Sunday, April 20, 2008

The manager of the wine drinkers Co-op

Karl was not that impressive the first time he came into the store. He had been sleeping it off at the mission but I think the stay time there was limited and he need a job so he could rent a room.

After working for a few days and drawing a paycheck, he was a new man. His wide mustache was waxed he was shaven and his clothes were washed and neat.

He soon became a straw boss. The go to guy in the crew that loaded and unloaded the trucks.

Of course he had a story. He had been a superintendent for a construction company somewhere on the east coast.

Beers with boys and cocktails with the bosses soon became a habit and then an obsession. The booze took over his life.

When the job went so did his wife and family. He became wanderer getting jobs only to lose them when the "thirst" took hold.

I am not sure what brought him to Walla Walla, an out of the way place, but there was a hobo jungle along the railroad tracks. I often found impromtu sheds made out of scrap metal at our scrap yard, large diameter pipe was a home for some.

BB&S had a very tolerant attitude. If you showed up and there was work available you were hired. There was always a job for Karl. He worked on and off for a couple of years.

He also put his organizational talents to use in another way. During a period when again drink took over his life to the point where he could not work he became the leader of a group of "winos", those addicted to the cheap jug wine that the Safeway store on our block sold in quantities that allowed it to stay open after the company had consolidated its other neighborhood stores into one large supermarket.

During the day he would sit in a back booth at the Rodeo Tavern and his cohorts would come and go doing day labor or panhandling. They would disgorge the money on the table and he would allocate it for drinks making sure that he was well covered.

That is why I referred to him as the "Chairman of the Wine Drinkers' Co-op."

One day I was having lunch in the back room of the Pastime Cafe. Karl was seated next to me at the counter drinking coffee.

I remarked that this was not his usual beverage.

He explained that this was his new drink. No more cheap wine drinking.

On a cold night he had crawled into a garbage dumpster and burrowed into the papers and trash to keep warm. He had been rudely awakened from his wine drugged sleep by the shouts of a garbage man staring at him. The garbage truck driver had hooked on to the box to flip it into the compactor mounted on his truck when the machinery stalled. He had dismounted to determine the cause and looking into the steel box saw Karl who but for the glitch in the works would have been packaged and consigned to a grave in the garbage dump.

Karl took this as a sign that his drinking days were over and was hired for a well paying job in shipping and receiving at the General Foods Plant.


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