Well now, in this age of broken immigration laws, infants being torn from their mother’s arms, illegals living off our welfare programs, and dreams of a 2000-mile-long border wall, I find myself reminiscing about a Mexican dude with whom I once shared several shots of tequila. I’ve casually known several Latinos, but Doffy was the only genuine, authentic Mexican friend I’ve ever had.
Doff was probably the most well known Chicano around this region. (“Chicano” meaning he was of Mexican heritage, but was born in East L.A.) I’ve forgotten his last name, if I ever knew it. Alas, I don’t even recall his first name. He was simply Doff.
We first met in the mid ‘70s in Seattle’s Blue Moon Tavern, which probably accounts for my lapse of memory. Meeting him there was quite surprising because he lived in Cumberland.
He lived in a little miner’s shack that had been empty and deserted for several years. Doff simply moved in. (I’ve no idea if anyone owned the place or the land it sat on.) The entire structure was built on a huge, old-growth tree stump that was nearly as large as the house. Initially, there were no indoor facilities until he added a room and overhauled the wiring and plumbing, installing a toilet and shower. (He never obtained the necessary legal permits, but no county or state bureaucrats ever hassled him or stopped the work.)
There were a lot of shiny, sparkling trinkets hanging about the ceiling and walls, along with various strange little artifacts that he’d collected over the years of his wayward life. One corner was reserved for his artistic pursuits; he was an excellent craftsman of Southwest silver and turquoise jewelry. His work surely deserved an exhibition in Arts Alive!, but he could never “get it together” for such a show.
From time to time, he hauled firewood to scrape a few nickels together. He’d drive up in the foothills, saw up scrap timber left behind by “gyppo” operations, and sell the wood around Enumclaw.
On very rare occasions, he bartended in the City Hall Saloon but, for all practical purposes, he was never employed — therefore, he never took jobs away from anyone. Though he certainly used his share of weed, he most definitely wasn’t involved in the illegal drug trade. As far as I know he’d never been arrested for anything, not even a traffic violation. In short, he enjoyed people, was very friendly and kind, and was one of the finest, most humorous drunks I’ve ever known. He didn’t ask for any help — from individuals or the government — and he faced the world on his own terms, come what may.
Then one day, without any advance notice, he abruptly left his house and all his personal belongings behind. (Apparently, in fine Buddhist fashion, he didn’t have much emotional attachment to his possessions, not even his jewelry.) He drove to Texas and fooled around the border towns for a few months. Then he was rumored to be in Southern Cal, where he still had family ties. Eventually, he returned to Cumberland and occasionally stayed in those rooms over City Hall, where the “working girls” used to live 70 or 80 years ago. (In quote marks because I want to be politically correct.)
The last time our paths crossed we were in the old Rainier Tavern. It was wonderful to see him again. He looked as cheerful and warm as ever, but perhaps the years of alcohol abuse had left him a bit frayed around the edges.
“Hey, Doff! How’s your life?”
“Half over,” he giggled playfully.
Six months later he was dead. He was just an honorable, undistinguished, affectionate, fellow that touched me deeply—-and then he was gone.