Bruce the Alcoholic
Cook, Friend, Drunk
I've been writing about the people I meet for many years now and I have finally decided to group a collection of them into a book. I've met a lot of characters who have entertained, amused and sometimes even horrified me with their antics (read the chapter about Rick!) and I am interested in sharing these colorful stories with others for their enjoyment. They are real people living real lives with real problems and i hope that you all find them as much fun as I have. I welcome any criticisms, advice or feedback that anyone cares to constructively offer.
(The drawing to the right is not actually of my friend Bruce but it surely does look like him!)
My Friend bruce
It's hard to watch one of your friends deteriorate into the early grave of alcoholism, but then Bruce wasn't the first friend I had lost to that dark, unforgiving demon. There but by the grace of god. Bruce was a nice guy, easy going, funny and, to some extent, even charming. He was also a talented cook, working as a chef at a local dive bar, serving up better food than the poor service or warm beer deserved.
Unfortunately he was also an alcoholic and that is one addiction that you can try and kick but, more often than not, it usually ends up kicking you back twice as hard. Bruce had it bad and it showed. He was never without a bottle of vodka close to hand and he quickly came down with a bone rattling case of the shakes if he didn't take regular shots from the bottle. He shook so bad that it made my own joints sore just watching him. I had the expectation that he would fall apart at any moment and just collapse into a still jittering pile of parts on the floor.
Waterfront Tavern, San Diego
My tales of the waterfront are not to be confused with the famous (and infamous) Waterfront Tavern in San Diego. The tavern is by no means a dive bar, which probably explains why i spend less time there! This amazing piece of history is one of the best hang outs in the whole city. To learn more about it, read my hub dedicated to it HERE.
Although the characters and the experiences in this series of articles are my own, I am not the first person to write about the cast of people that call San Diego's waterfront home. The famous Max Miller wrote a very popular book called 'I Cover The Waterfront' which was made into the 1933 movie of the same name. He also wrote about the salty dogs and lost souls he encountered. Check out the movie below.
I Cover The Waterfront
Read I Cover the Waterfont
Read Max Miller's delicious book that has been translated into several Hollywood movies.
I saw Bruce walking down the street one day and, as usual, stopped to talk to him. He greeted me warmly, with a big, friendly smile that wasn't just on his lips. I liked Bruce, he was never fake.
“What happened to your teeth?” I asked with genuine concern, noticing that his two front teeth had been broken off short. He noticed my reaction and knew me well enough to know what was on my mind. “Ha! No need to go punching anyone on my account. This fresh battle scar was my own doing.”
“Do tell?” I inquired.
Always ready to share a story, Bruce happily started the story “Well, you might not believe this, but I'd had a few drinks in me.” We both laughed and he continued “So I wasn't quite as steady on my feet as I apparently thought I was.” I chuckled, shaking my head and suspecting that I knew where this story was headed.
“Anyway” he continued “I was crossing from one dock to another, you know, over that gangplank?” I nodded, knowing exactly where he was talking about. “Did you have Sampson with you?” I asked as a kindness, giving him a way to save himself some embarrassment. The dog, Sampson, was known to drag whomever was holding his leash, off that crossing board into the water. I know because he had done it to me the year before.
But Bruce, to his eternal credit, was never false and he said “I can't blame the dog. He was with me but he wasn't on his leash. The responsibility for this new beauty mark rests squarely here” he said, tapping both of his own shoulders. “I tripped over my own feet and landed flat on my face, teeth first to be exact.. Broke them right off. I was lucky in a way, really.”
“Oh, how so?”
“I was so drunk that I didn't feel a thing.” I laughed out loud. Good old Bruce, nothing ever seemed to get him down. “How's work?” I asked, hoping to turn our conversation to something more constructive. I could tell immediately that I had chosen the wrong topic. “Well, not so good to be honest.” He looked awkward and a little bit embarrassed. “Uh-Oh.” I hedged, allowing him to continue with the topic if he chose or to change it as he wished. “Well, I screwed up.” I didn't respond, giving him the time to find the words he wanted to use, if any. “You probably won't be too surprised to learn that I was a little boozed up when the incident occurred.” I wasn't surprised at all.
“What happened?” Now the thing that you should understand about Bruce is that he is a nice guy. Sometimes too nice and some people see that as an invitation to treat him poorly. A good natured and peaceable guy, Bruce usually just laughed it off and continued to drink merrily. Usually. But not always.
