My neighbor Red passed away. He was 61.
He knew just about everyone in Miller. And he was loved by many.
He did many things - sold newspapers on Lake Street to morning commuters, mowed lawns on the block, helped rake leaves in the fall and shovel snow in the winter, held court in the front of the liquor store, and was a valued volunteer with the local farmers market and art gallery. In short, this made him perhaps one of the most important people around here, in terms of ensuring a feeling of security and community on the street. He was the Eyes On The Street. I always told him he was the real "mayor" and he loved hearing that.
I met Red ten years ago. All I ever learned about his past was that his name was Eric Anderson, he graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1976, and he served in the Army. He was pretty much always drunk - and as he never operated a vehicle or exhibited extreme mood shifts or erratic behavior it mattered not one bit.
When Brenda and I moved into our current home 5 years ago we were estatic upon learning that Red would be our neighbor. We felt safer. All of the descriptions of him I've seen online tonight are accurate: Kind. Witty. Decent. Exceptional. A friend. Funny. An excellent community watchman. We got to experience this almost every day. What a joy!
It's a hell of a thing to sit here on Thanksgiving and reflect on how thankful I am to know him, but that I'll never see him around again.
These are my favorite memories of Red:
One morning we were tasked with assembling a Radio Flyer for some kids at the farmer's market. We decided Red would supervise and I would do the labor, he'd already had a snoot full and was a bit unsteady. He picked up the sealed plastic bag with all the small bits - the washers, bolts, screws; the kinds of things you don't want flying through the air and getting lost on the ground - and began preparing to open the bag with great gusto. I tried to offer a suggestion, "Hey Red, maybe you should open that closer to the grou---" Too late. "Oh man, I'm sorry. I'ma go see if they need me at the stage. You got this."
Later that morning we decided to walk over to McDonald's for second breakfast. He was excited for pancakes. The place was PACKED, people jammed on either side of the counter. It was hoppin. I placed my order first and moved aside for the man to order his pancakes. They were out. He froze, his mouth open. Stunned. "Sir, is there something else we can get you?" His only response was to place his pointer finger to his top lip. He made no sound. He was paralized. I started moving farther aside. "Sir?" "Sir?" The cashiers then looked at me as if to say "You walked in with the guy," and I continued inching my way away, side step by side step as if to say, "Red?" "Red who?" Seconds passed excruciatingly slowly until finally my order was called and I could leave. He was still standing in the same spot, with his finger still touching the top of his lip after I exited the building.
I do a lot of work from home and before the pandemic would often have associates over. Often these associates were good looking women and Red had a knack for showing up when they did. Maybe a 75% success rate? I absolutely loved when it happened. He'd saunter up, looking me right in the eye, winking and nodding his head, grinning fiendishly, thinking that only I could see him. He'd then go poker face and we'd have a proper and flattering introduction (where I would mention the professional nature of the visit.) The introductions always ended with him muttering in a low and quiet voice something that I never did decipher. Judging from his roaring laughter it was either really naughty or intentionally nonsensical.
Shortly after Brenda and I moved in I heard a commotion from a neighbor (who is now dead) screaming repeatedly a racial epithet at him. Vile! This was the only time I witnessed someone treat him that way. Red kept calm and walked on. The next morning every tire on all three of her vehicles was flatted. Couple years later I overheard her yelling out how much she loved him. He yelled back "I love you too," without a trace of annoyance or malice.
Possibly my favorite memory: I was walking through my gangway, hands full of weeds and gardening tools. From the sidewalk he yelled, smiling: "Hey, whattaya doin back there? Jackin off?!" I dropped everything and fell to my knees laughing until my sides hurt. His timing and delivery were perfect. He later asked if he had been 'inappropriate.'
Red often partied with the old men who party in the alley with my fantastic neighbor Big John, and he often used my Jerusalem Artichoke bed as a urinal so I've spotted that man with his dick out more times than needed. Still, it came with eyes on the street.
When my friend Colin Lenburg was housesitting, Red took to calling him "Cornbread." "What brings you to this side of the tracks, Cornbread?"
Brenda was "Miss Pretty" or, if she was wearing sunglasses, "J.Lo."
He'll be missed. I'll miss him every time I think of him.
God bless Red.