If he thought of Rick as his “pet drunk,” it was not cruelly. If it was cynicism, it was cynicism welded with honest affection without pretense. At least, not much. He tried, but Rick was difficult.
Rick was familiar to the emergency response teams: police, fire, EMT, Emergency room doctors and nurses, they all knew him. They all sighed and rolled their eyes as they shared their stories of his drunken antics. Rick was a loud drunk, a loud singing drunk. He’d get flushed on cheap peppermint flavored liqueur and sing half remembered fragments of REO Speedwagon songs. “I’ve been around you, been up n downnnn you, mmanlahhmny ‘lief. The police chased him out of abandoned buildings, the nurses treated his injuries – cuts on his face and hands from his frequent falls, and occasional fights.
He’d be arrested for public drunkenness, for trespassing, for any number of alcohol related nuisances, held in the county jail where he’d be sober for a couple of days, maybe a week. But when he was released it was back to the streets, back to the cheap booze, back to an almost continual state of inebriation.
If he thought of Rick as his “pet drunk,” it was with both affection and weariness. Rick came to his church for help, for food, for a place to stay on cold nights, for someone to talk to. Usually he was willing to listen to Rick; when he was sober (that rare condition) he was decent, even interesting. He bought Rick dinner on multiple occasions– never gave him cash directly. He let Rick sleep in the church’s storage rooms during one especially cold week in December, warning him that if he went outside to smoke the door would lock behind him, and “for the love of God, don’t fall asleep with a cigarette inside and burn the church down around you…”
One stormy afternoon he let Rick sleep on one of the pews in the chapel. Rick had burned himself out with the other shelters in town, been barred from the detox center. He had nowhere else to go. So he let Rick come in, sleep it off for a couple of hours, to get out of the rain. But when he went in to check on Rick, he found him pissing in the corner of the chapel. “Get out. Get out,” he said as he pushed Rick out the door. “Good grief, Rick. Get out.”
That was several years ago. He’s moved a couple of times since then, but he still wonders what’s happened to his “pet drunk.”