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.