“There was this girl… eighteen or nineteen… nine months pregnant. She jumped off the bridge! I figured, if she could do it, I could do it! Course, she was drunk and high at the time.”
And so on. From mysterious wealthy Middle-Eastern friends with limitless supplies of top-shelf weed (“I speak Persian, Farsi, Iranian, Iraqi”) to underground gambling dens where you can get three and a half grams of pure opium for $175 (“try to buy that on Mercer Island, it’ll cost you $1,000 at least! I speak Vietnamese, though, so they let me in. You wanna smoke some opium? You probably don’t even know what opium is!”).
Slight and wiry with upright posture and an ageless face under an orange baseball cap, he bobbed up and down as he spoke, oblivious to our occasional interjections.
He told us he’d been a bootlegger’s mule when he was a kid during prohibition, jacket stuffed with pint bottles of moonshine. He told us he’d been in Cuba before Castro, when Batista (he called him “Bastille”) was still in power. “Che Guevara, Castro, his brother, that Raul…”. Cackling delightedly, he rattled off names of politicians and revolutionaries and oligarchs and mercenaries, “all those crooked motherfuckers.”
He told us he’d once bet a friend that he could swim from Mercer Island to the Ballard bridge. Just two miles short of his goal, he was hauled out of the water by cops in a police boat.
“They took me to jail. I was full of energy, coulda swam for ten more hours. They didn’t know I was on speed, thought I was just on pot. Wrote me a ticket and let me go! Then I sat here by the canal, all jacked up and sleep deprived: I started hallucinating. I saw a road opening up, right over there. Lights. I said to myself, ‘wait a minute… there ain’t a road there!’ The road was full of people, foreign people, from Hungary, walking around in circles holding those old-time record players – there was some sort of wedding going on – Filipino guys fishing. I knew I was hallucinating, though, so I just sat there and laughed. I got sense, see; if I’d have been younger, I probably would’ve jumped in the water. It took me four hours to break that hallucination! Forty hours without sleep. I said, I ain’t never doing that again!”
He claimed to be 89 years old, a veteran of Vietnam, Korea, WWII. He claimed fluency in eleven languages. He couldn’t find his lighter, implied that I’d filched it. My friend reassured him (correctly) that he’d find it in about the time it had taken him to find his pipe a few moments earlier (roughly three minutes).
He offered us beer and pot, not wanting to go home, though he said he needed to be up at 3 am for work.
When he’d first approached, Ayla barked furiously at him. Undaunted, he started to talk, and didn’t stop for a long while: he’d found in us the audience his tales demanded.