Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A drunk from the alley visits Santa's workshop

I've been burning the midnight oil this week, trying to get the kids' Christmas presents ready in time for the big day.  All the time I've spent in and around the garage lately has made me realize how much I've missed my alley neighbors now that major combat operations for the addition are over.  See, our detached garage (a.k.a Mancave, a.k.a CENTCOM, and lately a.k.a Santa's Workshop) opens onto the dead-end alley that runs behind our house.  It's the closest thing we've got to a cul de sac. And when I'm working on a big project, like rebuilding my house for instance, I get to see a lot of my alley people.  It's been a while since I've had a big project.

There's a different vibe in the alley than on the front side of the house.  In the alley, we tend to hang out with our garage doors open, wander around and chat with one another, and check out each other's projects.  Being the only guy on the block with a contractor's license, I do a lot of consultations and tool loans.  The front of our house faces a pretty busy street, and if you want to contact neighbors on the other side, you have to either yell across it between passing cars, or commit to physically crossing; so it's easier just to smile and wave.  The alley is far more conducive to neighborly interaction.  

My alley neighbors hardly ever complained during the year or so that I regularly had concrete trucks parked behind my garage, huge loads of lumber stacked on the asphalt, and saws and compressors running day and night.  So I wasn't too worried a couple nights ago when I was still working on the Christmas project after 11:00 p.m.  I had my sawhorses set up right outside the garage door since the weather was nice and I was too lazy to move the minivan out of the garage.  I wasn't using any power tools louder than a cordless drill, and I was working by the light of a halogen worklight and an LED headlamp.

Just as I was about to start rolling up my tools for the night, I was distracted by someone's motion-sensor floodlight going on at the entrance to the alley.  In the distance, I could make out a figure staggering toward me in fits and starts.

"Great," I thought.  "Some bum looking for a place to take a dump."

Since our house is at the dead-end of the alley, I was able to track his progress for the length of his drunken odyssey.

That's the drawback of the dead-end alley.  While it discourages drivers from cutting through during the day, it's a perfect place for people to duck into the shadows to conduct illicit business of all sorts at night.  I've rarely caught anyone in the process of committing these acts, although I once chased out a bunch of teenage good-for-nothings who were drinking 40s and peeing in the carport of a neighbor's condo at 10 a.m. on a school day.

No, normally I'm just left to envision the scene from the previous night that resulted in a used condom, a bag of kitty litter, and a pair of heavily soiled jeans draped over an abandoned shopping cart modified with foam-rubber and zip ties.

But the other night, I was out there as the act, it seemed, was about to be committed.  My adrenaline levels were up, but I wasn't worried that this guy would give me much trouble because, a) he seemed too drunk to walk, much less assault; b) Stella was at my feet, and even though she's essentially an anxiety-ridden 120-lb chihuahua, she seems pretty scary when she appears, growling, from the inky shadows; and c) I had a lot of tools closeby to use as makeshift weapons.

"What's up, bro?" I said, a full octave deeper than I normally would have.  I said it in a way calculated to signify neither a friendly interest in the fellow's general state, nor a feeling of brotherly goodwill.

He didn't answer.

"Where you goin', bro?" I said, jutting my chin out and directing the beam of my headlamp into his eyes.  I reached to the back of my tool belt and put my hand on my unnecessarily large framing hammer.  It's like a Hummer hammer.

I'm not sure what was going on with all the "bro" business.  That's not an expression I normally use.  I guess I thought it sounded a little intimidating, since the guys who tend to use it all the time seem to be SoCal rednecks: you know, hardcore surfers, roofers, guys with dirt bikes and and Metal Mulisha stickers on their monster trucks.

"Home, man," he finally slurred, with a bit of a chuckle in his voice.

He looked like an aging frat boy--white, flip-flops, kind of heavy, slightly balding.  It was like I was looking in a mirror, actually.  A mirror that added fifteen pounds and nine shots of Jaeger.

"Where do you live?"

"Right there."  He pointed to the pink stucco apartments whose garage opens onto the alley opposite our house.