Sometimes, when he's taken a little too much of the liquid demon into his mouth, Bruce would get a little ornery. “Well,” he continued, “you know how Paul can be sometimes?” I did. “And between him and Brad it just got to me.”
Brad was Bruce's roommate and landlord aboard Brad's boat, the Vanity. Brad's favorite past time was needling Bruce, trying to get under his skin and make him angry. I had no trouble envisioning how the events of the evening unfolded.
“So Brad was picking on me all night long, as usual and Paul was in the cups himself and, like he gets, he was brewing for a fight.”
“Were you working?”I asked.
“Yeah, I was unfortunately. If I hadn't been I'd probably still have a job.”
“You got fired?!” I was genuinely taken aback. Bruce looked even more embarrassed and I pressed on “What the hell happened?”
“I'm not sure I remember it all with complete accuracy but it culminated with me going into the back room and coming back out swinging a cutlass and chasing Paul around the bar with it.” I laughed at the vision of it despite the seriousness of the repercussions. I imagined the looks on the patrons faces and wondered if they even bothered to pause in their conversations. At Point Break, sights like the cook chasing one of the bar flies around with a murderous sword were not uncommon. Some of the customers, I was sure, just came for the shows like this one.
I asked the obvious question “Why was there a sword in the back office?”
Bruce shrugged it off “That old thing has been in there for years.” Oh well, that explains that then,mystery solved. “So what happened next?”
“Well Kevin didn't seem to appreciate it or see the humorous side of it so he fired me. Again.”
“Do you think he'll hire you back again after he's had some time to cool down?” At first blush my question might seem outrageous but it's worth noting that, between Bruce quitting and Kevin firing him, Bruce had been re-hired by Kevin a total of seven times. So far.
Bruce shrugged. “Given our history, probably. But he was pretty mad about the whole thing.”
“Are you going to look for something else in the mean time then”
“Maybe. I've got to look for a place to live first.”
Another surprise! “You're moving off of Brad's boat?”
“Moved” Bruce corrected. “Actually kicked off.” he corrected again.
“Well,” Bruce drawled philosophically “Things between me and Brad have always been tense as you know.” That was an understatement. “And I guess things just came to a head after the whole cutlass thing because him and Kevin are best pals. So I'm off the boat looking for a place to sleep.”
“So where have you been sleeping?”I asked and saw his discomfort grow.
“Oh here and there” he said vaguely.
“So you're couch surfing?” I asked, looking for clarity.
“What do you mean?” I pressed even more.
“A few nights on the beach here, a night behind the Blockbuster video store there.”
I was incredulous “You mean you're homeless?”
“Pretty much, yeah.” For a moment I paused, confused how this could happen but then I declared proudly “Well I have good news for you!” I was happy with the way my friend's face light up at my proclamation. “Oh really?” he asked eagerly.
“Yep” I crowed “I just happened to notice that the San Diego Marine Exchange just down the street has a sign in the window saying they are looking for help.” I was beaming with self-satisfaction, thinking this must be how Mother Theresa felt when she was feeding the starving and administering aid to the destitute. Now, it's a telling mark that I believed that Bruce would be overjoyed at the news I had just told him. But I couldn't have been more wrong. Instead of the ear to ear grin that I expected from him, he became completely disinterested “Help wanted, you say?”
“Yes, just down the road” I confirmed, confused by his reaction.
“Well, these days we're all looking for a little help, aren't we?”
“I guess we are” I mumbled, not really understanding why my homeless and jobless friend wasn't excited about the prospect of gainful employment.
“Well I guess I'll see you around”Bruce said and ambled off to nowhere in particular to do nothing in particular. I guess he had wanted me to say that he could live on my boat with me but until when? Until he found another job? I had just alerted him to one and he hadn't shown the slightest interest at all. I was sad as I watched my friend Bruce walk away but not as sad as I was when I saw him next.
Several weeks later I saw Bruce again. He was shaking like a skeleton in the wind and when he went to shake my hand,as was both our custom, he completely missed it. Not because he was drunk but rather because he wasn't. It had clearly been several hours since he'd had a nip of the old Devil's blood and the savage effects of withdrawal had beset upon him.
We exchanged pleasantries and I again asked him if he was looking for work and he said “Not right now. I'm still hoping that Kevin will hire me back here pretty soon.”
“It's been four months” I pointed out gently but Bruce seemed untroubled by the reminder.
“I guess it has. Never fear, it will all work out in the end. Be seeing you.” And he shivered his way down the street towards the liquor store.