Milo's Pancakes of Great Sustenance!
Milo was a drunk. Milo was my Daddy, but I never called him Dad. I called him Milo. Sometimes he woke up on Sunday morning and he made these great pancakes, a mix of nine flours, eggs and bacon grease, I think he made them for me in hopes of giving enough love and hope to get me through the times of less abundance.
And the times would come. The times when I picked him up from DETOX or when he arrived three hours late for Thanksgiving, with a face beaten up, saying that you just couldn’t trust the cops. Or maybe he made the pancakes so I would remember to go looking for him when he disappeared. Which I did, finding him in discouraging downtown hotels or asleep in the grocery store parking lot of some Podunk Northwest Washington town, sleeping off a drunk in the cab of his half-ton pickup, a brown spot on the back of his pants and a face so swollen and red it looked to burst. You see, I was Milo’s “little Lamb”, that’s what he called me. I trotted after him, but he always stumbled two steps ahead.
Come Thanksgiving, I would go downtown, walking into every dive tavern with a paper plate of mashed potatoes, turkey, dressing and gravy asking if anyone had seen Milo.
"Who?" a row of reddened-eyed old men stared at this skinny little girl through a haze of smoke and looked puzzled.
“Milo, he wears a white cowboy hat and has a bright salmon colored polyester suit, like the kind the Country Western singers wear," I clarified
"Oh, Jacko Milo, with the guitar. I think he’s living round the corner in the Madison Hotel, and the next week it would be the Jefferson Hotel and maybe a month later he would move on. Maybe the Oregon coast would call him or the tiny town called Alger on the West side of the State, where his brother lived. He disappeared for years sometimes.
It was a modern dance exploration of a man falling in very, very slow motion.
One time I turned on the TV. to see him being interviewed, standing in the street, holding the top of his head, pantless, his white shirt unbuttoned and showing his bloated belly.
"God damn. I thought I was in hell. I woke up and flames where all around me. My head felt like it was on fire."
"The hotel room where Milo DuPe called home caught fire this morning," the anchor man seriously explained to the camera. "Fire officials found a hotplate plugged in and in the "on" position in Mr. DuPe's room where it is suspected the fire started."
“Thank God they mispronounced his name,” was all I could think. I noticed his eyebrows. They were white and bushy, going off in crazy directions. He looked a bit like a plump Albert Einstein. But already I had my jacket on, taking one last drink of coffee before going out the door.
Milo had a life problem and drinking was the “medicine” he took to take the edge off. He called it that, and would beg me to take him to the store to buy this medicine, "I can’t stand it;"
he’d plead over the phone." When I refused to bring him to the bank to get money, he’d go door-to- door begging.
Later, as a young professional walking in my best clothes with a group of friends during lunchtime, I recognized his round head and its unmistakable cowboy hat careening towards me, drunk and staggering, even though it was only noon.
“Let’s go this way,” I suggested, holding my breath, unable to separate myself from him, the indignity of admitting to my friends that this wasted man shared my DNA, as well as held and comforted me as a little girl. So, I walked away, leaving him to fend for himself, drunk and half blind, to find his way back to his low-income apartment.
Then, after years of trying, I succeeded. He agreed. In an East Sprague hotel room, white cowboy hat still on his head, he promised to move into an apartment in a nicer part of town, receive government services and Meals on Wheels. His head drooped a bit. He looked sad sitting on his sofa bed in a pair of pajamas and a dull wife-beater that sagged away from his chest.
I was holding my three-year old son on my hip. Couldn't let him down. Milo's coffee table was cluttered with overflowing ashtrays, a makeshift spittoon fashioned from a Folgers’s Coffee can and a glass which smelled like it was full of his favorite drink, the Boiler Maker, a toxic mix of whiskey and beer.
Finally, I could breath a sigh of relief.
“Just one last favor,” he asked.
“I want the $3,000 you’ve been holding on for me. I want my money.”
By now he was legally blind from his untreated diabetes, had late stage cirrhosis of the liver and emphysema. I did sigh again, but this time it wasn't in relief. You see, despite it all, I respected his autonomy. It was his money and I needed to bring it to him. My little boy and I were crossing the mountains for three days to visit relatives. What harm could a half-blind old man get into in three days? When I returned, it was moving day. He'd be packed up, stowed-up in a reasonable place that I could feel safe visiting after sunset.
On the morning I arrived back in town preparing for the big move, the phone rings. When I heard the news, my knees buckled.
My Aunt Doris explained to me how the three days had gone. On the first night, with $3,000 in his blue jeans, Milo had walked down East Sprague to the Peking Palace. He met his sister Doris in the bar. She liked to drink too. Her favorite was blackberry brandy. Milo was being his friendly self, singing old songs he had made up in the 1970's to the tune of Harper Valley PTA, with him as the main character- a rebel who ultimately put everyone in his place. The mix crew of patrons floated in, mostly folks who lived in this run-down, crime district --petty thieves, drug addicts and prostitutes. Milo kept pulling money out of his wallet to buy the new arrivals a drink.
On the second night, he returned to the Peking Palace with Doris. It was such a friendly place. Two fellows started talking to him, telling him they knew a place on Railroad Ave. where he could get a room for only $240 a month.
On the third night, after hearing once again from the two men what a great little spot they had on Railroad Ave. he nodded his head in agreement. "No one tells you what to do and you can drink as much as you please." That sounded pretty good to him.
When everyone was saturated with drink, the two men left with Milo to go back to his hotel room for his things and then to the room on Railroad Ave. So that's the story. Milo never woke up and when I went to claim his things from the room, there was no money to be found. The room was creepy, made my skin shudder. Just a small square mirror and a bed that had been stripped. I could see a thin streak of what looked like shit along the side of the mattress.
There was a time long before Railroad Avenue when my father would get up early on Sunday mornings to begin the complicated process of making pancakes. He assembled us three girls, dressed still in or pajamas, along the kitchen counter and equipped us with an assortment of kitchen tools—spatulas, eggbeaters, and forks. Already bacon was frying in a cast-iron skillet, because bacon grease was an essential ingredient in the pancakes. An assortment of flour sacks knelt against one another along the counter. Eggshells were scattered about with their broken edges up, gently rocking on their rounded bottoms.
My father inspected the quality of our batter, lifting it gently with a spoon. Slowly, he turned the spoon sideways so the batter slid in a thin stream back into the bowl.
I remember how my father tested the heat of the grill by placing butter on its surface. If the butter sizzled, it was time to ladle the batter onto the grill. Some mornings he would feel extra playful and would skillfully form people adorned with hats and scarves, an art form requiring patience and imagination. He created complete families that grilled into a deep brown before our eyes. Sometimes he formed pancakes to look like our pets, and then dogs romped and horses galloped across the grill.
Twenty -seven years I braced myself for finding Milo dead on the floor in some cheap hotel or having to identify him in a morgue. Like a folk cowboy, he wandered off into the sunset and with him any scant hope I had that this drunken old man would sober up and make me pancakes.