My Irish Up: Friends & neighbors

Mike Corrigan

Mike Corrigan

By Mike Corrigan

BN Columnist

Behind our three-story apartment house, Don lives with his adult son, Jeremy, in a small attachment that I have dubbed The Outback.

Much in the manner of NSA, Don keeps an eye on the rest of us. “I believe in being a good neighbor,” Don says, and apparently he has the incriminating photos to prove it. People keep moving out in the middle of the night.

Clandestine NSA work aside, Don has had it up to here with acronyms: PTSD, picked up for no extra charge in Nam, and then his second wife, the gasping shell of a woman he once loved, dying a couple of years ago from ALS. Due to my hearing problems and his over-fondness for tongue-numbing fermented beverages, it took me awhile to get his life story out of him. I’m not sure I have it right yet: drug and alcohol abuse (some of it his), neglect, the nuclear wars of a Sixties nuclear family, and then the lad kicked out of the house at 16. After living on the streets in this city, he fled into the Army on his seventeenth birthday as he, the recruiter and his estranged father met at a pre-arranged time outside his family’s rural house, not much more than a shack, to sign the enlistment papers.

“I told my Dad, just sign the $#%$@ papers and you won’t see me anymore,” Don remembers. He ended up near the DMZ in the late Sixties, a hell of a time in a hell of a place. He wasn’t a very good soldier, even he admits. He was a bantamweight rebel. The Army didn’t tame him, but it did freak him out, along with a war that didn’t have to be fought and maybe couldn’t be won. “You’d kill a hundred Cong and Red China would send a thousand more through the tunnels,” Don claims now. He shakes his head. “And hot, humid. It was like breathing underwater. God, I hated that place.”

His main solace has been the bottle, or the can, or the glass of draft beer when someone will stand him a round. That wouldn’t be me, a non-drinker, but then I don’t know what he does with the sawbucks I loan him toward the end of most months either. But, Don always pays me back on the first. Life goes on.

Last month, Don got into a running argument with a lady in the next apartment house who insisted on using her cell phone as a Weapon of Mass Instruction. “Airing her business all over the ^&$%^% place,” Don said. Well, one thing led to another and the cops came. These tiffs happen. If you’re a good neighbor to him, he’s a good neighbor to you. Otherwise, not so much.

Don shouldn’t drink. One evening, he lost all sense of the vertical and, like a tired old horse, took a bad step. When the ambulance arrived, he put up such a fight about going to the hospital that charges were filed. He ended up in the hoosegow. “What are you in for?” his cellmate asked him. “Broke my ankle,” Don explained.

The man’s not well. He says he’s trying to get his doctors at the VA to sign him up for medical marijuana, a matter of simple justice. “The Army taught me to smoke the weed,” he says. “You’d think that now, when I’m on my way out, they could at least hook me up.” And his ensuing chest-deep laughter ends in a rattling cough.

You’re thinking maybe he’s a bum. I’m thinking Don’s like a lot of people who wanted the American Dream and believed in it and then couldn’t figure out why things never seemed to go quite right. Don’s a Boomer who never got much bang for his boom. For 30 years after the Army, he worked in mills and sweatshops around here. Don raised a family and was alternately estranged and on good terms with his siblings, and with his kids. When the day went badly or the night promised to be slow, there was always alcohol. When Agent Orange and PTSD packed their double wallop about a decade back, Don went on disability. He’s past 60 now. He has few resources to claim as his own. Maybe it’s his own fault, or maybe, as they say, it is and it isn’t.

After a recent terrifying weekend of ghastly physical symptoms that should have put him in the emergency room at least, but instead sent him three days too late and a couple of quarts low to the VA Hospital in Togus, Don was informed he’d better not drink anymore. This is like instructing the sunrise to hold off for a few years.

Don’s is a life that’s been largely filed away, steadily and over time, and maybe he has done some of the filing himself. So what’s your point? — you say. Who cares?

Exactly my point.

Please follow and like us: