Third Street Blues
Doom haunted Third Street. Infested by fire ants and landscaped with trash-strewn scrub brush, nothing good ever happened there. Death, injury, accidents and illnesses were commonplace. From my house-sitting perch in the poet’s home on the next block, I had a panoramic view of Third Street’s misery.
The fella who the bitchy librarian called Stephen King was so strange that the other residents of Third Street would have nothing to do with him. Stephen King was a scrawny, pasty skinned look-alike of Maine’s most successful author. He lived alone in a neglected Cape set back 50 feet from the road. The exterior was peeling paint and dangling shutters. The windows were always dark, except one on the second floor that flashed and flickered with the blue light of a TV. Gossips claimed he was some sort of computer genius, but I found that extremely unlikely. He wore jeans and a t-shirt (either white or blue) in every kind of weather. Even in the middle of winter, he went without a coat, gloves or hat on hikes to the IGA and the library.
And Stephen King smelled sour. So much so that the bitchy librarian complained about having to let him in the place. As vice president of the library board, I took great pleasure in telling her that she was not to discriminate against anyone because of their fragrance. She harrumphed and sprayed the air with disinfectant whenever he appeared — which was almost daily — to examine the magazines and newspapers.
Perhaps his odor had something to do with his diet. I tailed him so many times at the IGA that I could do his shopping for him. A couple boxes of saltines. Plain yogurt. Raisins. Milk. Cheese. Yellow mustard. A package of baloney and a loaf of white bread. Plus two gallons of bottled water.
According to my now-deceased pal Gerry, who lived next door to Stephen King, the dude wasn’t connected to the sewer. Gerry, who mostly drank ginger ale, didn’t have a water or sewer connection either. This was not uncommon in Eastport, a poverty-stricken burg where the bill for poisonous piped water was often the first to be left unpaid.
Gerry loved almost everyone, but he despised Stephen King. For three years, he’d watched the guy piss on the property line, killing several of Gerry’s trees with his urine. A gentle, sensitive, troubled soul, Gerry had asked Stephen King to find another place to take a leak, but he was completely ignored. Which made Gerry very angry and resentful every time he saw Stephen King. Which was daily.
Despite many attempts, I only managed to have one conversation with Stephen King. I was hanging out in Wadsworth’s, the oldest hardware store in America, trying to avoid my janitorial duties at the crumbling art museum. The door swung open and Stephen King entered. He walked over to me, thinking I was an employee, and asked in a hesitant, squeaky voice for a tape measure.
Eager to help, I led him to the wall display. “Whaddya gonna measure?” I asked. “How long of a tape do you need?”
He didn’t answer. He just stared at the selection. He furrowed his brow. He seemed overwhelmed.
“This one’s good,” I said, taking down a Stanley PowerLock 25’. “It’s the one I have. Would that be long enough?”
Again, no response.
“If that’s too big,” I said, taking down a smaller tape, “the PowerLock 10’ might work.”
He grabbed the 10-foot tape measure and rushed to the cash register. Without a word, he paid with a handful of crumpled bills, then dashed out, headed toward the library.
Creeper lived in a broken-down Winnebago on a vacant lot with an electric pole at the bottom of a hollow, halfway along Third Street. His only means of transportation was an old Sears and Roebuck riding lawnmower with an oxygen tank strapped to the back so he could breathe. He crept along the street so slowly that pedestrians and squirrels would pass him. When he first moved to Third Street, his health was better and he’d ride the mower downtown. As time passed and his condition degraded, his trips were limited to the grocery store and the gas station, where he refueled before heading home.
We called him Creeper because Sweetgrass found him creepy. She’d caught the scruffy dude staring at her with his beady eyes several times.
Turns out that even though he was just a couple years older than me, Creeper had moved to Eastport to die. He soon raised the ire of the neighborhood do-gooders. In less than a year, he transformed the vacant lot into a junkyard — piles of debris, stacks of refuse.
The uninsulated camper must have been damn cold during the darkest part of winter, even with his propane heaters. Though he’d propped a piece of cardboard on the dashboard to block the windshield, we could still peek into his rig while taking our nightly stroll with the dogs. He’d be sprawled on his bed, covered in blankets, propped up by pillows and watching TV with an oxygen tube in his nose and a lit cigarette in his mouth. I was sure he’d die of an explosion before his illness got him. But I was wrong. Creeper went on smoking and waiting for death.
Meanwhile, the Grim Reaper continued to make house calls on both sides of Third Street. Old age. Cancer. Motorcycle wrecks. Diabetic comas. Pill overdoses. Depression. Desperation. Despite all this, new people kept moving into the neighborhood, thinking they’d found their dream house, only to discover they were surrounded by weirdoes living in nightmares. They complained to city officials and tried to pass an ordinance banning the use of campers as year-round residences, but the proposal failed.
Creeper made it through three winters in his camper, then disappeared. For a couple weeks, the Winnebago was dark. We thought for sure he was dead.
Then spring sprung and Creeper returned, looking sicker than ever. He’d aged considerably. His cheeks were sunken and sallow. He’d lost a lot of weight, a skeleton that could barely sit on the mower. He drove his rig even more slowly, crawling rather than creeping. He was an odd sight, stretched over the steering wheel, trying to hold on. Despite the sluggish speed, it looked like he might slide off the front of the machine and run himself over.
Then, a week after his reappearance, Creeper disappeared again. One of the cops told me he was dead. There was no funeral or death notice, because this guy was totally alone in the world. Not missed or mourned.
Months passed before a super-sized tow truck appeared and hauled off the Winnebago. But no one dealt with the rest of the mess. So the piles remained, like a burial mound, almost. The only reminder of his life. A garbage heap of a memorial for a lonely soul, gone and nearly forgotten forever.
Want more Crash? Check out The Crash Report, his thrice-weekly look at the seamy side of Maine life at crashbarry.com. And on March 27, at the Camden Public Library, Crash kicks off his Maine library tour of Tough Island: Live.