"Oh," I said.  "I didn't recognize you."  I went ahead and dropped the tough guy routine.  As long as he went through the gate to the little apartment complex, I didn't care what he did after that.

"What the hellrya makin' out here at threenthemornin' and shit?"

Okay.  I saw where this was going.  No sooner had I shed my hardass act than I had to adopt an attitude that would gently rebuff an overly garrulous drunk.  I've been there before.  We probably all have.  In fact, I've probably been on either side of the equation.  The trick is to get the drunk to lose interest in you before he starts opening up about his childhood and then ends up crying in your arms or declaring his love for you or threatening to kill you and himself because that love is so strong that he can't bear it.

I briefly explained that I was making Christmas presents for my kids, and, in the most uninteresting and brief way I could, told him what they would be.

What followed was a three and a half minute loop of this:

Drunk: Thass so coool...can I help you?

Me: Nah, man.  I've got it.  I'm just trying to wrap up here, anyway. [Makes big show of winding up power cords]

Drunk: Well, can I jusht help you put some stuff away?

Me: No, thanks.  Got it under control.

Drunk: C'mon, lemme give you a hand.  I waaant to!

He finally left after I had spent a good deal of time with my back toward him, pretending to tidy up some lumber scraps while Stella sniffed and growled at him, hackles fully engaged.

I momentarily felt bad for having been suspicious of the guy, and was embarrassed at my attempts to intimidate him.  I would be sheepish when I saw him some other day, washing his car or tuning up his bicycle or whatever.  But I'm sure if he remembers anything about our conversation beyond a bright light and a growling dog, he understands that we alley people have to be vigilant about keeping the riff-raff out of our beloved potholed piazza.


Christmas project update: It looks like the presents won't be ready for Christmas day.  Or maybe they will be, but we won't have them by then, because we'll be out of town and the toys will still be here, getting an amazing paint job.  I'm pretty much finished with the building part, but my friend and former student agreed to paint them, and once she got into it, she realized that it would take longer than she thought, especially if we maintain the incredible level of detail and cuteness that she has masterfully created so far.

This is what I'm talking about:


  1. Don't feel guilty! sheesh, better safe than sorry!. Anyhow, I love the animals on the present... I see a turtle- those are my faves...Hmm, do u think its time for a move? or at least get updates on whose moving in? lol....

  2. That sounds a bit like this guy that wanders into my townhome complex once in awhile. But he's usually looking for drugs. I think.

    Those presents are going to be so cute! I hope you'll post pictures of the final product.

  3. It's a paddle boat, in't it? Or as I call it, aquatic baby flinger.

  4. When he didn't answer I would have automatically assumed he was a zombie and used one of the handy weapon-tools on his frontal lobe.

    Awesomely cute paintings though. You're right, it'll probably take til February with that established level of detail and cute.

  5. @KBF--I'm not really feeling guilty. Just a little embarrassed about having tried to intimidate someone. And if I wanted to move away from anyone who stumbles around drunk near my house, I'd have to move away from myself!

    @Karen--I've lived in a couple places where guys would regularly come over looking to buy drugs. Then they would realize they were looking for the next door neighbors. You know I'll post about a million pics of the final product!

    @Frank--Again, a good guess and a good idea for a future project. But you're overthinking it.

    @Keely--You know, he did have kind of a zombie shuffle. I'm not as attuned to those telltale zombie symptoms as you and Woody Harrelson are, though.

  6. Drunks scare me. I would have uncerimoniously thrown everything inside and slammed down the garage door. Or left everything where it was and beat a hasty retreat. speaking of zombies my security word is; unded LOL!

  7. For a minute there I was wondering what my youngest brother was doing in your alley. I really like the paint job!

    BTW: I used to be a general contractor and still own 2 of those huge framing hammers. Either one would be the perfect go to weapon if I ever had to knock out a rhinoceros.

  8. How amazing are those animal paintings!
    Cant wait to see final product!

  9. Great Post. I'm still in awe over your oh so awesome header.

    In awe over here, yo!

