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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Epitaph for Doc Schlosser

I received some distressing news today. I was told that an old friend of mine had died. I'm not sure when; it could have been this year or last year or maybe even the year before that. It was that type of friendship. We could go for months or years without seeing each other, lose touch, come and go in our travels and then reconnect on a sidewalk or over drinks in a bar. We didn't call each other or visit much; we were occasional drinking buddies. The main thing is that I will miss him. Doc, as most everyone knew him, was a genuine character and a great storyteller. He had an accent that was hard to place and a lyrically rhythmic speech pattern. I always thought it sounded like a blend of Georgia elite and New Orleans hustler. Another thing that he did effortlessly was knowing where to put a punch line. This talent he was either born with or learned during his tenure as a stand-up comedian in New Orleans during his younger days. I'd always heard that he probably could've taken that career somewhere if only the club owners had figured out that they should give him an early slot instead of putting him on at 11 at night. If they'd have put him on at 8 or 9 they could have had him before he'd started drinking. That's right, Doc was an unrepentant drinker. He was also well-spoken, apparently educated and as sharp as straight-razor.  By the time I met him, in the early 90's, he was already on the skids, he was perpetually broke or about to be and, it always seemed that he had either just gotten out of jail or was in the process of trying to avoid it. He lived in conditions that would be unacceptable to most people, sleeping on floors or mattresses loaned to him or in one of the old beaters that he drove around. He had a wonderfully self-deprecating way of looking at his condition; he made fun of it and laughed about it and turned it into stories.

He told a story about being arrested in the French Quarter in New Orleans which was typical of the “Doc affliction", his self-inflicted curse. He had been relieving himself between two parked cars when a New Orleans police officer walked up. She was short and, according to Doc, somewhat rotund. When she started to rouse him, he looked her up and down and said, in his gently sarcastic drawl, “I thought that the New Awlins City Po-lice had height and weight re-kwiya-ments.” He caught six charges for that one, including resisting arrest. This was Doc, he had a cavalier approach to situations which usually led to a negative outcome for him. He was definitely the sole author of the tragicomedy that was his life.
There are probably as many stories told about Doc as there were stories told by him; here is one of mine. Once upon a time, I owned a business in downtown Vicksburg. It was a modest business but I had put everything I had into it and was struggling to make it work. Doc had been living in the store next door to mine as a guest of the owners. He was allowed to sleep there at night in exchange for “night-watch” duties, errands, and various chores but, mostly just to help him out. It was just days away from Christmas and to say that my business was very slow is being generous. The only reason I went in every day was to get the mail and lie in wait for the occasional customer. My sole employee, John, had been letting some “raisin buck” ferment in my darkroom. Raisin buck is a toxic concoction not completely unlike wine, the manufacture of which had been learned while my employee was incarcerated. I'm not sure of the etymology of the word “buck” or the use of it instead of wine in this case; it may have something to do with the fact that it was fermented in a garbage bag or the involuntary spasm that hits you on the first sip. No customers had darkened my door for over a week and we were just sitting around staring at each other wondering what we were going to do when Doc stopped by for a visit. We started talking and Doc was telling stories and being the consummate entertainer when I got the idea for a small impromptu Christmas party. I told my employee to go down and get the raisin buck and we'd all have a drink to pass the time. It wasn't half-bad and I didn't think it would blind us, so we continued to drink the stuff while Doc cracked jokes. Vicksburg's mayor had, several years earlier, started a tradition of making the rounds of businesses with a film crew to get holiday greetings from business owners to air on the local television station. He had also started a tradition of completely ignoring my business for these promotional spots. So of course, he picked this moment to decide to stop ignoring me. He ambushed us and got a holiday greeting from the three of us: my employee, Doc and myself; all of us aglow and half inebriated from the fermented buck. I think I may have even offered him a cup. I wish that I had a picture of me and John standing there with our cups, Doc in the background, smiling and waving.
Doc's name was John M. Schlosser, and he would tell people that the “M” stood for Moderation (it really stood for Mason) and that his last name had “loser” in it. He was a genuine character. It was said that he could clear out a bar faster than an angry man with a gun but, while most people would try to avoid him, I was always glad to find a seat next to him. I've been told, several times in the past, that a friend had passed away only to find out later that I had been misinformed. I hope this is the case with Doc and that I'll run into him somewhere one day and we'll have a few drinks and tell some stories.

Update:  A mutual friend confirmed that Doc was taken off the respirator at River Region Hospital and passed away on June 11, 2012.  Your friends are gonna miss you, Doc.

Jimmy Bishop