Early on one bright, warm, spring afternoon, a boozer not previously known, bounced into the Tunnel Bar. As winos start to wander when the weather breaks, and so newcomers generally were not a surprise, this gent had some noteworthy features. With short grey hair and beard, he was older. His skin had the leathery look of someone who for years had been mostly outside, but was not tanned, inside looking out pale instead. And his clothes were all new — blue shirt with a collar, jeans. Even the sneakers he wore were bright white, like just taken out of the box. As the man left with a pint of Thunderbird, Sal Jr. concluded that the customer was recently released from a hospital — or jail.
Around 5 o’clock, getting ready for the after work rush, Sal Jr. was walking to the door to take the garbage out to the yard. Before Sal Jr. could leave, two young Black guys entered, and stood in front of the doorway.
“Excuse me, Sir, but might I speak with the owner of this establishment.”
Sal Jr. smiled at the formal language not generally heard in a dive saloon. “I’m sorry, but he’s not here at the moment. Might I be of assistance?”
“Did you know that there was a dead man outside next door.”
“Why no, I wasn’t aware of that, but, as I’m headed there anyhow, I’ll be sure to take a look.”
The two guys left and Sal Jr. followed, dragging the refuse barrel behind him. He was wondering if the bearers of strange news were just jokers or if a day spent smoking marijuana had led to hallucinations. When he opened the gate in the wooden fence, Sal Jr. saw a whole troop of bompies, all quite drunk. And none of them were in buying anything all day! Sal Jr. spotted Frank Meyer. He’d given Frank eight-five cents credit the day before. Sal Jr. surmised that Frank Meyer had gotten paid for helping out on a truck. To avoid evening up the under a dollar bill at the Tunnel Bar, he’d walked on the sly to the tavern up the block, buying enough to treat all the local winos to a party.
Sal Jr. went into a screaming fit, berating Frank Meyer for being an ingrate, a conniver and a low life. Suddenly, Sal Jr. noticed the guy with the new clothes from earlier in the day, upper body propped up against the wall of the building, legs together and straight out, head hanging strangely loose to the side. His feet were clad just in socks, the sneakers missing. Sal Jr. cut short his rant. Pointing to the man on the ground, “Is he dead?”
“Yes, for some time now,” said Joe, a long-time resident of the Salvation Army — who happened to have on new sneakers.
Sal Jr. called the police. They arrived and as there were no signs of foul play, just notified the coroner.
One of the more frequent patrons of the Tunnel Bar, Margie, found the situation very upsetting and was sobbing over the passing of the unknown wanderer. When the coroner’s van arrived, she asked the men what they were going to do with the body.
“We’re taking him to Woods.”
“YOU CAN”T PUT HIM IN THE WOODS! HE WAS A WINO, BUT STILL YOU CAN’T DO THAT! HE’S GOTTA BE BURIED! I’LL PAY! I’LL PAY.”
With a smile, but politely and calmly they explained that they were taking the deceased to Woods Funeral Home on Bergen Ave.