Capt. Buttface and Waco’s Pink House

Capt. Buttface lived in an old Pink House.

It was owned by Mr. John Finn, who was not really a slumlord per se, but close enough for Waco, Texas.

The Finn House was a two-story wooden affair, near enough to the county hospital that you could always hear the ambulance sirens.

Most importantly, it was cheap and close enough to downtown Waco that Capt. Buttface, the young assistant city editor, could get to work at the Waco Tribune-Herald in about five minutes. Generations of reporters had lived there for this very reason

I was the crummy paper’s nightside police reporter.  And although I lived in a newer, cleaner apartment in Bellmead, which was not overrun by cockroaches, like the Finn House, it only made sense for me to move in when the apartment under Buttface’s “penthouse” opened up.

That decision dramatically reduced my chances of getting arrested for drunk driving, and increased the amount of time Buttface and I could spend on the porch smoking, drinking beer and listening to the blues — which was the summer ritual after putting the paper to be about  1 a.m.Win win.

Finn House Blues

The Pink house’s saggy front porch was the perfect decompression zone for venting about working for a crappy newspaper in the Heart of Texas. There, you could drink many cold beers while smoking Marlboros and listening to the Stones or, more likely, great bluesmen like Muddy Waters.

As they say, blues ain’t nothing but a good man feeling bad. And Muddy always felt worse than we did.

I’m ready, ready as anybody can be
I’m ready, ready as anybody can be
Now I’m ready for you, I hope you’re ready for me

I got an axe handle pistol on a graveyard frame
That shoots tombstone bullets, wearin’ balls and chain
I’m drinkin’ TNT, I’m smokin’ dynamite
I hope some schoolboy start a fight
‘Cause I’m ready, ready as anybody can be
I’m ready for you, I hope you’re ready for me


Drive-bys

Our porch was invisible from the street at night because of a huge, half-dead hedge, which was an excellent, time-saving amenity. You could whiz into the bushes while still smokin’ and drinkin’ and listenin’ to blues and never miss a beat.

The porch was so clandestine it would have been a good sniper’s nest. Because I was the police reporter, and Buttface had the job before me, we thought about these things in the summer of 1984, and there was always free entertainment.

The Finn House sat at the apex of an ‘L’ turn, with a dim street light above and deep pot holes below.  It led to a lot of car crashes, windshields and beer bottle breaking, and drunks screaming in Spanglish and fighting with each other. I never had to walk inside and put the shotgun out from under my bed, but it was discussed a time or two.

Entertainment also included the antics of Mr Finn and his Momma, who lived in the huge old wooden house next door.

Mr. Finn answered to no man. He spent his days checking on his many slum houses while cruising in his Lincoln Continental convertible.  You could see it a mile away because it was bright yellow and about the size of an aircraft carrier.

He cut quite a figure when he drove past, wearing his ever-present Panama hat, tagged down over his long-ish white hair and mustache.

Community standing

Mr. Finn loved having Buttface and I as tenants. Having reporters in his slum house gave him a certain standing in the community.

Every now and again, Mr. Finn would mosey over from his huge house to the Pink House, especially if he saw Buttface and I drinking beer on the front porch in the afternoon.

“You boys been workin’ out?  You look mighty fit,” he’d say in his Southern drawl, while casually putting his arm over our shoulders, all friendly like.

Thankfully, these visits were never long enough to get creepy.  Mr Finn’s ancient Momma made sure of that.

“JOHHHHHHHHNNNNNN,” she’d cry out from deep inside the plantation house the she shared with a son she’d birthed maybe 65 years ago.  A son who hated her guts.

“I’M BUSY MOMMA,” he’d shout back, then start inquiring about any scandalous gossip emanating from City Hall.  But in just a minute or two, Momma would bellow out again, louder and angrier than before.

“JOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHNNNNNNNNNNNNN, I NEED YOU NOW!”

Mr. Finn’s face would flush crimson, with decades of resentment boiling over.  He’d bid us ado and sort of stomp back home to Momma.

Death in a Lincoln 

For obvious reasons, Mr. Finn spent as much time as possible piloting his Lincoln around Waco, supervising his slums and looking after his business affairs.

Mr. Finn never placed classified ads to find people to work on his properties. He’d just cruise the squalid downtown bus station, spot young men who were in need, and employ them for what might be, how shall we say, a range of activities.

It seemed to work out pretty well for him, except for that last time.

A couple of these young fellas didn’t take kindly to Mr. Finn for some reason or another. They robbed him and drove his Lincoln all over Central Texas for a few days. When they were arrested, lawmen found Mr. Finn’s body stuffed in the trunk.

But that happened years after Capt. Buttface and I had moved on, him to a bigger Texas newspaper and me to Singapore. But we never really left the Finn House or Muddy Waters.

I been drinkin’ gin like never before
I feel so good, I want you to know
One more drink, I wish you would
It takes a whole lotta lovin’ to make me feel good
‘Cause I’m ready, ready as anybody can be
Now I’m ready for you, I hope you ready for me

Thanks, Muddy.

(More Capt. Buttface stories here, here, here and here.)

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