“He’s a plasterer,” we used to joke, “unless he’s plastered.” The subject of our youthful mirth was a guy named “Joe.” I’m not sure I ever knew his other name. Some called him “wino Joe.” He was a fixture in the area around our little town. He had a two-wheeled wagon, a tall thing that we often saw mounded up with bottles. Joe scoured the highways for empty bottles. The two-cent deposits added up, he said, and often enough for his needs, I guess, he was able to buy a bottle of wine with the proceeds.
I think the stuff might have been called “Golden Pheasant.” It came in flat-sided pint bottles, and I recall seeing Joe hold a full one up to the rising sun one morning. “Breakfast,” he said appreciatively.
There were times, however, when the supply of empty pop bottles was simply insufficient. In those times Joe fell back on plastering. My dad said he was an artisan. I never knew exactly what he meant, but one night late Joe came to do a job and he was so drunk my dad had to hold him on the ladder. The house didn’t have sheetrock then, but rather real plaster with thin, hand-hewn strips of lath behind the uneven, discolored plaster. Sometimes when big chunks fell off we were able to extract long strips of yellowed newsprint with dates from the early 1870s.
When Joe finished the job my dad took out a ten-dollar bill and Joe said, “Nope. That is the ten-dollar bill you loaned me last week. I’m payin’ you back.” My dad shrugged and folded the bill into his pocket.
The next morning Joe was back. He had a sheepish look and he said, “I’d kinda like to look at the job I did last night, I might have had a skinful.”
My dad ushered him inside and they checked the work. I stood in the back of the room and watched. Joe finally turned around, He had an embarrassed smile, “Yeh, that don’t look half bad. Yuh know that ten-dollar bill? I wonder if I could borrow that again?”