And then you get sidetracked.
30-odd years ago, when I was working nights at Scoreboard Liquors (razed in 1988), we’d rope off the parking lot during Harvest Homecoming and charge people $5 to park — unless they were paying customers.
The idea eventually arose among my friends to just leave our cars parked there, purchase some Stoli, Rose’s Lime Juice and plastic cups, and stroll the festival at our leisure.
Thus was born the concept of Vodka-Thon, and one of those years, Ralph came along.
Ralph was a regular customer. He was a few years older than me, short of stature and heavily bearded, and if memory serves, he’d been in the army in Vietnam. He was smart, soft-spoken, and a tad eccentric — he actually read books, regretted not being an undertaker, and once gave me a textbook about mortuary science. I still have it somewhere.
How did I know these things?
Because Ralph came in a lot, at all hours of the day, and what I didn’t know — what I chose not to know — was that he was an alcoholic. Functional, perhaps, but still.
Vodka-Thon was a lark for us. It was everyday reality for him.
Later in the 1980s, after the liquor store had moved to the corner of Spring and Beharell, we lost touch. I heard from a mutual acquaintance that things had gotten bad for Ralph in every respect. Evidently I did nothing with this information. He had become one of those faces lost in the huge crowd of past lives.
This morning Vodka-Thon occurred to me, and Ralph’s face popped into view. I did some googling, and it appears he’s been dead for 15 years. This doesn’t surprise me. I believe he had children, and they may still be around, grown now. If so, and if they read this, please know that none of these ruminations are intended as flippant or disrespectful.
In fact, I feel awful. I didn’t know then what I know now, but that’s hardly an excuse for doing nothing when it was obvious something was wrong. Ralph seemed like a good fellow, tormented by demons, at least one of which was the disease of alcoholism.
Ralph, I’ll always remember our chats about book and life. I’m sorry I was oblivious to the other part of it.
Rest in peace, sir.