An honorable vagrant
To say Glen “Grub” Harvey had a past would be overstating the matter. It would come too close to implying that he was somebody who had actually done something.
In truth, Grub was born onto the cold porcelain of a dirty bathtub in a Baltimore row house as a nobody, was raised a nobody by a couple of nobodies, and meandered through life as a nobody until he reached Ocean City 19 years ago. Nothing from then until now has improved his status as a societal nonentity.
He is, however, a somebody to the Ocean City police and Maryland public court records. The White Marlin vodka-swilling alcoholic, bipolar, high school dropout might have had a half-decent shot at scraping by on the up-and-up with some support from a halfway house or an employment program for the mentally ill, but he was a nobody to that end of the system, too. No one – not the police or the courts – ever connected the dots to get Grub on the radar of public resources for people like him. He was anonymously tucked away on the Eastern Shore, the local legal system’s toy to torment like a stray dog that wandered across the wrong kid’s path.
Calling Grub a stray dog is probably too generous. Even the mangiest stray dogs occasionally get adopted. No one adopts a stray human.
Grub is what society would call a non-functioning alcoholic and the police call a public nuisance, but a dispassionate observer would be forced to acknowledge his admirable knack for providing his own basic necessities: vodka, food, shelter.
Unfortunately, this talent is what made him a somebody to the Ocean City police when the rest of society could not care less about his comings or goings. Grub arrived in Ocean City on September 29, 1994, at the age of 36 with nothing more than the stinking clothes on his back and a stolen Army issue duffel containing a ripped sleeping bag, a liter of vodka, an empty tin of Skoal packed with $3.48 in change, and a faded Polaroid of him and his mother placing cheap tinsel on a sparse Christmas tree. His time of arrival was not by coincidence. Grub was seeking the opportunities of Ocean City’s exploding real estate market.
With $3.48 to his name, he was not in the market for a new condo, per se, but he was searching for one. In the early years of the Clinton-era upturn, word spread among Baltimore’s astute community of homeless that Ocean City’s housing boom had turned the town into Easy Street, so to speak. Prospering blue collar types from Baltimore, Annapolis, Wilmington, Philadelphia and as far away as Pittsburgh were buying up condos like candy and using them at most as rental properties from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Some didn’t even bother renting and the condos provided steady shelter for opportunistic hobos for up to 11-and-a-half months of the year. In some of the newer super developments, homeless squatters outnumbered actual condo owners 5- or 6-to-1, an entire secondary population of uncounted citizens.
That first winter and ensuing spring were salad days for Grub, but the squatters got too greedy. Their presence became too obvious (the bellwether of the end of a free ride for any group of homeless) and the cops had to act. Grub, along with dozens of other vagrants including many good friends from Baltimore, were swept up before the 1995 beach tourism season began and charged with a litany of offenses from breaking and entering to vandalism to resisting arrest and second-degree assault, for those unwise enough to try evading arrest.
Unlike the resisters who were locked up all summer, Grub was back on the streets in a few days, but with the condos filling up with tourists and seasonal cops fleecing the island like cockroaches, there was nowhere to hide. Nowhere to get drunk in peace. He spent the summer in and out of the clink on convictions like drunk and disorderly conduct, loitering, public nuisance and other such trivialities.
Grub never resisted and, even in his often drunken stupor, was always polite. He was a mouse among men. A lamb. But he became a known commodity to the cops. They didn’t all pick on him, but one or two in particular took special joy harassing the hobos. Those ones knew when they saw him, there was probably something they could charge him with. So they did. And so Grub’s rap sheet grew quickly.
But Grub didn’t want to leave Ocean City. There were way too many vacant condos for the cops to police so plenty of opportunity to live the good life. Besides, he had never found a cheaper vodka in all the United States than White Marlin, an Eastern Shore specialty. He could buy a half gallon for $5, and was always shrewd saving the nickels and dimes he begged on the Boardwalk until he had enough to buy the large volume. It was Grub’s rudimentary understanding of economies of scale at work while every other scrabbling bum scrambled off to the liquor store as soon as they had the $1.39 needed to buy the 375 milliliter flask-size bottles.
