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Alky Bob

Excerpts from Call Someplace Paradise
by Pat Hartman

(Spring 1980)

An old man known as Alky Bob sits daily in a wheelchair outside a boarded-up store. He has a huge gray beard and very loud declamatory voice, and will talk forever with anyone who will stand still for it. He not only reminds me of the Ancient Mariner, he is in fact the Ancient Marine. "I'm the most decorated Marine in World War Two," he says. "Audie Murphy was the most decorated soldier, and I was the most decorated Marine."

This morning he looks bizarre, with a white plastic clip on his nose and streaks of blood down his beard. The used magazines he sells are carefully laid out on the sidewalk in a big display. As I look over the titles, a young guy wanders by and Alky Bob tells him he's just been in the hospital again. Another friend stops by on a bike, another guy walks over and gives him some used magazines to sell and scopes out the ones on the ground. Alky Bob fastens his attention on me. "You set the price," he says. "Pay me what you've got, or if you don't have any money, don't pay anything. You decide what they're worth to you." I nod. "I don't set prices," he reaffirms. He says he's been on the beach for fourteen months. Next week he's going to Minnesota to see his granddaughter graduate from medical school. He put her through school on his pension. "That's me. That's the kind of person I am."

He claims to be the most photographed person on the beach. "I'm the one who burned the barricades, you know. Got my picture on the front page." This refers to the recent vandalism of the skate barricades. Some other guys come by and conversation gets salty. One says, "You keep drinking that wine and you'll be dead before the summer's out" and, after more exchanges, "You're even uglier than your mother," and "I'll be glad when you do die, I won't have to hear your loud-ass voice any more." I buy back issues of Bookviews and American Cinematographer for what I have in my pocket, which happens to be $1.37.

(Another day)

Morning on the boardwalk: Alky Bob in his wheelchair with no magazines for sale today but with a bright yellow fringed floor rug over his knees. Somebody takes care of that old man.

(Summer 1980)

Alky Bob wants to send President Carter back to Cuba with the rioters.

"Cuba wouldn't take any of them," is my objection.

"Drop them out of airplanes, then Cuba doesn't have a choice."

He says he originally came to Venice Beach seven years ago to commit suicide. First, he sat on a bench four days and met so many nice friends he decided not to kill himself after all. He has Parkinson's disease and was in the VA hospital for experimental drugs at the same time John Wayne was in UCLA for experimental surgery. Alky Bob went over to visit his fellow patient and John Wayne said to him, "Go back to that beach that you love so much." A woman buys a couple of used magazines and Alky Bob asks me to skate down to the store and get him a short bottle of dark port for 79 cents. He says he has tenure at one of the colleges and must teach one semester this fall in order to keep it, and Swami X is teaching there now. Alky Bob also plans to run for City Council against Pat Russell. He introduces me to an elderly black man wearing rainbow suspenders and an airbrush art Venice button. The two of them went on the Gong Show together. Alky Bob has also been on CHIPS five times. The producer, a woman, paid him a bottle of wine. He says he took leave from the Marine Corps to march with Martin Luther King Jr. and has been in jail five times, which is probably the most believable of all his tales.

(Late summer 1980)

After being absent for some time, Alky Bob is back at his spot on the boardwalk, surrounded by a loose circle of younger derelicts. A few books are spread out on the pavement. He's in a lot worse shape physically, but the robust voice is still in top form as he relates a tale of triumph over some enemy.

(Another day)

Monday morning at the beach. I brought some books for Alky Bob, who was dressed quite colorfully today in a hand-knit sweater over a striped t-shirt with a string of light blue beads. He offered me some magazines, but there weren't any cinema or writing publications or anything that looked good for collages.

(Late summer 1980)

Alky Bob has staked out his usual turf. He's out of the wheelchair and his beard has been extensively trimmed. He sits on a park bench with another street guy and talks not in the usual booming, pontifical tones but a quiet conversational voice.

(Late summer 1980)

Alky Bob is on his bench with several other guys. As I approach he's telling a friend "I'm getting married to a beautiful colored girl who brings me sandwiches. We've known each other for years." Then he spots me. "Always nice to see you, young lady."

"How you doin'?"

"I'm getting married, did you know?"

"That's great. When's it gonna be?"

"I don't know yet, but it's gonna be right here." He points to the ground in front of the bench. He greets somebody else, then as I leave "You come back any time." Courtly and hospitable as if this were his mansion, he welcomes both friend and foe to his territory. The five street guys gather around him, then lay out a cloth on the ground for Bob's used book sale. Everybody hops to it, arranging the books and magazines according to his precise instructions.

(Spring 1981)

Alky Bob was laid out next to one of the pagodas. A paramedic van was parked five feet away, but since the guys in it were just sitting and rapping, I figured Bob was just having a little nap.

(Fall 1982)

When I got to the beach this morning. Alky Bob was just arriving with his much younger sidekick. The sidekick found a cheap green Frankenstein mask in a trash barrel and had a swell time trying to scare some of the other winos.

(Late summer 1983)

Alky Bob staggered down Windward Avenue telling the world at top volume how "they" are trying to get him back in the hospital. "But they won't get me off this beach. I love it here, I love the people," etc. Then he went and sat on his bench - the one that has LOBOTOMIZE BOB painted across the back, and segued into a harangue about how "we shouldn't be fighting these foreign wars." God bless him, his head's in the right place.


© 2004 - 2012 Pat Hartman
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