  10. I'm usually pretty ok with my lack of carpentry ability. Except when I read about someone like yourself making their kids' christmas presents. So very cool. And a very cute paint job, too.


  11. I'm pretty jealous about the . . . rocking, teeter-totter . . .

    Aw hell, I'll stop guessing. But the custom art is fantastic.

    Will you let the drunks try the finished product?

  12. @Alittlesprite--I probably would have closed the door too, if my dog hadn't been with me. My theory is that people who are up to no good are usually scared of big dogs. And dogs can tell when people are up to no good.

    @Rocket Man--Thanks! I actually used to use a 24 oz hammer when I was a stupid kid, just to try to be a badass. Now, with all my tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, I've found that a 16 oz titanium hammer is less painful and more than adequate.

    @Nikki--I know! I was so excited when I saw the first phase of the painting.

    @Erin--I'm glad that people like Peter, who did the banner, and my friend Anisa, who did the painting, can make me seem awesome by association!

    @Homemaker Man--You know, the joy of building something for your children is just indescribable. But it's nothing compared to making other men feel inadequate. Thanks for giving me the opportunity, bro.

    @Nicole--Ah...teeter-totter. That's another future project. I'll let the drunks try the toys as long as they weigh under 75 pounds.

  13. You made a better go at the tough guy act than I would have done.I don't know why,but if I'm trying to come across like John Wayne who's just discovered a)he's lost his horse,b)he's lost his wife and c)he's trodden in some dog shit my voice goes up 3 octaves.

    Even the dog can't do it.He goes for that Labrador soft,doe eyed routine.

    Good luck with the Christmas gift making.A couple of years ago I was still trying to put the girls' bikes together at 4am.

  14. I too would have guessed teeter-totter but am baffled by the metal pole sticking out of the back. Which seems dangerous for drunks and toddlers alike! But then, I'm slow and prone to acting like both.

  15. You're right - that is indeed masterfully cute. And I'm awestruck by the level of woodworking hinted at by the fragment in the picture.

  16. @jacks--If I hadn't been surrounded by macho trappings, I would not have been so tough! And I'll definitely be up late on Christmas Eve.

    @Paul--Everything is potentially dangerous to drunks and children. That's what makes being drunk and childish so exciting.

    @Dadwhowrites--Thanks. I just hope it all works when I'm finished. At the very least, the "toys" will make great folk art.

    @Ed--You're getting warmer...

  17. Yo (I say yo instead of bro to show my street cred), you're making them the BD version of a balance bike, aren't you?


  18. Do what you gotta do to protect your turf, Bro. Drop your voice down, get all big, and wield the hammer. Next time, have Dr. Mom film your Hulk transformation so we can all see how it goes.

    Still can't tell what you're building, but it looks awesome. And that really is a great paint job.

    See you on the other side of the holidays. Bro.

  19. @Kim--What? A balance bike? I don't even...I mean, what's a balance...I don't know what you're talking about.

    @DiPi--Word up, bro. Merry Christmas and shit.

  20. Every time I go out at night, I wear my Guy Fawkes mask. Works like a charm.

  21. Random drunks creep me out. Reminds me too much of family reunions.

  22. Whoa the toys look GREAT! You are a talented man. Merry Christmas to you and your cute family. And stay away from the scary middle of the night drunks, ok? :)

  23. Yes to the masterful cute artwork! Very nice. And I totally get the tough-turned-rebuff transition; drunks are hard to talk to. Even when it's your neighbor.

    Where I live, the pronunciation is more like 'Bra' or 'Brah': 'Wut's up, Brah?' Being over 40, I know I sound stupid when I try it.

    Merry Christmas!

  24. The paint job is awesome. No way would I have let him help either!! Send his drunk butt home! LOL Glad it wasn't a worse situation.

  25. Love the paint job but I am still a little confused...exactly how often do drunken men fall in love with you? No wonder you have a Hummer Hammer.

  26. They're so cute! I found a website will suit them much!It is offering free puzzle games, and the games are plastic. Just take one minute to sign up then you will receive one free game. I've done it and my children now are enjoying it. Would you like one? The URL is as below :


Don't hold back.


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