By Dan Bodine
Hee, hee! Me sleeping on student benches at the UTA campus in Arlington TX while my strange roommate enjoyed sexual trysts back in the apartment ain’t much to write home about! True story, though. Remind you of someone?
And this never bore bad ill will between us, ’cause it was a verbal agreement sealed by a handshake — e.g., I’d promised to clear out in the event he ever brought home a bar toad (aka, “a soused but gentle fat woman” [his vernacular]). Me? I was out on the streets already; campus was a block away; and, yes, I was that desperate for a place to live! So even with his caveat, I agreed.
Remembering the sweet revenge months later — e.g., after waiting couple weeks to bond him out of jail for neglecting child support payments for several years — made it a little easier. My girlfriend and I enjoyed the privacy of the apartment for a couple of weekends.
An Even Stephen, was it?
Oh, did I really cavalierly think that was all part of God’s punishment to him for taking advantage of me like that? Ah…The joy and pain of crossing that threshold into a responsible adulthood mind!
Hee, hee! How could’ve I forgotten all this?! A recent plug for my old alma mater jarred it loose — e.g., best public school in DFW reminded me.
First, one-bedroom apartments with two single beds and a shared bath and kitchen were how many single, working students survived the college scene in the ’60s. Probably still so, in myriads of ways, too.
Getting educated while employed full-time or part-time, as a rule, is a big factor in driving economies of college towns or large cities. Makes schools more affordable and thus attracts more students, it seems.
But in a crisis, negotiating shared rent deals that allow an older, non-student roommate to bring home these bar toads (offensive, yes, but his words) who’ll disrupt your sleeping life… Well, they weren’t often the fine-print agreements that determined whether or not you’d found a place to live or not.
Who’d be that foolish to enter into an agreement like that!? Many folks might ask. And…Being desperate usually is the reply.
As you get older and realize God squeezes wisdom into your head mostly against your will — e.g., mostly in hard learning lessons — you relish these moments of desperation. You crossed another Rubicon!
Use them as mental buoys in your life looking back at all the ebb and flood tides of experiences and activities that’ve combined to shape your thoughts. By the Grace of God we get through!
But yes, once in dire times, dealing with a 10-12 yr.-older veteran named Chuck for that other single bed in his 1-bedroom apartment — e.g., a temporary place to live — slip-slidin’ away to accept occasional duties on a UTA campus bench at night was what sealed the deal with him.
Already having found yourself on the streets (apartment eviction), and now facing a “fourth-and-75” in American football speak, what other option is there but to punt? And then wait ’til you get the ball again!
For: “Either quickly crawl incognito under your bed with a pillow around your ears, or quickly git the hell outta here!” more-or-less were the terms of the deal!
I nodded yes, shook his hand, and went off to unpack my little car outside. Hot damn, I had a home!
Chuck, first, seemed obsessed to be a self-made guy! Seems he’d stacked four years of U.S. Marine service onto an already 3-yr. Army tour; then found a civilian job in an Arlington plant that made large plastic canopies for jet aircraft. Had been working there at least a year when I met him.
I knew nothing about his years of service, other than honorable discharges of course. And nothing then about his family, too. Or even if he had one. Just a topic he never talked about.
But his undisciplined mind — e.g., I remember he had an unnerving way about him, an almost insatiable appetite for more life — seemed to drive him into the unknown on one exploit after another.
I’d inquired about mid-day the day I met him about a single-bed vacancy at an apartment office on S. Cooper, about a block from the school.
As a full-time student-employee then who’d just lost his apartment at another campus apartment — for having too many tequila sundowners et al. the night before, if I’m remembering right — I was, indeed, desperate.
And I can remember this clerk quickly scanning some thumb-tacked notes above her desk, before finally reaching for one. And staring at it for a few seconds.
Then she looked at me and said something like, “This guy’s not a student, I don’t think, but he seems OK!” With that clear, but blank what-cha-ma-call-it expression on her face!
I mean, there were no sounds of hound dogs rushing into the little office room; outside, a clear sky. What’s making ‘ya feel uncomfortable here, Jethro? (My altar-ego’s name)
I want to say those apartments then were the Mandalays. Or a name like that.
A 2-story, U-shaped complex, with the open end affronting the front curb on a corner just a block off-campus on S. Cooper. But not sure of the name, no.
Chuck’s apartment was on the 2nd level, though, north side; all apartment doors facing the middle commons. Drapes had been opened in the large, plate-glass front window I noticed when walking up to the door, and I saw him (a figure) sitting on a sofa.
He was staring up at a large aquarium suspended by chains from the ceiling. A ceiling light highlighted the fluorescent colors of several large tropical fish in the water.
When I knocked on the doorbell, I’m sure I was thinking “odd”. He opened it, I asked if I could talk to him about the vacant bed, and he asked me in.
The large aquarium actually was an inverted jet canopy! Made with hard acrylic plastic, probably Plexiglas®. Hung from ceiling joists over the area on the floor normally where you’d see a coffee table.
He’d just grabbed a reject canopy from the company where he worked; sealed the ends with scrap plexiglass and superglue; got permission from the apartments’ corporate office — pledging a property damage bond, no doubt — to suspend it; and then hung it up as his masterpiece!
