Posts Tagged ‘Homelessness’

The Tar Baby

Posted: March 25, 2016 in The Roper Files
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PREFACE: Sometimes I wonder if I’m toxic; almost everyone in the following story is dead.

Someone who isn’t a Facebook “friend” recently sent me a private message informing me that someone I’ve known since the 1970s had passed away in November of 2015. “I knew you guys used to be friends; I thought you would want to know” I thanked him for telling me with extremely mixed emotions.

This particular person (let’s just call him “Jay”) was a bridge I burned behind me back in the late 1980s and had only spoken to twice since 1989 and that was only using the phone as a buffer. He got married and divorced in a period of about two years, began to exhibit serious signs of a mental breakdown afterward and I was anything but a trained marriage counselor or psychiatrist; there was little I felt I could do to help him.

We had been friends since the mid 1970’s; we knew each other from school but didn’t start hanging around with each other until one night in 1976 when I picked him up hitchhiking after a midnight movie near a theater where I had just watched Pink Floyd In Pompeii. Turns out he had been to the same movie, we got to talking and found out we had a lot of mutual musical interests and we spent a lot of time after that hanging out and listening to music and going to live shows together. At that time he had a job, his own apartment, owned a car, a mototcycle and seemed like a fairly independent person. But this turned out to be a very temporary situation.

I lived with the guy for about two years in the late 70’s and he was a terrible roommate. He was by then an unemployed two-bit pot dealer while I had a regular job and he loved bragging about how much more money he made than me. He talked a cute redhead into moving in with us and for a brief period of time he thought he was hot shit. He taunted me when I was depressed, waved hand-fulls of $20 bills in my face when I was counting pennies and was just generally a horrible person to live with. Dealing pot isn’t exactly rocket science but he managed to screw that up by selling people bags that didn’t weigh what he said they weighed and he never could keep a steady clientele of customers. He got us kicked out of the apartment we were sharing by mouthing off to our landlord who refused to accept our rent anymore and I wound up living in a sleazy $90-a-week motel room. He bounced around for years  from room-mate to room-mate,  having his own apartment only three times after that for the rest of his life.

In 1987 just totally out of the blue he told me he was getting married to a young woman I had never even seen him with; I still to this day have no idea how they met. I was the best man at their wedding and they moved into an apartment together in Fort Worth. He was working at a restaurant, she was a waitress. All seemed stable enough; I wished him well and hoped marriage would bring some stability to his life. He even held his job long enough to get a paid weeks vacation, something I had never seen him do before. But one day he showed up at the restaurant wearing a sleeveless shirt; his boss told him to go home and change into a shirt with sleeves. This is something that would have taken a half hour tops. Instead he blew his stack, cussed out his boss and got fired.

For the next few months going over there to visit was uncomfortable. “Jay” sat around drinking beer and watching TV instead of looking for another job and his wife was working double shifts at her waitress job to pay the rent and bills. You could tell their marriage was in a “thin ice” stage. After a month or two of this “Jay” began showing up at my place where I was I was sharing a house on a 55-acre farm with another room-mate and wanting to hang around on weekends. And it was on one of these particular weekends that his wife moved out of their apartment while he was gone. Needless to say “Jay” didn’t take this well. He sat around drinking beer for the next few weeks instead of looking for a job while his landlord was beating on the door. His landlord even tried to help him find a job, but apparently that wasn’t in accordance with “Jay’s” plans.

It wasn’t long after this that “Jay” approached my room-mate John while I wasn’t home one day and told him a heart-breaking sob story about his getting divorced and evicted from the apartment he was leasing and asked him about moving in with us. He was unemployed and told John that “it would only be temporary until he got his life back together” I was livid when I found out about this; I told John we would have to run the guy off at gun-point to get rid of him and sure enough we came just short of that a few dreadful months later.

“Jay” brought his few possession with him including a Fender guitar and an amplifier that he sold to John on an installment plan, insuring him of both beer money and a place to stay until they were both paid off. And for months afterward he never left the house to go look for a job. He stayed drunk every waking minute of the day, refused to go fill out a single job application anywhere or pitch in a penny for utility payments while he took two or three showers a day and spent most of his time watching TV while my roommate and I went to our respective jobs each day.

And as if all of this wasn’t annoying enough, he began to exhibit serious signs of a mental breakdown.

I won’t go into all the details here but it was apparent he was losing it in no small way. It looked to us as if he was trying to drink himself to death and while both John and I  drank like fish, we slept and ate food on a regular basis. “Jay” was getting up and cracking open beers for breakfast and when we suggested it would be a good idea for him to start looking for a job, he would feign illness. “I …uh …don’t feel so good; maybe in a few days…” Our other friends would phone up asking about coming out to visit on weekends but would always ask: “Is Jay still there?” and if we said “yes” they would suddenly have other plans they forgot about. We began to dread weekends and having “Jay” staggering around the house plastered 24/7 began to grow tiresome.

As soon as my room-mate got the guitar and amp paid off, we decided that one of two things needed to happen: we either shoot “Jay” and bury him on the back forty and drive his car to the highway and leave it for the county to haul off or we give him the boot and get rid of him for our own sanity’s sake.

Needless to say “Jay” didn’t exactly take it well when we told him he needed to shove on and find another place to live. “I thought you guys were my friends; you gotta help me!” He made noises about killing himself. He got on the phone and called relatives, who he cussed out when they said “NO you can’t move in with me” (including his grandmother) He had two kittens he made me take before he got in his car and drove off (“I can’t afford to buy them food or kitty litter”)

It wasn’t until after he drove off that we later found out just how far gone the guy had gotten.

