I just ran into J.J., one of the REAL old-timers, survivors, of the Telegraph street scene. J.J. goes all the way back to the ’70s when he was a drinking partner with the legendary Gypsy Catano.
“Ace!! GOOMBAH!! How you doin’, my brother!!” said J.J..
Which is how he always greets me. I’m not even sure what “goombah” means. But J.J. is a Puerto Rican guy from New York City and he knows I’m an Italian guy from Passaic, New Jersey. So I guess it’s an East coast street thing. And I assume it’s a compliment (though maybe I should look it up just to be on the safe side, ha ha).
“How you doin’ J.J.?” I said.
“I just had my birthday. I just turned 73.”
“Well happy birthday, my man. I’m gonna be 63 next week.”
J.J. is a little guy. Still walks with a bit of a swagger, though it’s getting to be a bit more of a stagger at his advanced age. Wears a black eye patch (lost the eye about 10 years ago). But otherwise doesn’t look much different than he looked 30 years ago. For many years J.J. was a drop-dead street drunk. Drinking 24-7. Lurching down the Avenue with bottle in hand and unfocused eyes. Passing out in the gutters, etc. A guy you figured would NEVER make it to 40. But somehow he managed to right his ship. And here he still is years later. You just never know. What the fates have in store for any of us.
After some more small talk, J.J. headed off down the sidewalk, to buy some pot at the pot club down the block. And then off to his home, some little apartment in downtown Oakland, just below San Pablo. Where he’s lived quietly for many years. But he always comes back to Telegraph regularly to check in. Because this is his real home. And always will be.
As I watched J.J. walk off i regretted I didn’t take his photo. It occurred to me I might not get many more chances. Him or me.