Walt was a friend of mine. We were as different as friends can be, and maybe that was part of the attraction.
I liked his spontaneity, the fact that he took chances, his ability to connect with all kinds of people.
He didn’t have good judgment about money and was frequently broke, and yes, I frequently bailed him out, not out of jail — he was not a criminal — but out of poverty, sometimes so profound that he didn’t have money for food.
He worked once in a while but never for long. He drove a cab for a time, worked as a deliveryman, even tried his hand as a hired travel companion. But mostly he mooched and occasionally stole and frequently did without.
When he had money he bought a motorcycle and a gun. He didn’t keep either for long, selling them cheaply for food and rent.
So what was there to like? Why were we friends? Because he was extremely likable and very funny. He told marvelous stories, acting them out as much as telling them. It was hard to contain yourself when he acted out bacon frying.
He was inquisitive and asked lots of questions of everyone he met. He made you think he was really interested in you, and you found yourself telling him secrets you hadn’t confided in anyone else, even some things you weren’t proud of. You thought he wouldn’t spread it around, and I don’t think he ever did.
Women loved him. He was tall and handsome and had a way about him that was genuinely charming. He was married several times and had some kids, but he never saw them, and they didn’t seek him out.
He was too fond of alcohol and certain drugs, and I belatedly realized that money he borrowed or occasionally earned, went for intoxicants rather than food or rent.
He lived in an apartment and was often behind in his rent, but the landlord was as charmed by him as everyone else, and he was never thrown out for nonpayment.
The owner of his apartment told me that Walt was too interesting and different to require that he behave like other civilized people, including paying his debts.
He and I would talk for hours and genuinely liked each other. He was a few years younger than I, but that little bit of difference never got in the way.
Engaging with him in conversation or going to a movie or a bar with him was an adventure like no other. Not even swinging from tree to tree on a vine can compare.
As dissolute as Walt was, no one expected him to live a long life. But he died years ago at the age of 70. The world and I grieved at the loss of a unique and lovable man.
Melvyn Schreiber is a physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Melvyn Schreiber’s essays are now available as a paperback book (without the book reviews and opera reviews). If you want one, send $15 to him at 12 E. Dansby, Galveston, TX 77551, and he will mail a copy to you. It’s not heavy enough to press your trousers with, but it may please you in other ways.