Flaming Rummy Punch
Not a story to make beer connoisseurs salivate, this took place in ’77 before I was aware of microbrews. San Francisco’s Anchor Steam was the best locally, and Indio or Noche Buena were the best Mexican imports. My bent was 16 Oz Shlitz beer in bottle, or at times, Malt Duck, an acquired taste that I picked up from listening to a radio ad. This rare instance of an ad got me to try and appreciate malt liquor mixed with fortified wine in a 8 Oz bottle.
I was hanging out late at night in the Marina District of SF on Octavia St. near the corner of Lombard after picking up my choice beverage at the liquor store at Franklin. This liquor store served cabbies, GIs from the Presidio, and commuters headed out the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin. As a high spot of urban culture it would have been a really stupid place to uncap the bottle in my brown bag as cops checked here every 20 minutes for underage drinkers. I was 22 but why ask for getting arrested? Not feeling like heading into my Cow Hollow Apartment, I never-the-less walked back toward it while carousing the inhabitants of the area. I picked the secluded spot under a willow in front of an old carriage house on Octavia as it had a view of the parking lot of a Jack In The Box.
Convenience store chains and fast food outlets were uncommon in San Francisco at this time. Diane Feinstein had yet to sell the city’s culture to the highest bidders yet Lombard had always catered to the motorized crowd due to its egress to the Golden Gate Bridge. As you’d expect, the girls at Jack In The Box were a giggly conservative lot and I had the pleasure of feeling superior in my artist long hair guise as I swilled my alcohol and saw them stuff their faces with empty calories.
With a slight buzz on I left the shadows and walked over to the garbage can in the parking lot to do the considerate thing by tossing my garbage. I was startled to be addressed by a scruffy guy who hurried over from the direction of the dumpster by the store. He was asking me something in a guttural voice I couldn’t make out. I figured he was there to spare change the customers and I wasn’t interested.
“I haven’t got any money,” I lied.
“Can you help me! I ain’t got no hands an I …,” I didn’t make this out and told him he’d better ask somebody in a car.
“No, no, why don’t you listen. I wanna’ drink like you,” he indicated my bag in the trash and then stuck his stumps out at me, “Just listen to me and take a minute. I need yer’ help.”
I could make out about 60% of what he hissed through his missing teeth in that maw in his ugly dwarfish face. I pointed to the bag and told him he was out of luck ‘cause that bottle was empty.
“I don’t need yer’ money, I get S.S.I. for these. Here, here in my pocket get it out.”
I reached in his pocket, and pulling out a fresh pint of Royal Gate vodka I broke the seal unscrewing the cap.
“Yeah, here, give it here,” he ordered but as I was about to tell him I couldn’t hand it to a guy with two stumps, he pinched the bottle out of my hand with his stump and elbow, hoisted it to his mouth and dribbled down his chin as he chugged the entire bottle. Burping loudly he chucked the flask into the trash. I was impressed that he could hold a bottle like that and drink and let it show when I asked him, “ Don’t you worry the cops might see you drinking in public? You got quite a thirst there.”
“They won’t serve no Injuns in bars. What am I gonna’ do? Cops don’t bother me. They call MAP on me is all and I already been there this week or last week or something, I forget.”
Now he looked like a short Mexican or Latino in a trench coat to me, but maybe he had Native American blood too. I demonstrated my wealth of street knowledge I had gained from working at the Haight Ashbury Switchboard and dropped the address of Mobile Assistance Patrol as over on Harrison Street.
“They always trin’ steal my check,” he scowled, “Hey, can you help me get a smoke, be a nice feller, eh?” he indicated his breast pocket with his gray stubbled chin. I was hoping he was talking tobacco and not pot as I had the feeling of being watched already by the Jack employees. I got his pack of Luckys out of his coat and lit one up sticking it between his lips. He puffed away with the same relish he demonstrated downing the vodka. He squinted at me through red rheumy eyes irritated by the smoke and then grunted to let me know to pull out the cig. He spat and let the butt burn a bit.
“Name’s Pete, Injun’ Pete,” he cracked a slight smile.
“I’m Paris and I gotta’ go. You want the rest of this?”
He clenched the cigarette between his teeth and tried to talk but I couldn’t make it out. It sounded like he was calling me a fairy for having long hair. I exited across Lombard and heard him angrily hollering something.
The seasons changed, I got a job that had me travel about SF on flex-time, and having just finished such a day I was waiting to catch the 33 Ashbury back to the Haight from 18th St. and Mission. I was leaning against the wall of The Town Pump Saloon and could hear the fights inside. A very drunk man with a torn shirt that exposed his tattoos on his brown muscled arms, stumbled out of the bar, pushed through the crowd at the bus stop and headed up a flight of stairs to an apartment three of four doors away. Ten minutes later he came out looking even drunker holding a knife and swearing in Spanish. His knife was shockingly violent looking. It was a chrome-plated pair of brass knuckles with a six inch blade sticking out the side. The Latino was trying to fold the blade in but either he was too drunk or the knife was for a lefty because all he did was gash his hand on the blade and leave a bright crimson trail behind him. He looked at me quizzically and then swore at his hand and rushed back into the bar. That was my cue to skip across the street and get a requisite bottle of Shlitz. I knew the cops would show up but would be too busy for a misdemeanor and I had time since it wasn’t uncommon for the 33 to take a half hour to an hour to show up. After 3 minutes I’m back from the Mom and Pop grocery waiting again when who do I see running across 18th St. toward me looking very worried, but Injun Pete. The crowd of mostly older Latinas have walked up 18th St. since the knife guy passed by, so I was alone with Pete. He was flapping his stumps on his corduroy jacket like a bird and yelling in panic. I couldn’t make out what he yelled and I doubted he recognized me, but he directed my attention to a bad smell coming from him—the smell of burning cloth. Sure enough I could see smoke billowing out of his coat and he started dancing in a circle. I found smoke coming out of a corner of his coat and poured some of my beer on it. Then I realized the fire was inside his pocket and poured more of my beer in there. I reached in and pulled out some smoldering stuffing and a charred cigarette butt.
“Thank you! Whoa! I fell asleep over by that place back there and next thing I’m waking up on fire! I ain’t got no hands to put it out you see,” Pete was much less cocky and very appreciative as he held up his stumps.
“Don’t thank me, thank the beer I didn’t get to drink that saved you. How did you lose your hands anyway?”
“It was a long time ago an I was shiften’ around riding rails. I tried to catch a freighter and tripped and the train run over my hands. I been on S.S.I. ever since.”
“Damn Pete, that is a sad story. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a limb, let alone both hands run over by a train! Opps, speaking of jumping on a ride, here comes the bus finally. See you.”
“Hey, how do you know my name? I thought I’d buy you a drink. I owe you one.”
But I left Pete standing there with his stumps and stories and soggy jacket and rode off on Muni into the Frisco night never to see him again.