As quickly as his rap sheet grew, the judicial system grew tired of Grub, particularly Judge Albert Munson. The judge wasn’t a cruel man, but the endless circus of young punks and ne’er do wells paraded in front of him on the unchanging pattern of drunk, disorderly and lewd activity, offering the same lame excuses, made him tersely practical. The longer he could put away repeat irredeemables like Mr. Harvey, the longer it would be before he had to deal with them again.
Grub didn’t mind the max sentences that much. His offenses were never serious enough to get him transferred out of the Ocean City jail – just 60- and 90-day type jobs – and most of the repeat inmates in the city jail knew him well enough to leave him be. So what did he care if he was freeloading in a condo or getting three square meals a day from Uncle Sam? It was all a roof over his head. Well, he did hurt for a lack of vodka when he was in the slammer. That part wasn’t pleasant one bit.
After 19 years of the same pattern repeating, every 90 or 180 days, Judge Munson was quite sure his stomach ulcer couldn’t take it if he saw Mr. Harvey in his court room again. And he threatened him with exile to make his point, even though he had no legal authority to issue such a sentence.
Grub was telling Andy about the judge’s implosion during his last appearance in court, and how he made a vow to stay out of trouble for the rest of his life. He had just returned from a 30-day stint in the city jail to the top-notch “Starting at $800,000” condo he and Andy had been squatting in, without interruption, through the last three months of peak season.
The vow wasn’t quite as ridiculous as it sounded. Grub was only 55, but severe cirrhosis of the liver and lack of adequate healthcare (he proudly touted his record of never going to a doctor or dentist his entire adult life) meant he’d be lucky to eek out another five years. He looked to anyone to be at least 75. His bulbous nose was red with burst capillaries and his ruddy cheeks folded into deep creases down his weathered and pockmarked face. He had an ample amount of dirty grey hair left on the top of his head, and near as much sprouting from his nostrils and ears. His teeth had not fared so well, with less than half of them left brown and rotting in his mouth.
“Judge Munson, he been right good a me ‘n’ I ain’t aimin’ a disappoint ‘im,” Grub told Andy, a squatter he knew from Baltimore that he had shared residences with for the last six years. Smart squatters always worked with at least one other to watch their backs – for help avoiding the police and for protection from their own kind. Some of the more malicious wanderers were like to slit a rival’s throat while he slept if it meant they could pry a handle of liquor from his cold, dead grip.
Most people outside of Maryland wouldn’t have understood two words Grub strung together. He spoke in strings of sound that offended the ear – half crazy hobo developed through years of suffering untreated nerve and anxiety disorders and half local Baltimore, a dialect that sounded like a proper southerner with a sack full of marbles inserted into the pouch of each cheek. Andy shared a similar background and pattern of speech and understood Grub just fine.
“Na man, that a lotta horse shit, Grub, you in ‘n’ outta clink e’ry dang month, be back in ‘ere next week, betcha handle White Marlin. You best gone backa Bawlimmer. Gack gack gack.” “Bawlimmer,” of course, was the proper regional rendering of “Baltimore” and “gack gack gack” just a sputtering of nonsense sounds. Andy suffered from a nervous tick that acted on him something akin to Tourette’s Syndrome, forcing errant syllables out of his mouth at the end of almost every spoken thought.
Grub was going to put a finger in Andy’s chest and tell him he accepted the challenge, but the disagreement had rattled Andy’s nerves and he was pulling a make shift straw and tin foil pipe out of his pocket to light up a rock of crack. Grub couldn’t abide by hard drugs. As previously noted, Grub had an admirable knack for surviving and alcohol was his choice for a vice because it was much better for his posterity and still allowed him to self-medicate his troubles away. Not that Grub ever reasoned the choice out so thoughtfully.
Instead of starting a fight, Grub decided to head out to the Boardwalk. It was the last big night of Sunfest, Ocean City’s final peak season festival before slowing down for the fall and Grub’s last chance for serious easy money. He grabbed the bright pink child’s tutu picked up at the Goodwill for a dollar and headed out the door. Grub learned years ago that people are much more inclined to loose some change from their pocket when laughing at you than when they feel sorry for you. No one wants to be made to feel guilty by a sad old drunk.
