Saturday, May 02, 2009

Random New Paltz Memory: an Old Tramp Named Bob

It’s probably late afternoon, and I’m in the Homestead. George Montgomery is tending bar. In walks a gentleman, tall, shabbily dressed but with excellent posture, unshaven but with an exquisitely shaped mustache. He looks like an oversized Lord Buckley. He sits down on a barstool and says, in a sonorous voice, “Does anyone here have a beer for an old tramp named Bob?”

George does not for a moment question his mandate, but places a beer in front of the old tramp.

Old Bob starts to open up to me and George and Larry the Fluff – I don’t recall all that much of it, but I remember that he was a logger from the Adirondacks – how he had happened through New Paltz, I don’t remember. I drift off at some point, but later in the evening I wander back past the Homestead just as Old Bob is walking out the front door. He gets halfway down the path, suddenly turns stiff as a board, pitches forward flat on his face – directly between Henry Cavanagh and Michael Weissberg, as it happens.

I go over to see if he’s OK, and so does a scruffy young kid. He’s not OK. Between the kid, me, Weissberg and Cavanagh, none of us are really qualified to deal with this situation – too bad someone like Ron Fields isn’t there, but we’re all he has. The kid and I try to help him to his feet, and more or less succeed, but he’s still out of it. What are we going to do next? “Let’s take him back in the Homestead and prop him up in a booth,” the kid suggests.

“We can’t do that…” but I don’t have a better suggestion.

Old Bob stirs into consciousness. “You’d better get me to the police station, boys. I’m an epileptic.”

The obvious answer – but none of us are really police station-oriented enough to think of it. So the kid and, supporting him with his arms around our shoulders, half-walk, half-carry him to the police station. The kid is terrified – he’s a junkie, he informs me later, and he’s terrified that they’ll see the tracks in his arm. But he hangs in there. We get him to the police station, and they’re no better prepared to deal with the situation than we are. Louie Olson is there, I forget who else. So we stay, the kid and I. We lay him down on the floor, and hold him gently so he doesn’t hurt himself when he starts thrashing. He has a can of beer in his pocket, which we remove for the same reason.

And he has plenty of time to thrash. An ambulance is dispatched from Kingston Hospital, but it takes about an hour and a half to get there. I find out later that the first ambulance driver dispatched had a heart attack on the way down, so they had to dispatch a second one to take care of him before dealing with Old Bob.

But finally he’s on the way to the hospital, and the kid and I leave. Louie Olson gives me the warm can of beer, sort of like the state trooper giving Johnny his motorcycle trophy at the end of The Wild One. I drift back down to the Homestead.

It’s after hours, and they’re not serving any more, but they let me in. Fluff is there, and I tell him the story. “And here’s Old Bob’s last beer. I guess I’ll take it home for a souvenir – and someday I’ll bring it back into town and give it to some other old tramp for whom it will have no symbolic meaning.”

There’s a girl there – I don’t remember who, now, but someone who was around town a lot for a short time, and she asks, “Can I have it?”

I think for a moment. It occurs to me that this is exactly what I had planned to do with the beer, just not quite so quickly.

So I give her Old Bob’s last beer, and call it a night.

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