October 23, 2004

Strange Attractors

I have known some odd fuckers in my day.

Strange attractors; outside the usual definitions for the phrase, I also use it to describe people like myself, people who have tiny little signs that can only be seen by crazy loon people stapled to their foreheads, signs that say, I'm Too Nice and Well-Bred To Tell You To Fuck Off! Mama always said I had the damndest talent for bringing home strays. Das de troof, too.

Take old Herb, God rest his drunk cracker ass. I met Herb back in the days when I was snooting at least a gram of the good stuff on a slow day - in the bar circuit, dontchaknow, what we old townies called the barmuda triangle. At the time, I regretted the acquaintance; Herb could be a total fucking pain in the ass to get rid of. He was nutty. He'd get real drunk, and start talking like Boomhauer, grinning a slick red leer, eyes closed. "Dangoledidyerrahtternitedinit? Yewsnortnuffthatstuyewgawngithi, mayan. Shit," he'd declaim, draping a too-friendly arm across your shoulders. "Ahluhmesumcoke, mayan. ishoredewman. utinlahkit. cuttinitoursnorthatstu'up, man." You'd be totally trying to skeeze on some delectable piece of flesh at this small party, and suddenly Herb would be there, drunk as a lord, hanging all on you and not allowing a moment's private conversation. He was also a coke-hoover, which made him persona non grata in my selfish-cunt private world.

Herb was an occasionally genial manic-depressive country-and-western genius; short and dumplingesque, hair totally white at fifty, Herb worked at the Sunshine Liquors by day and occupied the end stool at the State Bar at night. He liked his seven and seven, Herb did, and his weed and his coke and his pre-skreeption meds, whatever the Dope Gods chose to sling out on any given night of the week. Failing all that he'd pay calls on his neighbors, axing did you have a cup of booze he could borrow.

Herb may have been a liquor store clerk by profession and a pestical neighbor by necessity, but he was a musician by vocation and inclination and talent. I remember him writing gentle she-done-broke-mah-heart three-chorders, the catchiest fucking tunes. Real earworms, I shit you not. Beautiful, literate lyrics with melodies so simple you could play 'em even when you were cracked out. That takes talent, my friends, especially when one is the possessor in sole of only eight of your original fingers (chicken plant work had taken both of 'em). When he was not passed out, partying, or working one of his jobs, he played with several short-lived country bands. Really, though, he was most constantly to be found in the process of scrapin' a couple hunnerd bucks together to record a track, man in his friend Doug's basement studio. Doug was chargin', damn right, because he'd worked with Herb before and knew his feckless shit. Doug may have been a hippie, but he was a shrewd hippie.

Herb was a real man-about-town, too. Literally, for the seven years I lived in that burg, not a day went by in which I did not see old Herb. Understand that Herb had been in that town forever, that, crazy and fucked-up as he was, he knew everyone. While a small town, simply by virtue of its size, has a way of eventually revealing all your feckless shit (see the Doug example, above) everyone still liked Herb. They'd throw him a bone, now and then, in the form of an odd-job of some sort. Herb was quite the handyman; acting as janitor at a bar, general factotom at the town's biggest rock club, occasionally got to take tickets at the downtown movie theater, once in a while helping to move stuff into or out of a business.

Some days our encounters would be mundane enough - I'd see his four-foot ass wobbling on either side of his six-inch bike seat on the way down the avenue, and I'd buzz him in my red Honda, honking and waving, or maybe I'd see him in a bar, falling out of a chair, or having one of his famous arguments with himself. Other days my chance meetings with Herb had the quality of a dream; I'd see Herb walking downtown toting a giant faux-fur anaconda to decorate for Disco. Or I'd see him hanging off the side of a building downtown and think, my god! the old sot has finally taken the leap and then I'd realize he was just stringing Christmas lights on the side of a bar, but he was doing it by hanging off the storm eave with one arm. And then he'd see my car and incredulous mug and he'd wave and wave, jingling the lights against the brick facade of the building and shaking the aluminum he hung from, grinning, and holler, "HOW-DO?"

Herb had a wife and kids, too - relations, yes, but more like revelations if you could analyze them strictly in relation to the Herb lifestyle and personality. The Herbs lived in a run-down rental mill-house, just up the hill from the tracks and two blocks from the Sunshine Liquors - staggering distance, I figured. Herb's wife Annette was a Xanax addicted horrorshow with delusions of talent: every time Herb managed to scrape up that elusive couple hunnerd bucks and get in the studio, Annette dragged her poxy ass down there, too, and insisted on backing Herb up on every vocal track. Annette sounded like a farmload of copulating cats when she sang, too. Don't get me wrong - she was a Real Sweet person and everything, but damn. Couldn't carry a tune with a croker sack, and the Xanax and pot warm-ups didn't help matters.

As for the kids, I can only say this: The oldest boy joined the military as soon as he could git his daddy drunk enough to lie about his age for him, the middle boy was serving juvenile time for grand theft at 15, and the youngest, a big old girl whose name was Karen but forced kids her own age to call her Rhonda by beating the shit out of them, well, last I heard, she was living with a forty year old man out in a single-wide, as his common-law wife. She was fourteen. What can I say? The kids grew up with their momma and daddy and really, the apple don't fall far from the tree.

The party never stopped with Herb. He woke up, took a piss, ran a toothbrush over his tongue, and started drinking, every day - provided, that is, that he woke up at home, and not in a gutter, or someone's dumpster. He was one of the only true falling-down drunks that I have ever known; add that debilitation to a jigger of mental illness with a pony of his environmental inculcation with both white-trash sensibilities and liberal artistic pretentions, and you have a fucking redneck house afire.

Actually, that's a lie. The party did stop with Herb, in the summer of 1999. I actually saw him shortly before he died; I was making a trip through my old town on business, and went downtown for a coffee. There he was, taking out the trash at the record store, but it was a yellow wraith of Herb, a Herb who staggered and limped, but not from drink alone. Herb's liver was going out on him - how he was not in the hospital was beyond me.

Of course, he saw me, and bummed a ride home. Really, I was both glad to do it and a bit creeped out. I dropped him off at his old house, and "loaned" him a twenty. Herb entered the hospital a week later, and was dead in a month.

His funeral was packed. Slimy old drunk cracker bastard, and his funeral was packed.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who picks up strays.

Posted by Queenie at October 23, 2004 10:27 AM
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