Grub had a pretty good audience gathered and folks were pouring their dimes and quarters out into the discarded Boardwalk Fries cup he used to hold tips. He set up outside the rock ‘n’ roll arcade so he could dance to the music, tunes from real bands from the good ole days like Styx and Jefferson Starship. He was wearing a pair of stained jogging pants under his tutu, but when he felt like the crowd was as big as it was going to get, he dropped trou right there on the Boardwalk to reveal a hot pink thong on under the tutu. The crowd responded with catcalls, laughs, a rousing ovation and – sweetest sound of them all – a waterfall of change into his cup.
He started shaking his backside at onlookers having the biggest laugh, and even rubbed it up against an obese woman wearing a T-shirt that said, “Tequila Makes My Clothes Fall Off.” Her even more obese husband thought it was a riot so Grub snatched a piece of his funnel cake while the fat man rubbed tears from his eyes with his free hand.
Grub was still rubbing it on the fat woman when the crowd suddenly quieted. He should have known right then, but he was high on the thrill of entertaining the crowd and figured he just needed to up his antics again. He turned around to attempt a handstand, and there Pfc. Mendez stood between the obese couple, arms crossed, 18 inches from Grub’s face.
Shit. Good thing he didn’t take Andy up on the bet.
For one split second, Grub thought about running. Then his instinct for survival kicked in.
“Aw heck, c’mon Off’sir Menda, I just come outta slammer. Gimme a break, off’sir. I ain’t meanoharm, off’sir.”
“Public nuisance, indecent exposure, lewd and lascivious behavior. There are minors out here, Harvey. We might just be looking at child sex offenses here. You better get used to the slammer because it looks like you’re going in for a long time, bub.” Like most police forces, Ocean City’s is tug-and-pull between good cops and bad cops, those who want to keep the peace and those who get off on making people’s lives hell. Pfc. Sean Mendes was a world-class example of the latter, a “mean summabitch” as Grub and Andy called him. In the summer when Ocean City’s population swelled from 7,000 locals to between 200,000 to 400,000 people, the force simply didn’t have the resources to monitor its own. Pfc. Mendes knew it. Provided he didn’t do anything too stupid like billy club some dipshit teenager into a coma, he could pretty much do whatever he wanted. The island was his oyster, and Grub’s dirty hide was a pearl.
“Please, off’sir. I n’ain’t drunk’er’nuthin’, off’sir.”
“Judge Munson is not going to be happy about seeing you again so soon, bub. What do you have to say about that?”
“Ain’t you s’pose read m’rights, off’sir?”
Pfc. Mendes wrenched Grub into an arm bar and struck his elbow into the back of the man’s neck. Grub threw his back into a melodramatic arch and screeched. “Let’s add resisting arrest to the charges, Mr. Harvey.”
“Aw please, Off’sir Menda. I ain’t hurt no’ne. Naw. Jus’wan’go home, off’sir.”
Pfc. Mendes drug him off to the city jail in his pink tutu and thong, but not before collecting his tip cup, which was overflowing with more than $20 – what would have been enough to supply Grub with White Marlin for more than two weeks. Fortunately, the jail still had his prison jumpsuit from that morning so he didn’t have to suffer the injustice of facing arraignment in front of Judge Munson in a tutu. The judge shook his head in frustration when he saw Grub, read the charges, and set bond at $1,000. It may as well have been a million.
Unfortunately, late summer is the worst time to get charged with a crime in Ocean City, particularly if you don’t have money for bail. The backlog of cases from a summer’s worth of late night drunken shenanigans means a wait of months to get your day in court. After 62 days in jail, Grub finally got his.
For all Pfc. Mendes’ threats on the Boardwalk, Grub ended up only facing an indecent exposure charge and performing without a license, a violation of city ordinance. But indecent exposure was serious business if Judge Munson meant to keep his promise. It carried a maximum three-year sentence, and Grub had never done time like that. He was sure to get transferred to the county jail or maybe even upstate with that kind of time.
