Sometime in 2000 I moved into a place on Ellicott Street in NW Washington, DC--"the House of Pain," as Walter "Manny" Morris's home was affectionately known. I moved in there on a whim, as a matter of convenience, after Mrs. Katy McCormack requested that I vacate her house on Foxhall Road. It was a bit run down and squalid, but it was very close to the spot where the Tenleytown Painting Company van was parked, which made it very easy for me to get to work. Living there was kind of nasty, but I was neither ambitious nor industrious enough to look for a better place to live, and I really didn't care.
I was in the process of moving in when I got my first glimpse of things to come. I was supposed to occupy the basement, but it turned out that Manny had already rented it out to some older dude whose name I never bothered to learn. I had gone so far as to move a bunch of his stuff to other parts of the house, thinking all of it was Manny's. When confronted with the fact that it was the other dude's stuff, I reworked my deal with Manny and arranged to take over the front room. I moved in on a weekend, then the fun began.
Manny was 56 years old when I moved in; he looked at least 65. He was a heavy smoker and drinker--"Manny, what are you drinking?" "Constantly!"--his chronic alcohol abuse had begun to take a toll on his hygiene, health, memory and grasp of reality. Too often he would stand up and reveal that he had pissed his pants--"I'm in trouble now!"--and I'm sure he also shit himself regularly, but I never got close enough to him to ascertain that (pun intended). He had an imaginary helper named Billy. One day after he was tinkering with the radiator in his bedroom trying to get some heat from it (no heating oil for the furnace), he said, "Billy, you put this back together; I'm going to the store to get some Pall Malls!" There are other examples of his deterioration far too numerous to include here. It was a sad, ugly spectacle, even if at times it could be somewhat amusing.
My nickname at Tenleytown Painting was "P," short for Patrick, due to the paucity of imagination of those who did the nicknaming when I started working there in August 1993. One of my colleagues, Eugene "Boo" Mills, heard it as "Pete" and henceforth called me that. Manny heard Boo call me Pete, and out of what I imagine was old-fashioned respect, he took to calling me "Peter." He imagined that I was the son of someone he had known years before. He would often tell me," I knew your father, Peter; he was a good man."
Manny's birthday was sometime in May; there was an informal neighborhood tradition that people would stop by his porch and wish him "Happy Birthday." Some would even bring him gifts. In 2001, Manny's birthday fell on a Wednesday. There was the usual drinking and carrying on until all hours on the porch--"If you can't run with the big dogs, get off the porch..."--but the "official" celebration was to be on Saturday. I decided to use the occasion both to honor Manny and to have a weekend-long beerfest.
Thursday I called one of my sisters and ordered a birthday cake; she planned to bake it Friday evening and deliver it Saturday morning. Friday after work I bought a half-keg of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale; it's the only keg I have ever bought (excluding those I've chipped in on). I borrowed (without asking) a neighbor's rarely-used (clean) Supercan, put it in Manny's back yard, placed the keg in it and iced it down. I had several mugs chilling in the freezer; the party was on! I was enjoying my second or third beer when people started arriving.
One of the people who showed up was the owner of Tenleytown Painting, Erik Blitte, aka "Vike" or "Count" or most derisively, "Count Fatula." After a few minutes of chitchat, Erik wondered aloud, "Where's Manny?" Nobody who lived there had seen him all day. He might have wandered out and ended up in the hospital again. I decided to go upstairs and check in his room. I knocked on his door and called for him several times; no response. I knocked hard, shouted, "Manny, I'm coming in!" and opened his door. He was shirtless and face down on the floor between his bed and coffee table. I did not have to feel for his pulse to know that he was dead. The party was over; I called my sister and canceled the cake.