Jack. Or Jake. I don’t exactly know for sure, ’cause everybody used to call the cat one or the other.
One night old Paul’d be in and see the skinny cat hangin’ out in his usual spot at the end of the counter. He’d holler, “How you been, Jake?” And cat would nod and say somethin’ like, “Not bad,” or what have you.Then, very next night, Ruby from the flower store’d pop in and see the cat sippin’ on a brew. She’d wave and say, “What’s new, Jack?” Sure enough, cat would shrug and smile and say somethin’ like, “Nothin’ much.”
Seems the jury was definitely, indefinitely out on who had it correct. Never knew any last name, either. Cat was always just Jack. Or, Jake.
Me, I usually just called him pal, mate, bud, buddy, friend, friend-o, man, and just, plain hey you. Whatever his name was, Bottom-line or Left-behind, Jack or Jake or Manfred Pettigrew. Whatever you called him, cat was a boozer.
But he wasn’t no drunk. I was never so blind to the tell-tales of a person’s nature (a man who chooses a life behind the wood becomes an unofficial, uneducated, unorthodox, certified and bona fide expert examiner of the mortal condition) to assume the dude was holed up in a squatter’s squalor, squandering what meager means gained from the gov’ment on cheap pints in the evening and even cheaper street meat in the wees.
Ol’ Jack, or Jake, cat had a brain behind those blue eyes.
Most, I bet, would hardly tell there was anything more than a bucket of Blue Buck and a cranium full of Kronenberg bobbin’ around atop that pencil-thin, scruffy, suit-wrapped exterior that Jack or Jake hauled about the neighbourhood. Most folks I talked to took him for what he let the world in on: a down-and-out hound for the bottle.
And now that’s exactly where I don’t want things to get twisted. Cat – that is, Jack or Jake or whatever, he loved his booze. Loved it the way fat ladies love cats and fat fags love dick sandwiches. He loved the drink with a delicate depth makes an aging sud-slinger like myself tear up with pride.
Cat would order a beer, and sit there a minute just watchin’ the foam pop on the top of that pint glass. Cat would order a Manhattan and spend a whole minute just whiffin’ off the aura of bourbon and vermouth before taking his first sip. And boy, did he ever savour that sip. Would close his eyes and let it trickle down the back of his throat, and then take a deep breath.
No. He wasn’t your average, everyday, everyway, stack ’em up and lay ’em down hound. Ol’ Jack or Jake, he was what Isaac Hayes would call a complicated man. I could see it from the first second he planted himself down on the corner post of my wood. Sat himself down and pushed the pork-pie high to the peak of his frizzy, frazzled tangle of white man’s afro which looked like a mess of crow’s nest on top of a bent telephone pole, pushed it up and pulled his tie and straightened his wrinkled suit to a point it would never stay, looked at me with those steel, peacock blue peepers, and ordered a pint and a shot of whiskey.
Since then, I guess I’ve always kept an eye on the guy whenever he weaved his way into my joint.
Which is why I took such notice the night she sat down next to him, asked him to buy her a drink.