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Elmer didn’t like his real name. He liked being called by his middle name, Walter, because of the relentless teasing that went on in his childhood. Elmer shared the same name as the famous Warner Brothers cartoon character, Elmer Fudd. The small circle of friends which Wally and myself were a part of gave him several nicknames. Two stood out the most. Walt Walter Wally Wallester, all one nickname but kind of long and the other Sir Walter Wally. He liked to be called the latter of the two. I would call him Wallester, which he disliked vehemently, to get a reaction from him.
When Walt entered a room, he’d get noticed. It wasn’t his stature. His normal five foot ten inch medium frame didn’t give him away. It was his demeanor and the clothes he wore that would make heads turn. His shoulder length kinked hair and long untrimmed beard surrounding leathery skin would be the focal point for his audience. Walt almost always wore a smile. His facial expression was one of comfort, not hatred. People did not fear him. He chose to wear clothes reminiscent of the late sixties. His brown fringed sued vest would wrap around layers of unmatched colored tee-shirts. His oversized Budweiser belt buckle would rest on his hips holding up striped bellbottom pants that partially coved white on black high top tennis shoes. He’d wear his belt buckle not in the center of his torso but way off to the side almost on his left hip. “Because I’m cool.” he’d reply when asked about his fashion choice.
Sir Walter Wally lived about twenty miles south of Berkeley, California in the small town of Castro Valley. His tiny second story apartment was just outside the downtown area. The complex was old and out of code. The walls had been painted so many times before due to past tenants that it was hard to tell what was wall and what was trim, for the two had blended together creating a single texture.
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It was here, in his Palace, in his favorite easy chair where Walter would tell the stories of his life. As he sat back in his throne, a fresh bottle by his side, his dark blonde and graying hair would fall back against his shoulders. His beard would rest gently on his chest. His bellbottom pants would ride up exposing scrawny calves. His sad brown eyes would gaze over as he relived in his mind the days of his past that were filled with rejection, abuse and unfairness. He would tell stories of when he ran away from home and worked for the carnival as a barker or ticket taker or ride operator for the Giant Octopus. He’d tell stories of how Jesus had saved his life and how Jesus still was saving his life. Walter had an outlook on life as not “I’m entitled to my fair share” or selfishly “Gimmie Mine” but more as “How much of this can I get for free.” “I would never harm a living thing.” He’d proclaim. But when asked why he raised rabbits for local pet shops to feed their snakes he’d state “That’s different, that’s how I gets my monneee.” And out of nowhere his unmistakable laugh would join a smile that stretched from ear to ear revealing his coffee stained cavity ridden teeth. His pock marked cheeks would turn red from embarrassment as he caught his breath and went on to yet another tale.
When I spoke to Walter last he was taking care of his aging mother somewhere in the Sacramento foothills. I haven’t seen him for close to twenty years but if I saw him tomorrow I know he’d still be wearing his favorite vest and anxious to tell yet another story.