Drunks are like fruit trees

I changed my pants today, which is notable because I took a vow to keep wearing the corduroys until I got the garage done, and that was a week ago last Tuesday.

Yesterday, I found a draft of a story in the garage about our eccentric neighbors, when we lived in West Seattle. It’s dated October, 2006.


Just like that, Joey blew back into town. We spotted each other in the alley and he introduced his two friends, Johnny Thrasher and Scotty Karate. They were all wearing black rock T-shirts with army jackets and cigarettes, walking to the store.

Like other drunks I’ve known, Joey could drink all day and all night with amazing clarity. It was hard to tell if he was still going from the night before or if he’d just started early.

And he looked worse this time, with skin flaking off in large patches around his nose and cheeks, and more teeth missing. I imagined kissing him would be like biting into a rotten apple, brown and mushy.

Johnny Thrasher and Scotty Karate were obvious friends from Joey’s hometown, Aberdeen; they bore that same kind of small town, going-nowhere-gloom. It’s where Kurt Cobain grew up, and that’s about all they had to be proud of.

Joey had a laughter like the crackle of deep thunder, an arresting laugh, the kind that elicits pause. It starts as curiosity that someone could laugh like that, but soon makes you feel unsafe.

I knew Joey had been to jail at least once before he moved in, next door. He never talked about it, but a friend of his confided in me once when he saw our CD collection and said maybe we should be careful about locking our doors.

Two weeks before his parole was up, Joey got into trouble again. A large American Indian started coming around with his girlfriend, a wiry chick with a raspy voice and obvious addiction to hard drugs.

Soon, she and Joey started hanging out without the Indian, and one Sunday afternoon we watched in horror as they kissed and touched each other out by our vegetable garden, right there in plain day.

The Indian came back though, and threatened to kill Joey. Joey called the police, and they came by to discuss. A few nights later, the chick with the addiction started to overdose, and Joey called 911. When they came, they searched his room, found a pipe, and Joey was on his way back to jail. While it was upsetting on one level, it was also a relief to have him gone.

It was a Sunday when Joey blew back into town. I commented that he and Scotty Karate looked related, then joked probably everyone is, in Aberdeen.

They laughed and Joey said he might come back for me later, something about kidnapping me to go drink with him, to catch up.

It was about one in the morning that night I heard them. All of our windows were closed, but I could hear the music as if it were coming from our own house, it was that loud. It was that awful death metal dirge: angry, slow music that crashes and explodes but never seems to go anywhere.

I imagined beating Joey with one of the iron implements we used on our fireplace to stoke the coals. And I imagined him liking it on some level. I heard the clock in our living room toll once, for 1 AM. If it went off again at 1:30, I was going over there.

Their house radiated neglect, the scab of the neighborhood that never healed. They had a large Mastiff named Kayleigh who looked like a three-headed beast from Greek lore. The dog was clumsy and shy though, and just drooled and shat all over the yard.

The gate on the front yard squeaked every time it opened, and we were aware of the comings and goings at all hours, just by that squeak. At 2 AM, I threw open the gate and approached the door. I could see a sliver of the living room and hear broken dialogue. Scotty Karate answered the door.

From behind, Joey acknowledged me with glee and waved me in from the sofa, said he was sorry he forgot to come get me for that drink.

I said Actually, I’m here to ask you to keep it down. I had insomnia, a wife, and a toddler who was already having trouble sleeping without the fucking sounds of Aberdeen next door.

Joey was infinitely sorry. Johnny Thrasher lowered his head into his cup.

How could this happen, I thundered? Don’t you people have jobs?

And then it was like a dream when you realize suddenly you’re not wearing any clothes. Of course they didn’t have jobs, they were from Aberdeen. They hated themselves and each other, no one had jobs. I was the odd one out with my perfect little corporate life, downtown.

Stay for a drink, Joey implored. You’re up now anyway, right?

Drunks have some kind of special power over other drunks — like fruit trees that only bear fruit if they’re pollinated by another fruit tree in close proximity. You see a drunk and it reminds you, maybe you should have a drink.

And so I wandered into their kitchen and studied the contents of the styrofoam cooler in the sink, a dull green liquid comprised of Vodka, beer and lemonade, all in the same drink.

I had just dipped the plastic ladle into the cooler when the gate squeaked open and Kayleigh the dog let out a deep Woof. Scotty Karate looked through the peep-hole and said, It’s some big Indian guy Joey, and he looks pissed.


Categories: humor

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26 replies

  1. This sentence will likely have me laughing every time it pops into my head “I imagined kissing him would be like biting into a rotten apple, brown and mushy.” Very, very funny (while being completely gross). Someday I’ll tell the tale of my drunken German landlady who would show up half-naked and toasted the gill to collect the rent.

    I enjoyed this very much – here’s hoping for some more finds in the garage!


    • Yes, sad to see bad teeth in folks so young. Something about that, people with complete dental neglect, so sad. Would love to hear about your land-lady too…now I am going back into the garage for one of the last rounds (ding, ding): THE CHRISTMAS STUFF.


  2. This brought me great joy. I lived near Aberdeen for a good long time and there is a special quality that goes along with those folks. My kids could have been born in that town, but we drove into Olympia so they wouldn’t have Aberdeen on their birth certificate. Some burdens are too great to overcome.


