Thursday, October 12, 2006
That Drunk Mike Baily
We lived in the same house on Clippert Street from my preschool years until seventh grade. Like any small neighborhood, eight blocks square, we became something of a community with an ever expanding cast of characters, adult and child alike.
I lived on the corner of Clippert and Avalon Streets with my dad, Harold, my mom, Pat and my sister Amy who was four years my junior. Our house was at the extreme east end of our subdivision with no houses across the street. We faced the K-mart auto shop and lot behind the store. There was a deep ditch with dirty water running through it over which there was usually a piece of wooden pallet thrown for those who cared to risk crossing. For the more civilized, such as my mother, there was a true crossing half way up the block. And the end of our street was a stand of trees separating us from the freeway.
Because our house was on the corner, it was the high schooler’s bus stop during the school year. During inclement weather my mom would let the big kids stand under our front porch overhang to keep dry where they’d bunch up and I’d awaken to their big kid voices.
Across the street were the Chavis Family, Mr. and Mrs. Chavis with their two grown children, Vicki who drove a red mustange and lived with her husband and pretty little blonde daughter, and Gene, their son. This was during the days of “I Dream of Jeannie” in the afternoons so I was enthralled by Gene’s effeminate name and would sing, “I dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair” whenever I saw him. He didn’t realize I was brilliant, he should’ve talked to my grandparents. He just looked at me with a slight smile and went about his business. I decided the Chavis Family was French and very sophisticated for two reasons, they had a second story on their house and in their back yard was a patio with a big black caldron suspended over some rocks. There you have it. Mrs. Chavis had brown very hair sprayed hair and pink lips. She would let me hang out on that patio as much as I liked and sometimes invite me in to her cool kitchen for a cookie. Anyone with a caldron in their back yard is all right by me. They had a swimming pool on the other side of their garage that Gene would swim in on hot days. Although I would stand on the other side of the fence on the sidewalk and sing, “I dream of Jeannie...” to him, he never invited me swimming.
On the next corner behind us was an old weird lady with a Buster Brown haircut and several Weiner dogs that yapped and snapped through the fence. She also had patio stones with Weiner dog names etched on them and my dad said that was where she buried her dogs when they died. Like I said, weird...but fascinating. She never said hello. The greatest bond we shared was that our sidewalk ended at her driveway making it an ideal turn-around for a little girl on roller skates or a bike, especially because the incline to the street offered a little thrill of speed just before you spun back around and up to the sidewalk. I wonder why all those dogs kept dying on her?
After the weird buster brown Weiner lady moved away, or her dogs finally buried her in the back yard; Pauline moved in with her husband. Pauline loved me and my friends. Maybe she didn’t realize it but we pried our way into her home on a regular basis because a. we were curious about what mysteries lay inside that dead Weiner dog house and b. we were determined to improve community relations with this neighbor. Pauline had gray hair and lipstick on her teeth. She let us have snacks in her kitchen where she had a bizarre clock made of a plastic black cat whose eyes moved back and forth with it’s tale. Pauline proved to be a great improvement on her predecessor.
Across the street from Pauline and her husband was a single man whose little girl visited only occasionally. The neighborhood children had labeled him “scarey” but I felt bad for him. I thought he must be lonely there all by himself so one day I said, “Hi.” Well, honestly, that was the day he got a fat black puppy named Teddy so maybe I was inspired by more than compassion and Jesus. He turned out to be a very nice man well worth saying hi to even if he didn’t have a fat black puppy. He let me play with Teddy as much as I wanted. I would just go to the back yard for a while and then head home. His back yard faced the street and could be seen from my house. Teddy was all we ever had in common, but I sure did like his big furry paws. Teddy’s I mean.
Across the way from our house was the K-Mart auto shop as I mentioned earlier. My dad hated those guys. We went to bed at 9:00 every night and that was just about when they’d start banging and whirring and talking and making all manner of noise. My dad called K-Mart. My dad called the police. My dad said “I have two little girls who need to get up early for school.” My dad said, “I’m gonna come over there and kick your behind (only not behind).” Those K-Mart auto shop guys never did stop banging and whirring and talking all night long. Man my dad hated those guys.
And then there were our next door neighbors...the Baileys. And my dad’s arch enemy...that drunk Mike Baily. That drunk Mike Baily was an adult male of indeterminate age who was a “loser” and a “drunk” before alcoholism became a fashionable disease. He would sit in the back yard at a card table wearing a blue dress shirt open over a white t-shirt and drink beer. He had sandy blonde hair as I recall although he has started to look like the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island in my mind. I’d go in our backyard to swing and there he’d be. He was impervious to weather and could be seen out our den windows when there was snow on the ground. My dad said he was too pickled to feel the cold. My dad hated that drunk Mike Baily.
Mr. Baily was of no particular distinction to me other than my father’s insistence that he needed to kick that drunk Baily son of his out on his ear. Mrs. Baily was more interesting. She wore curlers 24 hours a day 7 days a week and had horn rimmed glasses. She sat on her front porch in warm weather in polyester shorts and a tank top and smoked. One day she called me over to show me that both of her big toe nails had been removed. It made me shivery and I thought that drunk Mike Baily was a great improvement on his big toenail-less mother.
The theme of my childhood was that we had to move to get away from that drunk Mike Baily. He seemed nice enough to me despite my father’s growing disgust at the beer cans covering the Baily’s backyard around Mike’s card table.
Then one night everything changed. I awoke in the middle of the night in the bedroom at the front of the house that I shared with my sister. My dad was in the living room at the front door and my mom was in the hallway in front of our bedroom door. That drunk Mike Baily had finally gone too far. He was so inebriated, having apparently moved his drinking out of the back yard, he was disoriented and banging on our front door trying to force his way in. He didn’t know which house was his. I was pretty sure the time had come for my dad to kill that drunk Mike Baily. We all knew it had been coming for years. For the first time, I was scared of drunk Mike Baily. And I was scared that he was gonna hurt my dad. And I thought maybe my dad needed to shoot him after all. My parents called the police who intervened and saved Mike from my dad shooting him right through our front door to save his wife and little girls.
Not long after that we really did move. I never saw that drunk Mike Baily again. I wonder if he knows how lucky he is that my dad didn’t shoot him?