The Wino [1958]

Standing in the middle of the sidewalk on a brisk Saturday (forenoon) in the summer of 1958, on a declining hill by St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul (where I was born), nearby there was tenant housing, where my friend, Mike Russet’s family had moved to, moved into a few months prior to this event; we stopped to peer down the street to look at what was happening this Saturday, –stone still we stood, and Mike, as sly as if something was in the makings: which would be to my surprise. Both us boys had seen the wino but only one of us was thinking of a scheme, the other would follow–that of course was me. The wino was finishing up his last drink, he was even licking the rim around the top of the brownish glass bottle to get the last flavor of the substance out; it was a hot summers day.

He, the wino was watching everyone around him from the corner of his eyes, waiting to beg to a passerby for another coin: a client, one that looked merciful enough to feed him a drunk, that is a coin he’d ask for food, but he’d use the money for drinking of course, we saw him do it before: ‘…yes, yes a coin to get rid of me,’ I’m sure he was thinking, ‘I’m worth that much’; it was a small bottle of something he had just polished off, thought Mike, as he looked on the ground, looking at a similar bottle a ½ pint whisky bottle–empty; now that I think about it, –Mike reasoned–diverse thoughts circled his perimeter, –then he noticed on the ground by him–by the wino down the block, about sixty-yards away, still looking about for a sucker–another brown whisky bottle similar, it was what he had just polished off, drank up…small like the one he just saw, one likened to the wino’s bottle he just finished: he whispered something to me, I dare not say it yet.

Said I, with a grin and a nod to my head, “He can’t hear us!”

“Yaw, I suppose,” replied Mike looking down at the wino, almost, just about ready to laugh but holding it back.

“You sure?” questioned Mike, with a doubtful smile I put on my face, a frown that made his upper go up, and part of his face turn pale.

At this point, Mike was not even looking at the wino, and had stepped along side of an extended porch so the wino or no one else could see us, unless they were walking up or down the sidewalk, and no one was. A car passenger could see if he went out of his way to check between two houses–but there was no reason for that, I think. But that was not the case either; it was secure, as Mike asked,

“Anyone coming?” asked Mike, and I replied “No, not yet.”

Mike had filled the bottle up with some yellowish fluid [waist], half it, saying, “Your turn…” with a smirk on his face that wanted to turn into a smile, but for the moment it was stern as it looked at me, trying to infer this was serious business. This was symbolism at its height, symbolism saying, possible, and saying: our friendship is at stake here. I looked deadly into his bold unfriendly eyes, said, “I can’t, I can’t do this…!”

[Sternly I said:] “I’m not bringing it down there,” I told Mike. With a bit of charm and upper-lip sarcasm: he almost produced a laugh, but still he would not allow it, he: Mike started walking down to the wino or derelict.

Within a few minutes Mike had walked the sixty-yards back up the hill and we both watched the drunk unscrew the top of the bottle, the Mike had given him and urinated in. Anticipation was in both our eyes. We could hardly hold our feet still, and I for once I was not breathing, well–hardly breathing. My eyes were like Mike’s I do believe, as big as golf balls.

Said I to Mike, “It is like watching the face of Doctor Jackal and Mr. Hide changing in front of you,” as he started to pour down the… [a pause came]…brownish bottle of liquid.

Then after the fact, when he realized it wasn’t what he thought it was, he became outraged–and lost for words, throw the bottle on the hard concert sidewalk like a madman, the glass and contents shooting in all directions, and his arms went flying in the air upward, his fists scolded us two figures up the hill staring down at him, up the street: us two figures breathed into our nostrils new air. A crowed started forming around the middle-aged drunk: sympathy comes in strange ways.

I, myself was ashamed, I even watched it, participated in it, but it was only until now that reality of the moment took hold of me, of both us boys I suppose. And later on I’d feel kind of, let’s say, somewhat remorseful, that is I never did it again–he did say (Mike–stoutly), ‘never again’. But as soon as that moment passed, and it did pass quickly, you could notice our faces together changing as they looked at the drunk and themselves, it was as if the winos humiliating experienced triggered the biggest laughter I ever experienced.

“Mike!” I said, “Stop it!” But for the most part it was all too late, the wino threw the bottle, his arms were flying in the air, people were looking up at the estranged two figures up the hill, and tears of laughter were coming, rolling off our faces, two kids: one eleven, which was me, and the other Mike ten. I, or we, just couldn’t hold it any longer, especially Mike: I know I blame him more than myself, and perhaps I shouldn’t–oh well; it is how I remember it, or want to. It was a total breakdown of the body into laughter; we were even stomping our feet like bulls, bulls, not sure if we should run or stay laughing, we were both under a fretful attack–almost frozen, paralyzed in astonishment.

As we witnessed the people by the wino pointing their fingers at us, we darted to the back of the building, because we noticed a few of the guys started walking up the block at a fast pace towards us; we both jumped on our bikes racing down town to the Robert Street Bridge. Then, once we arrived, we settled our bikes, looked over the bridge, caught our breath and finished our laughing.

The landing, or dock area was quiet as our eyes peered down onto the Mississippi River. At the same time a dark cloud seemed to be circling our heads, as we insanely laughed again, even to the point of holding our stomachs and trying not to look at each other.

“But he–” said Mike, and before he could finish his sentence, I responded with, “He what–he asked for it, is that what you were going to say?”

Mike shook his head ‘yes,’ and we both busted out laughing again. And I shook my head–as he nodded his head like before but with more swing to it, thinking what a crazy thing to do and get a laugh over.

[Tired and trying to catch our breath] “You know it was all done in fun, a joke Chick… [Pause] don’t get so, you know, over it.”

“Sure,” I said, and the day went to something else.

Source by Dennis Siluk Dr.h.c.

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