Every small town, and especially an increasingly affluent, radically gentrifying beach town like Cayucos, needs a Patrick, if for no reason but to show these newcomers ruining this place just exactly what it’s all about, what’s important, as well as a perspective on life in general. And if you’re going to have a Patrick, it’s best that he be high profile, which Patrick is.
Usually clad year around in his long-worn leather jacket, baggy nondescript dungarees, and exhibiting his bloated, florid face, nicotine-stained teeth and pot belly protruding from a rumpled shirt, Patrick has staked out our one-block main drag and its closest fringes as home base.
Like a cat, Patrick has his hangout spots; and they are important. Because Patrick spends his entire day, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, hanging out in our sleepy downtown. Everybody worth their salt knows Patrick and pays their respects, whether he’s finding the early warmth of sunlight at the benches beside the Veteran’s Hall at the base of the pier, or the bench in front of Skipper’s Diner in the afternoons, or on a chair at Cayucos Coffee a few doors down, or standing among the surfer congregation in the parking lot adjacent Ruddell’s Smokehouse at dusk–a really fine situation for Patrick because the liquor store is only a few steps away. And if he doesn’t have enough cash for a beer, the boys almost always supply him with one — his favorite being half quart cans of Coors, for Patrick definitely loves his beer and does not shy away from a daily six pack, and then some.
Patrick is neither loquacious or jolly, nor is he morose or uneasy, but sort of pleasantly detached and conversational as he greets you and your dog, making no big deal of it. Patrick sort of drifts around on an even, unchanging keel, and, to his credit, nobody has ever seen him in a hurry in possibly ten years, even when, at the start of his residence here in Cayucos, he actually worked (at his own pace, of course) as a sort of carpenter. In those days Patrick had some tools, a tool belt, and a vintage auto that was veering toward dilapidation and eventually quit running, but was parked here and there about town, until it disappeared.
There is no proof, thankfully, that Patrick is homeless. When Patrick moved here from a larger, but not too large, beach city a couple hundred miles north, he was with his ex-wife and their little daughter.
In those days, Patrick, between part time jobs that came about every few months and stretched out to a couple weeks, tended to the daughter like a good father, pushing her on the swings and guiding her on rides on the sand just across the alley and off the pier, while his wife worked.
These days, with the ex-wife remarried, all is gravy. Patrick, though still a proud father, moves to one of his spots, shady when it’s hot, sunlit when it’s cold, serenaded by his choice of music from his smart phone (his only use for it), almost always smoking a cigarette, legs crossed, and often engaged in leisurely conversation (It appears he’s looked upon as knowledgeable and authoritative.) with locals whom he feels are worthy of his attention.
I’m sure the newly minted denizens invading Cayucos, shrouded in their high-end, high-tech trappings as they park their luxury cars and hustle in and out of Cayucos Coffee and the bank and our multitude of real estate offices, heads bent down and eyes glued to smart phones, foreheads furrowed in concentration, can’t help at some point to notice Patrick leering at them as if they have lost their minds and are possibly the lamest lost souls on earth — a breed so out of touch with reality and a genuine sense of community that they probably feel Patrick’s a homeless wastrel; one of these slackers who lives off the taxes of ambitious breadwinners like some sort of leech, a barnacle on the ass of society, a pathetic loser, a representative of all that’s bad in American Dream USA, and a disgrace to a slavish work ethic forged in insanity long ago.
I’m not sure Patrick sees it that way. I think he might be seeing it this way: That our system, the way we judge and grade the worth of people is a bunch of barbaric, illogical, delusional madness.
In my opinion, Patrick holds down a very important ground—that of the dedicated shirker who hopefully suffers no guilt in this work-obsessed society of frantic, scurrying slices of humanity who spend almost all of their lives either toiling away or discussing their toil and all the obstructions and suffering that goes with such a way of life; and boasting of the spoils of their successes while going to great lengths to protect what they’ve accumulated—all the while subscribing obsessively to the greatness of America as the land of opportunity.
Yuck! What bores! For all those who claim “hard work is the secret to their successes,” and sucking it up year after year while slogging through the grind, get a fucking life, like Patrick, who sits on his ass all day, seems to find a nightly bed or sofa or floor somewhere in town, and gets to watch the flow of small town life pass by with the secret knowledge that he might be a spectacle but that a lot of locals look up to him, enjoy his relaxed company, feel no pressure in his presence, like him for who he is, and feel just great about supplying him with beer while he possibly takes American safety net institutions for a ride.
Or, as his ex-wife explains it in her own blunt terms: “People resent the fact that Patrick generates his own happiness while doing next to nothing and owning absolutely nothing.”
The other evening, I ran into Patrick as he returned from a stroll on the pier. “Did you catch the sunset?” he asked. “Really great one.”
Does it get any better than that? Guess I’ll ask him next time I pass him downtown while walking my dog, and he says, “Here comes Wilbur, he knows what’s going on. He’s got it down. Good dog.”