“I could sure use a drink” was Grub’s primary conscious thought in response to his predicament as he sat in court. In fact, he said as much to his public defender, Miss Erickson. She was a real pretty lady, although she already seemed to have the spirit beat out of her and she wasn’t even 30 yet. That didn’t bother Grub one bit when he was sitting in the front row directly behind the defense table, waiting for his number to be called by the judge. Her blouse slipped up her back just enough to reveal a small Celtic knot tattoo just above her barely exposed white panty line.
“Glen Harvey,” Judge Munson called.
“Yessir, hee y’onah,” Grub replied.
“Come on. Let’s get this over with. What do we have today?” The judge dug into the charges and glanced through the police report. The name Pfc. Sean Mendes caught his attention as much as the description of events.
After Grub waived his right to a jury trial, the assistant Worcester County District Attorney working Ocean City District Court that day called Pfc. Mendes as the prosecution’s only witness. Mendes offered a predictably embellished recounting of events. Miss Erickson tried to press him on a couple of the more lofty claims, but the officer deflected her thrusts with an air of boredom, repeating over and over the standard issue response: “To the best of my recollection, that is how I recall it.” It was a no-win situation for Erickson. Even though Judge Munson, the assistant DA and every frequenter of the courtroom knew Pfc. Mendes was full of shit, it was his word as a sworn officer of the law against a drunken, homeless lifetime con. The judge had no choice but to take Mendes at his word, even if his disdain for the young officer was only slightly more veiled than the contempt he held for Grub. Simply put, no judge could set the precedent of taking, one-against-one, the accused’s word over a police officer’s.
Miss Erickson informed Judge Munson that the defense had no witnesses. Although she perhaps should have said that Mr. Harvey did not have the resources to afford an attorney who would make the effort to find the witnesses on the Boardwalk that day who would expose Pfc. Mendes’ trumped up claims for the lies they were.
“Mr. Harvey, do you have anything to say before I make my judgment?”
“No, he does not, your honor,” Miss Erickson said.
“Yeah I do, y’onah,” Grub interrupted. Miss Erickson eyed him with a look of exhaustion, then waved her hand toward the judge as if to say, “Go ahead, hang yourself.”
“You may proceed, Mr. Harvey. I’d like to hear this.”
“Well see, y’onah, I jus’ wanna say I ain’t try a hurt no’ne. I’s just out ‘ere try a gib folk a laugh, y’know, shake my lil’ toosh a bit.”
The entire courtroom burst into a fit of laughter. Judge Munson couldn’t stifle a short chuckle of his own. The four reporters in their customary spot on the second row behind the prosecution scribbled “shake my little toosh” as fast as their hands could manage.
“I understand, Mr. Harvey. You have a unique talent for entertaining people. Other than me, that is. On the charge of indecent exposure, I find you not guilty.” The judge turned, baring his dark jowly scowl, toward Pfc. Mendes, sitting comfortably next to the assistant DA. “Officer Mendes, this is the sort of frivolous nonsense that has my court backed up to next century and I’m sick of it. I am quite sure there was a better way to handle a homeless man in a tutu than dragging him off to jail where he has been a great cost to taxpayers. If we are going to start convicting people for showing off their cheeks on the Boardwalk, then you’re going to have to haul in every single young woman on the beach. I am warning you, do not bring nonsense like this into my court again.”
Grub felt such a well of excitement rise into his chest that he thumped the solid maple defense table with his fist in celebration. Even Miss Erickson was inspired enough to smile at Grub and lay a kind hand on his shoulder.
Judge Munson turned back to Grub.
“You’re not off the hook yet, Mr. Harvey. There’s the matter of performing on the Boardwalk without a license. You do not deny that you were performing for a crowd without a license?”
“Well, that is punishable by a $500 fine or up to 90 days in prison. Do you have $500, Mr. Harvey?”
