Some of the staff referred to Jake as “Santa Claus”; his visage and demeanor inspired the nickname. His longish white hair and full beard contrasted with his omnipresent gray knit cap. He carried his bulky frame with assurance though old-age sluggishness had begun to slow his movements. Jake’s arsenal of charm included a dazzling smile cracked as a prelude to friendly conversation punctuated by good-natured chortles. He claimed to have at one time been financially comfortable and married to a stunningly gorgeous Asian woman—he made a big deal about her ethnicity. Once I asked him why he had been relegated to the warehouse. He mumbled something about his heart, then quickly changed the subject.
Jake radiated a bum’s dignity when he described himself as a “con man and a drunk” who still acted like a “baaaaad boy.” He richly deserved the “con man and a drunk” label and insisted he embodied “baaaaad,” but his age—he had reached his late sixties—exposed the “boy” part as tenuous. Jake had probably been a juvenile delinquent in his day. Not the type who skips class and smokes behind the gym, more like a hoodlum chronically in trouble with the cops. When I initially encountered Jake he had evolved into a lively but pathetic geezer who spent his days panhandling and nights bragging of his past adventures. Sometimes he sweet-talked the night nurse into ignoring the 8:00 pm curfew and unlocking the front door to the warehouse. He bought cheap booze and inferior crack with the money contributed by unsuspecting chumps. He furtively drank and smoked under the CNA’s noses; condemning reports didn’t concern him in the least, he just didn’t want to share.
Jake often reminded me that nobody should hold him responsible for his minor league-dysfunctional behavior. He’d note that addiction is a disease over which he had no control and which forced him to accost strangers. He feigned remorse but in fact guiltlessly continued his routine of presenting himself to strangers as a simple-minded grandpa. I found Jake’s refusal to accept responsibility for his actions reprehensible, but soon realized that he’d been reduced to parroting young PC-obsessed doctors. You know, the ones who prattle about the alleged dangers of secondhand smoke etc. and generally have their heads up their asses.
Soon after I became acquainted with Jake, he claimed to be a Buddhist. Further conversation revealed that he knew fuck-all about Buddhism but liked the idea of second chances.