Gone To The Shore
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I saw Wallace a year or so after the whole thing, on a street corner downtown. I remember seeing him from a couple blocks away and thinking, "Nooooo-that can't be him," you know? I'd heard he'd made for Romania. But there he was. It had been a little while, of course, and it wasn't exactly his shape, but it wouldn't have taken much more than a few pounds on the hips...-you know what I mean. There was a kid who hung out on that particular corner doing gymnastic stunts for a dollar. Amazing stuff. He'd collar you and say something like, "If I run up that wall a do a double back flip, will you give me a dollar?" and you would say, "Well, for a double flip, yes." He was maybe fifteen or sixteen years old, kind of an unsavory little guy. Anyway, what usually happened after that was that he'd say, "Okay, I'll do it, but I've got to get a few more people," and you'd stand there like an idiot while and he continued to advertise himself to passersby. That's what I was doing on the corner when Wallace walked up. And then, when the kid had four or five people, he'd do it, and it would be kind of anticlimactic, because all he'd do was run up a wall and do a back flip and you'd already been picturing it in your head for the last five minutes. I did see him walk to end of the block and back on his hands once. He did that for two bucks. I thought that was pretty good. When he-Wallace-got to this corner, before he'd noticed that I was there, the kid went up to him and was about to start talking, but Wallace pulled a dollar bill out of his pocket and said, "I'll tell you what. I'll give you one dollar right now if you promise to never bother me again, no matter where you see me, no matter what I'm doing. Got it?"
The kid took the dollar. "Got it. Thanks, man. Thank you."
"No, no," Wallace said. "Thank you."
I laughed, hoping it would catch his attention, but he just wanted to keep moving. He turned to go up the sidewalk and I said, "Wallace! Wallace! Hey-Wallace Varga! JT Hopkins!" you know, doing that kind of thing. He looked at me, kind of squinted, and then smiled, almost a fatherly smile. "JT Hopkins...," he said. "JT Hopkins." Like he kind of remembered me, but kind of forgot.
I told him I thought he was in Romania.
"Came back for some of my stuff," he said.
I talked him into a cup of coffee.
When we got to the cafe, he told me he was spending the night in a cheap hotel. I had an extra room in my apartment; I offered him the room and he took it.
That night, he wanted to go out for a beer, but I was just too tired. I think I was feeling a little sick. Or I just didn't want to spend any more time with him. "You sure?" he said. I was lying on the couch reading a magazine or something. "Um, yeah. I'm sure." "Well, listen, do you mind if I bring a woman home?" Considering that I had offered the room, I thought his asking was a nice courtesy, even if it seemed a little confident. "No, no. I don't mind. Knock yourself out."
He said, "I don't mean for me. I mean for you."
I declined the offer, which I decided also to take as a nice courtesy. There were a lot of other ways to take it. How about that?
The next morning, I got up and there was a note on the kitchen counter: "TJ-Gone to the shore. Thanks for everything." Gone to the shore? What shore? And who was he kidding?
And "TJ"? "TJ"? That's not even my name. My name is JT. JT. That's my name.
I once met a guy who said he's spent a long weekend with Jimi Hendrix once. I happened to be at an age when I thought that was, you know, pretty huge. When I asked the guy what Hendrix was like, he said "An asshole is an asshole is an asshole, man." I never believed that Jimi Hendrix was an asshole just because of that story, but I always thought that was a pretty great sentiment.
An asshole is an asshole is an asshole.
A few months later after Wallace got laid in my apartment, I got a postcard with a picture of a beach on the Black Sea that said "TJ-Weather's here, wish you were nice." I was embarrassed to be the only person with his name-kind of-on a postcard like that. I threw it away.
Dennie Wendt writes the good