Friday, February 26, 2010

The Ballad of Thaddeus McMullin

Sandal wearing yuppies enjoy their microbrews in front of Max's Brew Pub as soccer mom's swing by Main Street to pick the kids up from karate class in their PT Cruisers. Closet drunks zip in and out of the local liquor store with brown paper bags and little old ladies in Hoverounds coast up and down the sidewalk at a snails pace.

It's business as usual in the dumpy little town of Tigard, a suburb on the outskirts of Portland.

Behind George's Bicycle Shop a dozen or so bearded transients try their best to drown their sorrows in high-gravity malt liquor.

Some of them are doing pretty well. Some of them are angry drunks and their shouting causes more shouting, which causes the police to come and see who's in violation of their parole this time.

We migrate to the bike trail across the street, to a long wooden bridge that looks out on Fanno Creek, clogged with empty beer bottles and plastic bags.

We've made a mess of this town.

This town's made a mess of us.

Cleans socks are very important. Dirty jokes are like precious stones. Drugs and alcohol make time travel possible. Anything that makes the day go by faster.

Amongst this surly scraggly few, Triangle lives up to his name, passing the bottle between the three of us.

He's got but two things in this world: his guitar and his dog. He's a mangy old tramp but he's got heart.

We roll our own cigarettes. It's cheaper. I've been doing this for two years, so I can roll one-handed.

Tad can't roll for some reason. He's been out here longer than any of us, so you'd think he'd be a wizard at this. I roll a cig and pass it down.

He's a tall son of a bitch. We call him "Daddy Long Legs" and when he's drunk he damn near trips over himself. He wears a backwards baseball cap with long blonde dreadlocks sprouting out the sides, a handle-bar mustache dipped in beer and bushy eyebrows like Burl Ives.

We love him like a brother and he knows it.

An old friend of ours is coming back to town. He's been living with his mother in Arizona. We call him "Midget" because he's so little. It really pisses him off.

The guy has a wicked temper, though. Crazy little bastard. We haven't seen him for quite some time.

I wasn't present the night that "it" happened, so I'll tell you what happened as I heard it:

Tad, Triangle and a few others were throwing a "welcome back" party for Midget. The beer cooler was a little on the empty side, so Tad, Triangle and The Vet decided to head on out for another beer run.

The Vet was a crusty old bird who was "in the shit". His lungs were infected with Agent Orange and he was on blood thinners to keep his ticker in check.

He was a good friend. A charming fellow.

The 76 station was the only place open that time of night, which was right across the street, so they picked up a couple of cases and some smokes.

It all happened so fast.

They were at the crosswalk on the corner of Pacific and Walnut. Tad took a bad step. He stumbled back and plowed into the hood of a speeding car and then flipped over the top of the car and landed face up on the pavement, broken bones and all. He was bleeding from both ears and both his legs were pointed away from his body. The driver was uninjured and she called 911. The paramedics arrived thereafter.

The Vet took it worse than anyone. They were close, and for a long time, he blamed himself for what had happened. We all tried telling him that it wasn't his fault, that shit just happens sometimes and there's nothing you can do about it. I think it still haunts him, though. He couldn't sleep after that.

Tad was rushed off to the emergency room, both legs broken, six broken ribs, a shattered wrist, a broken jaw, one collapsed lung and bleeding internally in the brain. He was in a coma for over two months, and by the time he snapped out of it, he was in a vegetative state. He finally began to respond to his surroundings a few weeks later, and before long, he was talking and developing his motor skills all over again. He was enrolled in physical rehabilitation.

He could not remember his name and had no memory of his previous life. No memory of his childhood, family, friends. No memory of being homeless. And even though we'll always miss the old Tad, the goofy, long-haired hippie that he was, we came to accept that perhaps it was best this way.

Somewhere out there he's living a new life with new memories.

I hope he is well.

I quit drinking a year ago, but for those of you who know him, here's a toast to Thaddeus McMullin: the tallest, hairiest, orneriest prince among men you'll ever have the great privilege of meeting...


1 comment:

  1. As I remember Tad: big, rambling, shaking hands, wild hair, eyes with the pain of the world in them. Hopeless, but hopeful. I remember Tonya's Taddy Daddy who found a place to belong amongst the most unloved of society but found there a prison also. Soft heart, unrelentless hurt, wanting love but like most of the group unable to believe that they could embrace it. I also hope he's found love. It's my hope for all of the former family we knew.