In 1999 I moved to a place on the corner of 10th Avenue and Yancey Street here in Tallahassee. This would be the 8th or 9th house I shared with my buddy Taco, born on this day in 1969. Both of us were turning 30 that year and it was intended to be a move away from the squalid living of our twenties and to take a step towards adulthood. The place had a tin roof, white paint worn to the wood, and a kitchen you might find on a very fast sailboat. In the summer Palmetto bugs treated inside as outside until stomping or ignoring them became equal and fine choices by 4th of July. The landlord’s name was George, but the vacating tenant told us knowingly that he went by “Dick.” Everyone called him Big Dick because he was a huge man. Years later, while in his 60’s I saw him carry a full-sized refrigerator out of a house with nothing but a bear hug.
Big Dick owned four houses and a dollhouse-sized cottage on or near the corner of 10th and Yancey. Within two seasons all were filled by friends and friends of friends, which is what Taco and I were as well. Instead of taking that affirming step towards adulthood we took more of a lurching step sideways and for 10 years we lived as a family wandering from house to house as easy as room to room. Vicious competition was our common language. Darts, 8-ball, 9-ball, ping pong, Dungeons and Dragons (kind of a sub-cult within our greater body host) bicycles, basketball, croquet,horseshoes, bocce ball, mini-bowling and Poker–with strange variations like Boo-ray and Shmoolie– every Thursday night and holiday for about a decade. The house hosting Poker installed a PVC chute mounted in plywood from the table through the window to the recycling bin. Whoever got the seat closest to the beer chute would struggle to follow the action on the table while firing an endless line of bottles and cans into the bin.
Within the very nucleus of our compound lived a couple, born in the 1930’s or 40’s I think. With a tidy little yard and a small chain-link fence around the property their house was a respectable eyesore among our repudiating hovels. They were from Chicago and retired to town to be near two of their three children, and enjoy life. Marvin played jazz piano and we would hear him playing through the open windows as we criss-crossed the street following the action from house to house. Ada would link her arm through yours and pull you in close to tell you about a piece of jewelry she was wearing or to tell you she was really upset about how our government was treating the mentally ill. For some reason they never thought to say, “Hey guys, maybe you should all get serious about your lives and quit living like a bunch of pirates returned to port after 6 months at sea. Quit wasting time!”
We lived more with and among them, than next to them. Either would have been welcomed at the poker table, or to throw the dice with the Riders of Rohan, but I doubt they cared for the thick blue cigarette smog in the room . Good lord, we were animals, which is an insult to animals.
One day Ada came knocking on my door. I opened it to her holding a tiny kitten cradled against her chest and small bags of food and litter hanging from her elbow. She offers me this tail-less, black and white weeks-born kitten–“Here is your new cat.” She tells me. ” Ada, I can’t take care of a cat. I can’t even take care of myself!”
Ada was not one to moralize. The irreverently empathetic Ada, who before all things was funny, an absolute riot. But-I will say- and I am free to draw my own saccharin homilies. I believe Ada saw a good guy, a fiddler watching Rome burn, who could really use a cat in his life.
Marvin died a year ago last September, and Ada died yesterday morning.
I sit here now in this new home under this immense Live Oak tree, where I live with my girlfriend from 9th grade, who moved away to Alabama, but came back to get me 2 years after I left 10th Avenue. After two soggy days of rain the sun is coming out. There is a dog on the couch and that cat is looking out the window in this room.