It was said, years back, that there were over a hundred bars and saloons on Clinton Street.
I never counted them, but I had a drink in quite a few of them. More than fifty bars up one side of Clinton, and about the same number down the other side.
Slurpy was known in all of them.
The story goes that he once lived in a small house behind the Catholic church, but no one remembers now. And he had a wife and a young daughter then, but no one remembers now. He had a good job at the camera plant, too, but no one remembers now. One day he came home from work to find the fire department hosing down what remained of his house, and to learn that his wife and daughter had both perished in the fire.
After that, Slurpy kind of fell into a hole, a deep and dark hole, where he felt safe, and he learned his way around in there. Lots of folks to that when hit by a tragedy they just can’t handle.- they go find a hole, and they stay there.
Slurpy never went back to work, stopped going to church, and he mostly kept to himself. Then he discovered the bars on Clinton Street.
At first it was just a stop in, once in a while, but everyone knew about the fire, and everyone bought him a drink, and everyone paid some attention to him, and he thought that was fine.
He had the kind of personality that made you like him – sort of a gangly fella, an “aw shucks” kind of guy, with a smile as big as Oklahoma, with one tooth missing in front, that you would see when someone bought him a drink. And a lot of folks would buy him a drink.
He was always clean, and his shirts for always ironed, and when you asked him about that, he would grin that shy grin of his, and say, “..folks were kind.” Someone, somewhere, cared about old Slurpy.
One of the bar owners on Clinton had a back room that he let Slurpy stay in, and in return, that bar had the best-swept, cleanest floors and gent’s room of all of Clinton Street. And no one ever broke into that bar, partly because it was known that it was also Slurpy’s home now.
For more years than most could remember, Slurpy made the rounds on Clinton Street. That’s how he came by the title of The Mayor Of Clinton Street. He was always around, knew everyone, got along with everyone, and he was liked by the bartenders and the customers.
So they started calling him Mister Mayor, and he became the unofficial mayor of Clinton Street. He even rode in the back of a shiny red Cadillac convertible once, in one of the parades in town, with a sign on each side that said he was the Mayor of Clinton Street.
He was loved by the folks there. Clinton Street was like one big family, and Slurpy was an important part of that family.
Like everything else in life, though, there comes an ending, and it came to Slurpy early in the morning during a big winter storm in December, not too far from Christmas day.
Someone, on the way to work at the camera plant, found him, curled up against the wall of the bar he called home, covered in snow, and at peace, at last, free from the demons that had spent about 40 or so years as his companions.
He had no family that anyone could find, and in his meager possessions in the back room of the bar he stayed in, there were some old Army papers from the Korean War, and a couple medals, including a Purple Heart. Based on that, he was given space in the Veteran’s Section of the local cemetery, and the government even sent a tombstone for his grave.
His mourners at his grave were all the bartenders and customers from Clinton Street, and there were a couple hundred or more there.
The local National Guard unit did the honors, and his folded flag was presented to the owner of the bar where Slurpy had lived the last 40 years of his life. It was still sitting in the display case on the back bar, until the bar was torn down in the 90s to make way for urban development.
Folks today don’t remember Slurpy, the friendly smile, the way he just was, to everyone – the man he was – the Mayor of Clinton Street. He was nobility in a commoner’s land, but no one remembers now.
I remember him, though. I’d bought him a drink a few times myself, and count myself fortunate to have done so.