That was only part of the scene, however. Directly on the floor beneath this large, inverted canopy (aquarium), laid an equally large bearskin rug. Dark brown in color.
The overhead aquarium light was on the ceiling, sending out cascades of different color hues across it. Throw in some LSD and, hell, this could’ve been a game-changer!
I never inquired, though, nor said anything to Chuck then about the bearskin. For this was a business meeting — e.g., terms of occupancy for the single bed.
Weeks later, though, it crossed my mind: How many? How many bar toads had been willing to lay on their back beneath that monstrosity, staring at the colored fish and the hundreds of gallons of water that were suspended in the air just a few feet from their faces, while…? Dancing lights and all!
He sheepishly smiled back. And said, “None! Couldn’t never git one that drunk!”
Hijole! Indeed, DFW was a memorable feast then! Both the eclectic and Fly-by-night characters like him — most drawn in by Sunbelt growth and its skewed promises of a new life — were part of the reason. Oh, how could I’ve forgotten this?
Chuck also obtained a student pilot license to fly, and at one time bought an old Aeronca Champ bi-wing airplane — with a one-passenger seat behind cockpit. We’d fly all around that area in it. No doubt I often thought who was more crazy? Him or me?
He hangered it at the Grand Prairie Airport and then flew it over to the little Arlington Airport to pick me up. Very secretive! To keep his license; he wasn’t allowed to fly passengers.
The Champs are versatile; often used as stunt planes now. Chuck loved to show off with the dives. My stomach in the back seat never liked it much, though. What idiots!
Remember once we flew down to my ol’ hometown in Cleburne — buzzing the city on the northwest edge, and him doing one of those diving maneuvers.
Immediately coming out of it, he turned back to look at me — e.g., the fear on my face — and then screamed to high heaven! I’d made his day.
That may have been one of those key defining moments in one’s life where a yáhoo-in-the-making (me) decided to stay away from the off-beaten trails and stick to the tried-and-true conservative ones. Chuck turned me in life! God’s strange and mysterious ways!
We were both asleep that night Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office warrant officers banged on the apartment door. Maybe about 2-2:30 a.m. Late February or March, it seems. Two officers; up late studying, so I opened the door for them.
They had warrants from one of the Atlantic coast’s southeastern states (Virginia, or one of the Carolinas, I think) for Chuck. He hadn’t made child support payments to the mother of two of his little children in years.
I guess since that time — probably spending his money elsewhere and not making payments (and her asking for them) — he bit his lip and irresponsibly “flew the coop” one day! And disappeared to Texas. To start over!
To be what he wanted to be all the time in his mind, e.g., a high roller. To hell with budgets! Which pretty well defines irresponsible behavior, no?
Indeed, DFW was a memorable feast then! Both those feverishly eclectic and these shallow characters like him — both drawn in by the lure of Sunbelt growth (and its glittering promise of more wealth) — were part of the reason.
The false magnetism that was in the air! Though stirring creativity it did! Oh, how could I’ve forgotten this?
And I never checked with the Tarrant County Attorney’s Office on Chuck’s status. Not for 2-3 weeks, e.g. Can’t remember if we even had a phone. Surely so.
I was working full-time, attending UTA classes, and dating a drama student at SMU in Dallas at the time. Chuck’s absence at the apartment, especially on weekends, was very much appreciated.
At least until the rent came due.
Chuck didn’t have a bank account where he deposited his payroll checks.
Irresponsibly (again), he kept those he hadn’t cashed — Yeah, there are people out there who actually do these things — lying on the dresser in this one-bedroom apartment we shared.
Pretended they were just so many irrelevant pieces of paper, I guess. Talk about floating in thin air!
Me? Hell, I certainly was no threat to him. I’d caved in to disappear to UTEP campus benches at night on occasions, just for the privilege of having one of the beds there to sleep in the rest of the time!
But I knew the checks were there. In plain sight!
Nearing the end of the month when the rent was coming due, I left for work early one day to the shipping department at Mrs. Baird’s Bread Bakery on Fort Worth’s west side. With several of those checks tucked in my shirt pocket.
Drove downtown first to the Tarrant County Jail. Advised them I was there to inquire about Chuck. It was like the Great Wash had passed.
Almost immediately I was directed into an office somewhere, and within minutes an assistant attorney met with me.
Saying something like, “You’re the first person who’s inquired about him!”
Yeah, he was pleased someone had finally showed up. Budget funds were at play.
Apparently, the county attorney or sheriff’s office back on the East Coast who’d issued the arrest warrant was balking at the expenditure of sending someone to Fort Worth to transport a prisoner named Chuck “back East!”
Cashing a payroll check for bond money isn’t usually the purview of a county attorney’s office, but once the attorney realized what I had, he made it happen. Pronto!
Maybe a half hour later my ol’ roommate Chuck walked in. Yes, a smile on his face, and a heartfelt grasp of thanks shaking my hand.
I handed him the remaining checks, then took him back to Arlington — to the apartment — before continuing back to work myself.
The fact that’d he’d had his wings clipped no doubt was an understatement.
For, yes, he caught up on his payments to his ex-wife in a few months, it seems. And there were no more bar toads to interrupt my sleep or studying after that!
Hope God is still using Chuck. In strange and mysterious ways.
— 30 —