    • Yes, a special quality that goes along with those folks…I believe it. Our neighbors were truly lovely people and truly bizarre. I wish I had taken more notes of them, sometimes a Parade of the Horribles. But good people. Funny, your story Jon. Aberdeen is one of those places (like Astoria, OR perhaps) where you think to yourself as you’re entering it gosh, this could be cute – but immediately recognize it’s not. I always stop at the grocery store as I’m going out that way, so that I can soak up some of its ardor.


  3. One of your best, dear.

    Sent from my iPad

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Scotty Karate is a nice touch. CDs. Heh. How quaint.

    Nice work in here. Lots of nice touches. Waiting on Gus Van Sant to film it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Mark! Glad you liked it. Yes, I think I made the mistake of staying in a Motel 6 in Portland where they shot Drugstore Cowboy. My kids thought it was great but they weren’t exposed to the late-night dialogue from the room next door, very Van Sant alright.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. plastic ladle in the cooler? Ew… what were they drinking???


    • True story — and they had some clever name for it I can’t remember, but so it goes. I don’t recall actually swallowing any. It’s a sloppy, sordid, grunge-like existence, it is. But we got out unscathed. And I gave Joey’s neighbor Curry all my records.


  6. I wish my name was Scotty Karate.

    This is such a great retelling. I love how you weave seemingly random details that interlock beautifully. Definitely liked the mushy apple part (though blechh) and the description of the dog and the creaking gate and that god-awful sounding drink that, sure, I would have had some too back then, in that same situation. I loved the ending. What happened next is an itch that doesn’t need to be scratched, or the seed to another story. Perfect.


    • Thanks Kristen! I had fun finding it…after going through so many notebooks and sketch pads, I was glad to find a story I could reuse. I took some notes on my neighbors but much of it was incomplete or scattered (no surprise there). Glad you enjoyed it and your note about the ending. We had our first two kids in that house and well, let’s just say it’s a time rich with memory made richer by the neighbors.


  7. I think everyone should have at least one ‘drunk guy across the street’ story in their life…I’ve got several.

    I was curious enough to go across the street to the local neighborhood drunk’s rummage sale. He had his stuff on tarps spread on the ground, behind the house and spilling onto the gravel driveway. Normal household stuff, dishes, electronics, a piebald sofa, etc. There was a huge brown glass bong placed well behind the house, so the cops wouldn’t see it from a random drive-by. I picked through his kitchenware offerings, selected a few of the plates that didn’t have food dried on them, and tried to pay.

    He was kind of indignant about my wanting to ‘break up the set.’ He then offered to sell me the whole lot for $20 bucks – and to sweeten the deal – I could have the bong for free!

    It was hard to decline such an expansive offer, but I managed with a straight face…


    • That is a great story Peg. I’m in. Want to hear more, now. Your story reminds me of our neighbors for some reason. Some details I forgot, like an abandoned Dodge Pacer (pea green) out front, sagging on one side. My wife wanted us to fill it with water and put a goldfish in it.


  8. Good read. Good find too. I myself will never come across anything like that in my house. I write only in ones and zeros saved in cyber land. But now I want to read the post about about you unearthing an old story, and how you felt finding it, etc etc. and how whether you did any editing or changing as you typed it in. Will you clean out my basement when you’re done?


    • That’s funny Walt. No, I won’t be cleaning out anyone else’s basement at least until I’m at my mom’s in Germany, and then I might need to help her clean out her barn. And not get eaten by something or bitten while I’m out there. Glad you liked this. Hey, I watched that Floyd documentary: thanks for the reco on that. Really liked it. Surprised at how lucid I found Gilmour, not sure why I expected otherwise.

      I was CD shopping with a friend from Portland yesterday and found the soundtrack from the film “More” they did, in 69. Just gave it one listen so far, but liked it. Really what you call Space Rock.

      Hope your moving arrangements are going well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Here’s the most interesting thing about that D. Gilmour fellow, I think. You look at pictures of him from that era, that P. Floyd era, and he looks like a hot young rock star. Now I myself don’t find him hot. I just see pictures of him from that time and think, “My, he looks like the kind of fellow who might not have any trouble getting a lady friend.” Because you know, the hair, the guitar chops, etc. But you look at him in that doc, and you see him wearing the sport coat, unbuttoned around the belly, the gray hair receeding atop the skull, and you wonder, at least I wonder, at least I can’t help but wonder how others don’t wonder, “When did you turn into a proper British gentleman, Old Sport?” Don’t you think? Don’t you think he turned into a proper British Gentleman? He looks like a professor, I think. He looks like he should be teaching something. But then again, he is, isn’t he? He’s teaching us how every mix, back in those days, was a gig. Very much a live performance. All that shit on that album that we take for granted was truly something very special. That’s the best album, of all of them, if you ask me.


      • Yeah, I guess he does look like a professor and that is a funny thing to think, when did you become distinguished there, sport? Good for him. I think he looks well. Sometimes as he was about to form the words I wasn’t sure he would properly, like there was some webbing between his brain and his mouth, but he managed to get it done. I’ve been listening to music with a good friend for about three days straight. Was thinking about you listening to Sun Kil Moon, a song ‘Glenn Tipton,’ because I knew you’d get the reference and might like the music. You heard that Mark Kozelek guy, from Red House Painters?


      • You’re right. He does kind of give you the impression that he might have taken one too many chemical blows to the head to get his thoughts ought coherently. But then he does it. Well done, I say. Good show. I do get the reference. If they had another called K.K. Downing, that would be someting. Mark Kozelek. Did you write a post about him a while back or am I confusing him with someone else?


  9. love the images you’ve planted in my mind with your words. wow.


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