I knew a man named George Brink. He drank at a local tavern called El Dorado. A cheap watering hole, emphasis on the hole, El Dorado seemed more like the fantasy of a ten year old with a Western fetish than a bar -- life according to John Wayne movies. Whenever I went there I expected at any minute to be assaulted by a little boy with a cap gun ordering me to reach for the sky. I didn't go there often, but any time I did I could count on finding George Brink.
He drank like a man trying to drain the ocean, aware of the futility yet too desperate for a glint of success to stop. Between pints, George hammered down rye nails, great railroad spikes of booze shredding his throat to a gravelly degree that would frighten grim death. That said, he had a habit of using soft words. George knew how to calm people, make them feel at home with only a phrase or two. I once saw a woman in El Dorado who looked like she'd been beaten half to death. For an hour people tried to ask about her situation. A tear or two might fall, but she only glared in response. Whatever evil had befallen her she'd lost her taste for human contact. George Brinks walked passed her on his way to the bathroom, muttered one line, and the armor cracked. She started laughing. The two didn't speak the rest of the evening. However, even though it opened a cut in her lip, the woman smiled at George when she left. No one ever saw her again, though it's safe to say we might not have recognized her without the wreckage.
George never told anyone what he said to her. The closest he ever came was saying, "I said what she needed to hear." There's no arguing with that.
Over the years I've put together bits and pieces of George's past based on what he said when he felt comfortable enough to talk about himself. Always scraps, he never offered the whole picture, but it was his life, so his to parcel out as he pleased. Still, an active ear can collect quite a tapestry with the right amount of patience. In fact, I confess it may have been a desire for collection that lead me back to the El Dorado. Once the kitsch factor wore off there wasn't much about the place to keep a person around.
As far as I could tell, George Brink started life somewhere in New York. However, his father, a red blooded patriot of the old school, insisted the family would be safer in a less tactically significant city. If the Commies ever started dropping nukes, hell, New York would be among the first to go. So the whole Brink family took flight, settling with relatives in the middle of Ohio. They spent ten years there before realizing the mistake they'd made. That is to say, following a patriarch with a messiah complex.
It seems George's father took to preaching the way a shark takes to water. George never got into specifics, but from what I gathered (and I admit to a little curiosity leading me to research) Poppa Brink started his own church in Dayton, Ohio. It didn't end well. The only article I found alluded to an atomic cult of some kind. They believed the end of days was at hand, monstrosities from the Book of Revelations the result of mutations after a nuclear war. The police broke up Poppa Brink's church when the members started stockpiling weapons. Since no one died, committed mass suicide, or molested anyone, the story didn't have enough sensational appeal for the news to follow; and George wasn't about to go into details other than his father was a preacher in Ohio: "Worst time of my life."
The day George felt old enough to make it on his own he left home. He hopped from major city to major city for a few years, chasing odd jobs all the way to the coast. There he got into the fishing business. For six years he went out on those titanic ships, the ones that are basically floating canneries. The boat hauls in fish by the ton then processes -- cleaning, cutting, and canning -- them onboard. George had a tolerance for the cold, so he tended to work in the deep freeze storage, stacking boxes of fish. A few months of back breaking work, and he was set for a year. He's often advised me I should do a fish run like that: "Good for the balls."
Then he ended up in Alaska. The only reason I've gleaned for this transition is a stray remark he made. One night Mac Davis came on the jukebox singing Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me, and George said, "Damn right. Don't get hooked. I fucking hated Alaska. Nothing to do except realize how unimportant you are."
By calling up the same song, I've been able to get a few other choice quotes concerning a woman he calls Lulu. George refers to her as the chocolate north star, and the tooth filled Cunt, sometimes in the same sentence. Young as I am I know well enough to tell when a broken heart is in play. George once muttered something indecipherable about a baby then paid his tab and left. No one saw him for a week, and he when he came back he asked the El Dorado's owner for a favor. That same day Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me got removed from the jukebox.
George looks like someone who belongs in a place like El Dorado. He's a cowboy caricature, skin tanned nut brown, features chiseled by wind and rain, and a swagger that says I DON'T GIVE A FUCK more than any words could. He spent time in San Bernadino running with the Gypsy Jesters, a crew of motorcycle outlaws too crazy for the Hell's Angels. He grew marijuana in the Canadian wilderness, and claims Sasquatch is not only real but has a penchant for munching on weed. George did repo work in Detroit for two years, however, he quit after shooting a man: "Didn't want me taking his car. Can't say as I blame him. Sweet ride. Judge said self defense, but his relatives... they had a right to feel otherwise." Then he drifted along Lake Michigan before settling in the suburbs outside Chicago.
"Good a place as any," George told me, "And I was feeling too old for drifting."
In his early forties, George got a job at an appliance store. He settled into doing repairs, and has been draining the taps at El Dorado for almost seven years now. I've only known him two, but in that time I've seen him get a smile out of a wrecked woman, talk a knife wielding speed freak calm, punch out a stony giant, dance someone's broken heart back together, turn a birthday into a legend, and buy a drink with a smile.
A few weeks ago I ran into him and asked how he was doing.
George said, "I feel my blood jangling."
He's warned all of us who know him what that means. He's sat in one place as long as he can. Soon enough the call of the wild will summon him out to the road. Lassoing the first tornado that happens past, George Brinks will ride off into the sunset. I feel lucky having met him, but I wish there was some way to know what adventures he's off to next. Or maybe it's better not knowing.