“I didn’t think so. Well, a permit to perform on the Boardwalk can be obtained at City Hall for one dollar. I also have the authority to issue a performer’s permit. Do you have one dollar to pay to the court today for your permit, Mr. Harvey?”
Grub’s head sank. “Nuh’uh, y’onah.”
“I have a dollar. I can pay for him, your honor.”
“No, I’m afraid not, Miss Erickson. That’s a kind gesture, though. Glen Harvey, I find you in violation of local ordinance requiring a permit to perform on the Ocean City Boardwalk and sentence you to serve 90 days in prison with credit for 62 days served. That’s 28 days, Mr. Harvey, as a warning to you. It could have been three years. Remember my promise. Do not let me see you here again.”
For the likes of Grub, it was still a triumphant day in court. He celebrated scoring a major victory over Pfc. Mendes, although he knew the officer would hold a grudge for sure now and be champing at the bit for payback.
The final 28 days in city jail flew by and Grub burst onto Coastal Highway with a spring in his step. Only nine blocks to the condo and a big night with Andy and his almost full half gallon of White Marlin. Grub could always trust Andy with his liquor. He much preferred crack or meth. It made them ideal roommates.
But when Grub got back to the condo, his internal alarm started sounding as soon as he snuck up the stairs to the third story corner unit. The window at the far end of the condo, which he and Andy always left wedged open with a small plastic doorstop, was bashed out. It was a completely careless act – not just because it drew the attention of residents and, inevitably, the cops, but winter was just around the corner and the cold Atlantic wind was a miserable bedfellow on long nights.
Grub heard voices and was about to turn tail and run when he deciphered one of them as Andy’s. He was relieved. He needed to get deep into a handle of White Marlin, but more pressing was the Polaroid of him and his mom from Christmas 1968. He didn’t remember Christmas 1968, but he did remember that the picture used to have Christmas 1968 scribbled on the back before he spilt vodka on it and the date rubbed off.
He crunched against fallen glass, carefully navigating his way through the window. The two men within heard him and scattered, but Andy caught a glimpse of his old roommate before fleeing out their escape route.
“Aw shit, it just Grub. Aye Grub, when you get out? I seen’n’a paper you got charge wi’ some incident ‘sposure. Figgered judge’d lock you up aleast three a fi’ year. Gark gark gark.” Andy looked nervous. His left eye was twitching and he batted at it like it was a pestering fly. He didn’t introduce the man standing next to him, and in fact looked more like he was trying to pretend he wasn’t there.
“Who him?” Grub asked.
“Beano,” the man answered for himself. “And you is good for nothing but trouble. Andy told me how them cops foller you around, just lookin’ to bust ya. We don’t want none of that attention ‘round here so maybe you best move on, Grub.”
“Whadafuck, who you talkin’ me li’ that?” Grub felt extremely agitated. He needed a drink and now. He burst past Beano and Andy into his room. At first his White Marlin vodka bottle was nowhere to be seen, but then he saw it in the corner among a pile of assorted empty plastic liquor bottles. The room was trashed. Grub felt ashamed. He always took pride in keeping the condos where he squatted in perfect condition so the owners would have minimal worry after he was inevitably found and chased off.
The stink of stale urine hung in the air. Grub could see the yellow piss stain spread across the white carpet in the corner by the pile of liquor bottles. His sleeping bag had been co-opted into an arrangement of tattered blankets that presumably belonged to Beano, an outsider Grub had never seen before. There were discarded bits of food – half-eaten sandwiches with molded crusts and festering meat, melted pieces of candy fused to the carpet – everywhere, not to mention a suspiciously large blood stain smeared across the wall. There were a hundred cigarette butts cast around the floor and twice as many burn marks on the carpet and walls.
“I’se sorry, Grub, I needa sumbody watch m’back. You getchya ass thrown in the clink alla time, can’t watch m’own ass alla time.” Andy had materialized behind Grub in the doorway to the room. Grub didn’t turn to address him.
“M’gone, Andy, jus’ ge’dasumbitch tell wheredago ma Polaroid and I’ma g’on git.
