The first letter I pulled from the stack was one I'd written to Richard on Sept. 26, 1967; it was mailed from Pontiac, Michigan, where I was working at Western Union Telegraph Company. My job at the time was going from town to town, filling in for people who were on vacation, or were out on extended sick leave, and so forth; over the course of five or six years I worked in some fifty-or-so different towns and cities in Indiana and Michigan, for periods ranging anywhere from a few days to up to three months, but I often spent my weekends in Lansing where I had the most friends, and where I had a studio apartment ... Apartment C, as it were.
"Studio" sounds too grand ... it was a three story building on the busiest downtown street; three one room apartments on both the 2nd and 3rd floors, with tiny kitchens and Murphy beds; the first floor was home to various succeeding businesses, most memorably a karate studio -- boom, boom, boom all evening long. One of my witty friends named the building "Tarantula Arms" ... the place did border on seedy ... and that name stuck.
My letter to Richard is an account of a weekend I'd just spent in Lansing.
"Here are highlights of the past weekend," my letter begins. "Arrived Lansing sometime after midnight Friday. Went to bed. At 2 a.m. I heard Rodney [Apartment B] calling in the hallway: 'George! George! George!' Then I heard Dan laughing. Then I heard Bernard laughing. They were just returned from an evening at the Rustic Bar. I got up and we all went to a party at someone's apartment. We left shortly after a dyke announced in sobbingly-screaming tones that she hated Troy Brockwell and was going to kill him. Troy screamed, 'Do it! Do it! I don't care! Do it!' I really like Troy and wanted to stay around and perhaps help make sure he wasn't killed, but my friends and I didn't like the party anyway and we left. We went to the apartment of a guy we'd just met at the party for coffee and awful music, all soundtracks from musicals. Bernie, Dan, Rod and I got home about 6 a.m.
"Awoke at ten. Bernard went to Michigan State football game. Dan, Rod and I layed around and drank coffee.
"Then I went to the library girls' place -- Maralyn, Marsha, and Jeannie [they all worked at the Michigan State Library with my friend Dennis, Apartment A]. Then I went to an office supply store and bought a brand new typewriter. Then I met Dan in Knapp's coffee shop and had a grilled cheese and coffee. Went back home, opened a six-pack, and began stream-of-consciousness typing. The more I drank the more mistakes I was making so I stopped. Dan made a good spaghetti supper. Then we went out to bars. Then to a one a.m. party at Rodney's -- it was a farewell party for a guy named Lem, who was Judy (Dood) Parker's boyfriend. Lem left Sunday for San Francisco, where Dood now is. Lot's of fun at Rod's. Got home at 6 a.m. again. Woke at 10:30 Sunday. Dennis and I went over to Dorothy's for breakfast. We stayed until almost 7 p.m. drinking beer. Then to Dennis' apartment where we drank more beer. The library girls came, so I fetched Bernie so they could meet him. More beer. Loud oldies on record player. Lots more fun. Then Jeannie and I went up on the roof. When coming down we were accosted by a lady who lives on the 3rd floor and her boyfriend, both in their mid-thirties I'd say, who wondered what right we had to go up on the roof, et cetera. A big argument erupted, and my tongue was at its best, lashing them and putting them down. She asked what we had 'lost' on the roof. I yelled, 'What makes you think we lost anything? Perhaps we found something. Perhaps we found love up there, why don't you go up there? Maybe you'll find love.' The argument was really stupid. Finally she said she was going to call the police. 'Go to hell!' I said, 'Go call the law ... I couldn't care less.'
"Jeannie and I, holding hands and laughing our asses off, went back to Dennis' apartment and were laughing and relating our experience when a knock came at the door. It was them! 'We were just wondering if this was where you came to so we'll know where to tell the police to find you.' Another argument ensued, more yelling. 'You should just tend to your own fuckin' business,' I shouted. At this the man stuck out his chest, came up to me, and pushed me backwards."
"He had barely pushed me, it was more of a gesture than a violent act -- anyway, I drew back my trusty right. I remembered that back when I was a kid this guy named Ted Ward, who was a couple years older than me, was teaching me how to box, and the thing I'd always remembered him saying was that if you're aiming to hurt somebody don't just throw your fist and your arm but put your whole body behind the thrust. So I let the guy have it with all the force I could muster, right in the mouth. He flew backwards ... flat out in the air! ... and now lay on his back in the hall, his lip bleeding, his mouth beginning to swell. Oh, my, now the lady was very upset; she would call the police she assured me. I yelled, 'Go call them! Please do! There's a payphone just across the street.' 'I have my own private phone,' she haughtily informed me, 'and I'll call them on it.' 'Good!' I yelled, 'then you won't have to waste a dime.' The guy was picking himself up. She helped him. 'Let's go, honey, we're going to call the police.' They headed up to the third floor.
We all went back into Dennis's apartment, and I was in laughing hysterics, laughing Ha! Ha! Ha! at their stupidity and how surprisingly easily I'd layed the guy out flat.
Someone saw a police car pull up outside. Jeanne and Maralyn went into the hall and saw three policemen coming up the stairs. Jeanne and Maralyn explained things I guess, and two of the policemen left, leaving the one there alone to question me. So Maralyn yelled from the hall to let her and Jeanne in. When we did the policeman entered with them. He took down all sorts of vital information on me. I was still feeling very hysterically funny and was giving him misleading and inaccurate answers, which poor Bernard hastened to correct: i.e. I was born in 1940, not 1941; my name is George Vincent, not George Alan. Fortunately, the policeman seemed to be on our side, even stating that he would probably have hit the guy too. However, his 'too' needed qualification; it meant that he assumed that I had hit the guy, but when he'd asked earlier, 'Did you hit him?' I'd stated flatly, 'No.' At that the policeman said sort of cutely, 'Gee, if you didn't hit him I wonder how he got his lip cut then?'
"After it was all over, the questioning, I asked him if he'd like some coffee. He declined, and warned me that the one whom I'd attacked had plans to file a charge against me in the morning for Assault and Battery.
"So, my dear friend ..." my letter closed, "perhaps I'll get transferred out of the Pontiac office sooner than expected -- transferred to the Lansing City Jail."
***There were no ramifications. Nothing more was heard from the couple, and the woman moved out of the building shortly after the incident. I've recalled that night often all these years since, and sometimes my conduct has seemed so outlandishly out of my usual character -- I've been meek, mild, even cowardly when it came to a fight -- as to not have actually happened, though I knew it did. Still, sometimes ... even thirty, forty years later ... I have wanted to get on the phone to one or another of those three 'library girls' (though I've long been out of touch with them) and say, "Do you remember that time I punched that guy and he went flying?" and have her say, still in awe of my awesomeness, "Boy, did you ever!"
Now I don't need to wonder. It happened. My letter fills out my memory beautifully. But I didn't remember Bernie being there!
I'm sitting here proudly thinking that once ... just once ... I was one bad-ass drunk that a guy shouldn't have tried to mess with.