Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Where You Be, R.G.?

Hi Bill

I may have mentioned Robert G. (a good friend from my college years) to you in the past. We all referred to him as R.G. and he was quite an unforgettable character.

In the fall of 1970, I had had enough of living with roommates, so I moved into a sleeping room in the basement of an apartment building at 317 North Craig Street in Pittsburgh. It was far from luxurious but it was cheap. The room had a bed, a refrigerator, a dresser, and a closet. However, it lacked plumbing and an oven/stove, but we could supply our own hotplate or toaster oven. It was in a long basement hall with about 10 or so other sleeping rooms. We all had to use bathrooms (one for men and another for women) in the hall. It took some time to adjust, but it turned out to be a wonderful experience for me. All of us sleeping-room peasants got to know each other very well and I enjoyed some interesting characters and very good friends in that basement, including Pat, whom I eventually persuaded to marry me.

R.G. was maybe a couple of years older than me and he was working on a master’s degree at Duquesne University. He and I became very good friends in 1970/71 when I was finishing my BS in Psychology at Pitt. He was from Jamaica and spoke with a rich deep Jamaican/British accent that hinted a connection to the Jamaican aristocracy. His father was a doctor in Jamaica, but R.G. did not seem to have a very good relationship with his father. He was almost always out of money, like the rest of us in that basement, but we all helped each other out when possible. Pat reminded me that her mother once gave her $100 in an attempt to persuade her to move back home, but instead she bought some food for R.G. and then gave him the remainder of that money.

R.G. was also one of the funniest guys I have ever met. He had a never-ending repertoire of stories about growing up in a wild-west gun-toting environment populated by out-of-control Jamaican teenagers. He also had a hard time getting out of bed during daylight. However, he loved to stay up all night talking with anyone who would listen while smoking cigarettes and drinking beer, although he rarely became inebriated.

R.G. reading my calculus book

Almost everyone in those rooms were friends and we often congregated in the hallway for long conversations. R.G. and I would often sit on the floor in the sleeping-room hall talking and smoking cigarettes (him with his Salem menthols and me with my Marlboros) all night long. Pat remembers often saying “Good Night” to us before going to bed and then “Good Morning” to us when she got up the next morning. We were usually still sitting in the same location. I don’t know how I managed that lifestyle and still was able to complete my bachelor’s degree, but somehow I did it.

R.G. raiding someone's refrigerator

Of course we also visited the local watering holes in the neighborhood. R.G. was partial to Chief’s, a bar that was less than a block away from our apartment building. It was a neighborhood bar that reminded me of a smaller and less decorative version of the bar that Archie Bunker bought in the later seasons of All In The Family. We spent many nights and lots of money that we should have used more wisely in that crowded little bar eating hard-boiled eggs and drinking Iron City Beer. It was a great place, but it was also a rough place. R.G. was in there one evening when a man with a gun robbed the bartender, who wisely forked over the money with no struggle. We all knew that Chief’s was robbed fairly frequently and that the owner kept a firearm behind the bar. None of us wanted to be there when he decided to use that firearm. Anyway, we still continued to frequent Chief’s. There was just something about that bar that beckoned to us, even though it was not a typical college bar. I also imbibed in The Luna (a college bar) across the street from Chief’s, but R.G. didn’t feel comfortable in that environment.

Richard, Paul, Pat, Bruce, and R.G.

We also had parties in that sleeping-room hallway and R.G. was one of the main entertainers during those parties. Alcohol would always loosen his discipline some and he contributed lots of humor to those parties. However, he usually was able to retain a modicum of servility.

R.G. was subject to epileptic seizures and all of us living in that basement knew that he had that problem. Most of us helped him through those episodes when we witnessed them. It was frightening, and painful to see him struggling with them. I witnessed several of his seizures and became aware of certain actions we should take to prevent injuries during them, e.g., try to keep him from hitting his head or injuring his arms or legs, help him to not bite his tongue, make sure he is breathing, and just don’t panic.


R.G. was an amazing person and I have always felt lucky that we were friends. Unfortunately, he had to return to Jamaica after he was informed that his younger brother had been killed by a hostile Jamaican gang member. He had to leave suddenly and never returned. I lost a very good friend whom I thought of as almost a brother. We exchanged a couple of letters, but then lost contact. We both moved on, but I will never forget R.G. and I hope he is having a wonderful life. Where you be, R.G.?

Bill - I know that you have had similarly fascinating close friends over the years. As we get older, it becomes harder to maintain some of those friendships and people just seem to drift away from each other. I wish we lived closer to each other.

Take care.

Sincerely Clark

No comments:

Post a Comment