“Polaroid? One ya mamma? Ah shit, Grub. Grick grick grick. Gack gack.” Andy looked in pain trying to stop the nonsense sounds from bursting forth. He looked troubled in every way.
“Waddyamean, ah shit?”
“What dipshit is tryin’ to say to ya, Dipshit Number Two, is that we burnt up that ol’ass picture of ya mamma cuz it was gettin’ cold and we wanted us a little fire.”
Grub emitted a wild sound, the sound of rage, as senseless to the human ear as Andy’s nervous noises, but filled with such pure animalistic passion that it would surely have been recognized by any great predator – a wolf, a bear, even a lion. He launched himself at Beano, but the much younger, much stronger man caught him by the neck and used his momentum to sling him head first into the wall. The pain was immense, Beano’s brute force sending his head inches deep through the sheetrock.
Beano proceeded to kick Grub in his ribs repeatedly. Grub didn’t bother trying to defend himself. His survival instinct kicked in again. He was a mouse. A lamb. Or better yet for the occasion, an armadillo or a possum. The more meekly he could take his beating, the sooner Beano would get bored.
But Andy, damn him, Andy couldn’t bear the sight. He was weaker than Grub, reed thin from years of malnutrition and crack and meth abuse. He clubbed Beano over the back of the head with a glass beer bottle, which just served to piss him off more. Beano grabbed Andy by the shirt collar and repeated his move of launching him headlong into the wall.
Andy, unfortunately, struck a stud. There was a sickening crack that didn’t come from the wall and Andy’s body collapsed to the ground in an awkward contorted mass.
“Shit.” Beano grabbed a coat from a pile and took off out the window. In his haste, he slashed his wrist on a chunk of glass still attached to the frame and left a stream of blood along the concrete railway and down the stairs.
“Andy! Andy! C’mon. Lookame.” Grub shook Andy’s shoulders vigorously and smacked his face. Grub had decent instincts for many things, but proper care for major neck trauma was not one. He didn’t think it mattered. Andy wasn’t moving. And his neck was pointed in an awful direction compared to the tilt of his shoulders. Grub slapped his face again.
“Gawdammit quit hittin’ me.” Andy didn’t open his eyes, but he turned his head toward Grub and grimaced in pain. He lifted his hands and placed them against his cranium like he was squeezing a melon.
Grub had a hard time holding back from hugging Andy, but his joy was short lived. He caught a glimpse of a dark figure staring in the front window in his peripheral vision and thought Beano had come back to finish the job.
But it was worse.
“What kind of fuckin’ retard soap opera do we have here?” Pfc. Mendes surveyed the two men sitting battered against the busted wall, the putrid piles of trash in the condo, the broken window and the blood that he had followed up the stairs to the unit. “Don’t look at me so surprised, you idiot. I followed you from jail. Did you think I was going to let you embarrass me like that in court and that was going to be the end of it?”
“Please, Off’sir Menda. T’ain’t whatta look. Beano. It all Beano. Hedunnit. Please, off’sir.”
“Save it, bub. This is some serious shit here. Forced entry. Destruction of private property. Third-degree burglary, easy. Maybe first-degree burglary and first-degree assault, once I track down this bleeder and convince him it’s in his best interest to testify against your ass. Oh, Judge Munson is gonna nail you for 10 years, no doubt. If he’s not feeling like such a pussy, you’re gone for 20.”
“Please, off’sir…” It wasn’t even a real plea, it was a whimper. Grub was no legal expert, but he had been in court enough times to know the deck was stacked against him. He knew what it looked like, and what it looked like was enough to convict a man like him.
Pfc. Mendes radioed for back up and didn’t even bother to tell Grub to stop when he got up and walked to the back bedroom. He knew Grub was a mouse. Not going anywhere.
Grub rifled through the empty bottles. As luck would have it, the handle of White Marlin still had a good four shots of vodka in it. Seemed even a hard thug like Beano couldn’t handle White Marlin on its own. Grub downed it in one long swill, then lay down and closed his eyes.
He became an armadillo. A possum. He hoped he could get his hands on some vodka upstate. He hoped his liver would give out before he got there.