My friend Junkyard Gary Watson died last night.
Gary had a face like a road map. Hard living had etched itself permanently into his skin.
Over the years, he eked out a meager living for himself as a house painter and junk dealer. He drove a battered old pickup truck. He collected still-useful junk from the curb and then sold it or traded it or gave it away.
I’d known Gary since I was a teenager.
Back then, he used to watch out for me, like a big brother. He was a lot more street-smart than me, and he occasionally managed to save me from myself. Like, for instance, the time I warned the old man that he was about to be mugged. This was a big no-no on the street, but I didn’t know that yet. Gary intervened on my behalf and convinced the self-proclaimed “Queen of Bank Street” to only beat me up a little bit instead of pummeling me to a bloody pulp.
A few years later, Gary found himself on a bridge, debating whether or not to jump. He wondered if there might be a solution to his problems other than suicide, and this was when he decided to give sobriety a chance. If that didn’t work, he’d come back and jump.
Sobriety worked. I don’t know how long it has been since Gary’s last drink. Maybe 25 or 30 years. If you’d known him before, you probably wouldn’t have thought he could do it, but he did.
He kept smoking though, and eventually lung cancer got him.
I like to think Gary died proud of what he accomplished in life. His daughter Janis. Sobriety. The fact that he eventually managed to buy a little house in Hull. Quitting smoking. Falling in love near the end of his life. Being a decent human being and a loyal friend.
R.I.P., Gary. I will remember you fondly.
(Here’s a post I wrote about Gary a few years ago: Junkyard Gary meets Marilyn Monroe)