He used our phone to make threats against both the judge handling his divorce case and his ex wife’s lawyer. He called Suicide Prevention using the name of one of our mutual friends (they called our friend’s house and damn near gave his Mom a heart attack; “We haven’t heard from Tom in a while. Is he okay?”) He made frequent late-night trips to the restaurant he got fired from right before his divorce to vandalize the place. He was on probation for a past offense and gave our address to his probation officer, then stopped reporting to probation. A police cruiser came rumbling up the driveway one Saturday morning twenty miles out of their jurisdiction with two police officers looking for him.

I found out later he was staying with an apartment across the hall from the same apartment he got evicted from with about ten guys sharing a one-bedroom apartment and they all worked for some tree-trimming service and that they had gotten him a job with them. I prayed that somehow he would get his act together. He phoned me up on New Years Eve of 1989 trying to invite himself out for a visit but I said No knowing what would happen if I said Yes; he would be out to lay more sob stories on me and try to con me into letting him move back in.

Ultimately I wound up moving away from that farm and in with someone else in March 1989.  A few months later another acquaintance of ours got into a disagreement with “Jay” over a pair of stereo speakers. “Jay” wanted $40 for them and they both blew when “Chuck” plugged them into an amplifier. Chuck refused to pay him for them and “Jay” showed up late one night with a pistol and emptied a clip into Chuck’s apartment door, terrifying Chuck, his girlfriend and her 8-year-old daughter. Neighbors recognized “Jay” sprinting away from the apartment, the police picked him up later that week and he spent a whopping four hours in jail before they let him go for “lack of evidence” The cops stupidly gave him back his pistol even though he was on probation and wasn’t supposed to own a firearm. They could have held him for firearm possession alone but didn’t.

I heard about ten years later that “Jay” had landed a prison sentence for something; not sure what. Occasionally someone would tell me about seeing him somewhere; I would tell them “I’m sorry.…” My friend Tom whose name “Jay” had used when calling up Suicide Prevention told me that “Jay” called him constantly on the phone leaving long rambling messages on his answering machine.


We called him “the Tar Baby” because of the way he would stick like flypaper to people who didn’t want anything to do with him anymore. He even bumped into Chuck (the guy whose door he shot through) at a liquor store one day and acted like nothing had happened (“Hey man; howsit going?”)

In 2009 the phone company screwed up and printed my name, address and phone number in the phone book even though I was supposed to have an unlisted number. About two months later “Jay” phoned me up trying once again to invite himself over. I just flat out told him I had stopped drinking and doing drugs and that I felt that at that point there just wasn’t much for us to do together or even talk about. I knew damn well what would happen if he came over and saw a place big enough to put a sleeping bag. He would give me a sob story and try to talk me into letting him move in. No way that was happening again.

Now upon hearing of his demise part of me wants to feel sorry for him. Another part of me is surprised it took over 25 years or that someone hadn’t shot him by now. The guy was mentally ill no doubt and yes a certain part of me feels sorry for the poor bastard, but I’m not a psychiatrist.

If I wound up sleeping in a tent in someone’s backyard I would be out banging on the door of restaurants saying “Hey I’m Sleeping In a Fucking Tent. I’ll sweep floors. I’ll scrub toilets. I’ll bus tables; just give me a chance.” But apparently he had too much “pride” to do such a thing.

I could easily remember the times he waved hand-fulls of twenty dollar bills at me when I was broke and bragged about having more money than me and take joy in knowing he died broke and friendless, but I won’t.

He wound up living in a tent while I got up every morning and went to a job whether I felt like it or not for 25 years. Okay maybe I’m a dumb-ass for doing it the Hard Way instead of taking shortcuts like dealing drugs but I lived by myself in my own place from 1991 to 2014 when I got married.

I’ve traveled to Canada, been on cruises and gone to Yucatan, Jamaica, Cozumel,  Roatan etc  I drive a car that’s less than two years old and I have a new roof over my head. I sleep in a large comfortable bed with heat and air conditioning. But I take no such schadenfreude in knowing this, I can’t. I won’t.

I feel a tiny tinge of guilt that there was nothing I could do to help the guy without getting even further entangled in the gummy sticky fingers of the Tar Baby.

I wish I had a happy ending for this sordid little tale but I don’t. Years later I still have no pat answers what can be done for someone like “Jay” but then again he refused to help himself. I’ve spoke with “Jay” two times between 1989 and 2009 and to be honest I wasn’t very nice to him either time. During that same time-frame I quit drinking and doing drugs; I grew the fuck up and Moved On. Even if I could turn back time and speak to him again I’m not exactly sure what I would sat to him if he wasn’t willing to listen to me. He never once took responsibility for anything. Most of his “problems” were always some one else’s fault. If he got drunk and did something stupid and got arrested, the police were “conspiring” against him as if he were important enough to conspire against. If he mouthed off to his boss and got fired, it was his boss’s fault. If his wife was working two jobs to pay the rent, got tired of it and left him, She Left Me.

I never ever heard him utter phrases like “I shouldn’t have done that” or “I made a mistake” or “what was I thinking?” These phrases simply weren’t a part of his vocabulary. His grandmother took out a loan from the bank not once but twice and got him an apartment under the condition that he look for a job. He sat on his ass and drank beer until the day he was evicted both times. By 1983 he was living in a tent in someone’s back yard. Another time he had a cot set up in someone else’s walk-in closet. (“Check out my room!”) He went through friends and relatives one at a time using up their good will until it was gone for the last 25 years of his life. And by 2015 he had gone full circle and was once again living in a tent in someone’s back yard.

Mental illness is a bitch.