.
Much of that damage was inflicted by George, the Irishman with the huge dick and the short temper. George's white-blonde hair fell in wisps over his ruddy forehead and sometimes almost hid his blue eyes rolling crazy in his head. He had the body of a middleweight and hands that went through walls on a regular basis. George would find a window of comedic genius for about an hour each day, but the time preceding that hour would be filled with quiet introspection and the time after that funny, funny hour had passed would usually be filled with mindless violence. Why was George so mad at the world?
George's brother, Hal, was married to a nice young lady named Sandy and they had a couple of kids together. The fly in the ointment was the fact that George had been banging Hal's wife for months. Sandy was in terminal lust with that huge Irish dick George carried around with him. Apparently there was only one Great White Whale in the family, and she'd picked the wrong brother for scratching her itch. So George felt this intense love for his brother's wife and this intense hatred for himself for those feelings. Many limbs were broken and much blood was shed due to this internal conflict going on inside this inebriated Viking.
Charlie was another mainstay in the group of screwball sots. Charlie was one of the few who actually had regular girlfriends. His favorite was a slightly overweight blonde who, according to his nightly recitations, had the most beautiful pussy on earth. Charlie's usual comparison was to a perfect butterfly with symmetrical pink wings. She didn't mind the homages to her nether regions, if her quiet smiles were any indication. What she did mind was when she came by one afternoon and found Charlie banging an underage runaway in the doorway of his apartment, yelling out to those of us sitting in the woods, "Hey, come get some of this, boys! We can make a sandwich with her!" Rose was the runaway's name, and I think she might have been fourteen. None of us were in the mood for a Rose sandwich that day. Butterfly pussy had seen enough degradation for one lunch period, however. We never saw her again.
Charlie liked to brag about the fact that he'd spent a few months in prison and had swapped blow jobs with some inmates. He said he wasn't a queer, but he'd be damned if he was going more than a week without sticking his dick somewhere wet. That mythos he kept spinning got one of the tradesmen in real trouble one night.
Dave was the one with some actual business sense. He was making plans on becoming the contractor instead of the contractee. If he could have stayed clear of the quarts of beer, he might have actually realized his dream. Dave had a hard time with women, and I don't really know why. He wasn't a bad-looking guy, and (as I said), he had ambition more than most. But one late night, Charlie was spinning his homoerotic jail tales, and Dave said something that led Charlie to believe that he'd like to swap one of these theoretical blow jobs, "just to see what it feels like." Charlie was not shy to live up to his promise, and Dave was not the same the next morning, or since.
Roy was the Charles Manson-lookalike who had more DWI's than any other person I've ever known in my life. At last count, he had fourteen and was still out of jail and itching to get behind the wheel of someone's car. The MADD organization had posters of ol' Roy up in their offices. He was quite proud of pointing out the fact that he'd not killed one innocent person while driving. Yet.
Robert was the night manager at the nearby Post Office. His daily routine was to begin drinking around 10 AM each day and drink steadily until 9 PM when it was time to begin his shift. He'd take his bicycle (too many DWI's for Robert, too) and wobble his way to work, where he'd unlock his office door, lock it back after entering, and sleep for eight hours on the payroll of the USPS. This went on for over a year before they found the courage to fire him. Robert immediately sued for wrongful dismissal, and six months later was awarded with all his back pay and an apology. This is an example of your tax dollars at work in an ambulance chasing America.
There were a dozen or so apartments in this little brick complex, and each one of them held a similar story: Stories that seemed somehow romantic to the almost homeless men who were living them. These stories scared me into marriage, and I'd like to think I just happened to be the one who saw the light a bit earlier than the rest. Unfortunately, that didn't turn out to be the case.
Steve wound up drinking whisky straight out of the bottle each day so that by sunset he was totally incapable of picking up a guitar, let alone playing a chord. He has been in and out of detox facilities since those days in Memphis. The last time I spoke to him, he could only slur enough syllables for me to realize that it was not going to end well.
George wound up moving back in with his mother when he lost one job too many from not showing up. Hal and Sandy got a divorce and moved as far away from the Irish terror as they could.
Charlie wound up in jail for a long time when he got talked into a drunken "operation redemption" from a 7-11 one night.
Dave killed himself. Charlie took no responsibility for the death.
Roy finally got the MADD crowd down on him so hard that his final DWI landed him in jail for ten years.
Robert went to architectural school with the money from the Post Office. I'm not sure if he finished or whatever happened to him. I think it's a government secret.
When you see a group of drunken tradesmen living as a group and having the time of their lives, take a snapshot. It won't last long. Not too many decades ago, they would have all been recruited for some mindless battle and a currently noble cause would have solved the problem of growing old. . . Alone. . . Drunk.