He took my daughter to the prom. That’s how I first met Joey. Beneath that tux was a short, lively, rough-cut fellow with a charming sense of humor that left me feeling bemused.
They met in Special-Ed class. They both had a pretty bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and so the stuff most students found easy and mundane in high school was, for some mysterious reason, a tough challenge for these two to focus on.
Joey soon drifted away from my daughter’s life, carried away by the very ADD that brought them together. I forgot about him. Until about ten years later. My niece got pregnant with her second child, and Joey was the father. Joey had returned to my life.
This would be his first child, and he was very proud and excited about it. He and my niece became an item. He had impregnated her in the parking lot of a bar the very first night that they met.
They dated and kindled a romance. And they would drop by our house and visit occasionally. Joey was loaded with charisma and energy. He was always warm, affable, and full of questions that made him seem truly interested in those around him. My niece, on the other hand, was shy and demure; a wallflower who spoke little.
They did not have much in common, and their romance broke apart.
Just the same, Joey was excited about the idea of being part of his future child’s life. He even wanted to be present at the birth. But this would not happen.
Joey was picked up for drunk driving. And it wasn’t his first offense. In fact, it was probably his third or fourth. The judge threw the book at him, and he was sentenced to a year in prison. He could not watch the birth of his son.
He emerged from prison with tattoos on both arms. One tattoo ran from the length of his elbow to his wrist, and read “Budweiser”. A similar tattoo on his other arm read, “King of Beers.”
Before prison he’d been making big money working in construction. But now no one would hire him. You see, Joey was now a convicted felon.
And a reprobate drunk.
Joey’s mother is an alcoholic who encouraged drinking in all of her children from an early age. And his love for his mother led him to take that encouragement to heart. He followed in her footsteps, worshiping the bottle with soul-selling reverence and veneration.
I hired him about a year after his son was born, to help with some construction work at my house. He was a good, hard, skillful worker, and a lot of fun to be around. But he was only reliable after noon.
One day he failed to show up for work. And for the next several days his absence continued. We worked on without him, and worried about what had become of our happy-go-lucky, jocular employee. We were accustomed to him showing up late, but he always showed up eventually.
Then I did some investigating and discovered he’d been picked up for drunk driving yet again.
He spent 16 more months in prison.
Joey got out a bit of a changed man. Not much changed, but a bit. He continued to hit the bottle, but he always had someone else do the driving.
To this day that has been his pattern. He still drinks, and drinks hard. But he always has a designated driver. He wants no more prison time.
My father-in-law befriended Joey. Every Sunday they play pool together. And he gives him little odd jobs to do, for nominal pay. And after Joey got his driver’s license back, he’s even loaned his pickup truck to him.
My father-in-law is very soft-hearted. Or perhaps you may be thinking that he’s soft-headed.
Joey borrowed the pickup truck about a month ago and didn’t return it for two weeks. So my father-in-law has finally decided he will not loan it out again. Or so he says. We’ll see how long that lasts.
We hired Joey again a few weeks back, to help out on a renovation job at my father-in-law’s house. Joey had borrowed several hundred dollars from my ailing mother-in-law just a few days before she died. Her mind had been going, toward the end, and she was vulnerable to moochers.
It wasn’t the money; we just wanted to think better of Joey. So we suggested that the debt would be forgiven if he would give us a day’s work. He gladly accepted this proposition.
And he threw himself completely into the job. His construction knowledge was indispensable, and his energy was that of two men. His work ethic was impeccable. Better than most people I’ve ever worked with, including myself.
He was even sober at 7:00 in the morning, when I picked him up.
Oh yes, that’s another thing. He said his car wasn’t running. So I had to drive over a half-hour to his house to pick him up, at the end of a long, bumpy dirt road in the middle of nowhere. His house, or actually his mother’s house, was surrounded by piles of junk, as well as about a dozen broken-down cars, and a destitute backhoe.
Also on the property was a perfectly good pickup truck that Joey couldn’t drive, because he never had enough money to pay the late-registration fees. All his spare cash went to the bottle.
But like I mentioned earlier, Joey was a good, hard worker. And warm, and fun, and similar to his name–a joy–to be around.
My wife prepared lunch for us, giving us a break in the middle of all the hard labor. I sat down to eat, but not Joey. Where was he? I waited politely for a few minutes, then finally dug in and ate without him.
I had almost finished scraping the bottom of my bowl when Joey came straggling in. “Where were you?” we queried.
“Oh Grandpa had a light out in his bedroom, so I was changing it.” he offered. Joey always called my father-in-law “Grandpa”, because he was the great-grandfather of his son.
The day finished and I drove him back to his mother’s ramshackle home. But he seemed less talkative and friendly than he’d been when I picked him up that morning. I wondered what I might have done to leave him feel offended.
The next day my father-in-law announced that he’d had about $40 worth of rolled coins in his bedroom, and they were now missing. Also, he was missing a hundred dollar bill that he kept in his checkbook.
We quickly recalled Joey’s mysterious disappearance at lunch time. My wife told her father that she thought Joey had stolen it, and that she didn’t trust Joey, and that she thinks Joey takes advantage of him. My father-in-law promised to ask Joey if he took it, and gave us an astonishing character endorsement by asserting that his friend would actually admit it if he was the culprit.
And he told my wife that he wasn’t concerned about being taken advantage of. He said that he never paid Joey fairly, so it all worked out. And he cautioned that life isn’t always about money.
A few days later he and Joey played pool together. That evening he returned from the felt-top games with reassuring news for us. He said he’d asked Joey if he had taken his money, and that he denied it.
He claimed he believed him.
I’m not sure I agree. But I do agree that life isn’t always about money. It’s a mix of trust, forgiveness, compassion, and so many other things that raise the human condition to a spiritual level of comfort and gratification. And so I’ve bitten my tongue and refrained from advising my father-in-law to end his friendship with Joey.
Instead I advised that he find different hiding spots for his money.