Citizen Wausau

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Hey Kennedy

by on August 4th, 2009

I am 38 years old; I met Mel Luebbe when I was in my early 20s.  I was home for a few weeks in the summer.  I was exhausted, and my relationship was falling apart and the only thing that made sense to me was the sound of rubber spinning down an anonymous highway.  I was sitting in the alley next to Inner Sleeve at about 3 am.  Just sitting there, and Mel walked by.  I am sure he noticed me, but he kept going.

Two days later I was sitting downtown during the day, and I saw Mel.  He saw me too and walked right up to me and said, “How’s the alley, Kennedy?” and before I could say something, he was off.  My name is not Kennedy, but I just let it go as the rambling of a street person.

Later that night I was by the river, and it was after midnight, and out of the darkness I hear, “Hey Kennedy, the alley is over there!” and over comes Mel, and plops himself down.  The thing is, Mel is a big dude, and I was sort of afraid of him, but I was glad for the company.  We just sat there, and did not say anything.  Mel made some noises, but they were not words, and then I said, “I gotta go,” and he replied with, “See you later, Kennedy!”

I left Wausau and found the spinning hum of rubber tires again.  The relationship fell apart, and that was just fine.

About 5 years later I got back, and I went to work at Scott Street Pub.  Me and Frank Stella were old friends, and he suggested it.  It became home for a decade or so.  On my second day Mel walked in and said, “Hey Kennedy, how’s the alley treating you?”  I was shocked.  First off that what at the time was a street person would recall that, and secondly that Mel was still alive. 

One of my coworkers said that Mel called everyone Kennedy, and I should just give him anything he wanted.  So I did.  Frank told Mel that my name was Dino, and I was new.  Frank told me to not worry about it, Mel called everyone Kennedy.  No one knew why.

As time passed I realized that Tom Bergs was getting mail for Mel.  His checks and other items came to the Pub.  And over time I realized that Mel was as much a part of the Pub as any house band ever was.

I remember when Mel first said my name.  I was shocked, but the night was so overwhelming, that I totally missed it.  It was my first blues fest after party at the Pub.  It was the after after party, and most of you might not know what that means, but it was awesome.  It was about 430 am, I was sitting in the gutter of the street with Gene Taylor (from the Blasters and the Fabulous Thunderbirds), and we were drinking Jose Cuervo out of the bottle talking about nights with Leonard Cohen in Montreal.  Mel walked up and said, “Hey Dino, show that guy your alley?”  I missed it completely.  I was sitting with the guy from THE BLASTERS, drunk on tequilla. 

It was only after a long string of Mel calling me by my name in front of others that I realized that it was pretty cool.  I was flattered.  The stories about Mel, his family, the war, and all the rest swirled around him.  But, I never cared.  Mel would come in and ask for six pieces of cheese and told me to put it on his tab (we never once put it on his tab).  He would take a 2 dollar draw (again, we never wrote it down) and we always wondered what the 2 bucks went for.

Once a month a check or something like it would come.  And one of us had to make sure Tom got it, and when Tom was “away,” we took care of it. 

One year we realized Mel was staying under the bridge, so we all chipped in and bought him a new coat, and some sorrells for winter.  He never wore any of it.  In fact he wore yellow chef pants and loafers all winter. 

I wanted to find a way to have me learn some great lesson from Mel.  I think what I learned is that everyone has a path to walk, and no path is more or less valid.  Mel touched my life as much as any college professor did, and he did it all without a pair of sorrells.

I think when I remember those dark of the night streets from that time I remember Mel the brightest, and in a lot of ways the most glowing.

I am sad I lost Mel.  But, I have the great pleasure of having had Mel in my car, taking Mel to the doctor, and more than anything, having Mel say my name. 

We all benefited, and we all need to remember that it is the stories right outside.  I think about Mel as a friend. 

See you when I see you Mel.

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