Uncle Paul, Buffalo, Sunday afternoon


Uncle Paul, a slightly older, slightly less healthy-looking version of my father. Smoking a Whie Owl cigar. Smells like Old Spice and tobacco leaves. I associate both smells with him and being a kid and hanging out with his sons, my cousins. I was on Dad’s deck this afternoon listening to Uncle Paul talk about what’s left of his neighborhood, the Old First Ward in Buffalo. He’s talking about Jake, one of three guys who live in a shack on Kentucky Street who spent most of their lives in prison. Jake was convicted of murder and served 31 years:

So I’ve got the dog and I’m coming down the street and here comes Jake. He’s stoppin’ every five feet to hold onto a fence. He don’t look good. I said, “Jake! Pal, what’s goin’ on? You need a doctor or a hosptial or something. He says, “Paulie, I can’t go to the hospital I can’t afford it. I just got that “agina.” (laughs). “I’m not messed up. I swear I’m not messed up. I only had two beers today and I walked downtown a lot.”

It was a hot, hot August day. He was sweatin’ like crazy. So I says, hold on Jake. Let me put the dog away and I’ll get you home. So I real quick got the dog home and I bring my car back and get him in the front of the car with the a/c on, and he said “Aw, that feels good. Do you have any of those pills?” So I say “Yeah, Jake,” so I give him a nitro pill and he takes it. I tell him you got to get to a hospital, pal, or you’re gonna be in a pine box! And he says, “Naw, I’ll be OK. You got another one of those pills?” So I give him a nitro pill and I brought him a glass of water too.

So I drove him home and there’s these kids standing in front of his place and you have to go up four or five stairs to get him inside, these kids are 17, 18, and I said, “Wait a minute Jake.” And I get out of my car and I tell these kids, “You gotta help this guy in his house because I can’t lift him. He’s having a heart attack right now. I’m trying to get him to go to the hospital but he won’t listen to me. Maybe he’ll listen to one of you.” So the kids help him out of the car and Jake says, “Paulie, you got another one of those pills?” I says, “Yeah, Jake, but if the first two don’t work, the third one isn’t gonna do you any good. You gotta see a doctor.” He says, “I’ll be all right, I just got “agina.” So I go home.

The next day, I’m sitting on my porch and who comes walkin’ down the street, his shirt flung over his shoulder, whistling, whistling! It’s Jake! “(Whistles)” I said, “Jake! I thought you’d be in a box by now!” He said, “Paulie, I took your advice and I saw a doctor.” “Good,” I said.

“And they put this thing under my tongue and they kept me for a few hours and I felt great! They wanted to keep me longer but I said, “Nahh.” Paulie, you saved my life,” he said. “And I want to thank you.” And he hugged me. And he basically told me if I needed anything, ANYTHING, to call him.

Me: So he offered to do a hit for you or something?

Uncle Paul: That’s what I was wondering if he meant! He said if anyone ever bothers you, or your wife, or your family, I wanna know about it.

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