Monday, July 8, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Uncle Joe


My Uncle Joe died in a small room in the sixth floor of this building in Cincinnati in 1995.  It was an efficiency apartment he had rented monthly, a typical flophouse type arrangement.  By the time the body was discovered, he had been dead for some time.  It was only by the odor emanating from the room that anyone noticed he was gone.  The official paperwork notes “the eyes and face have been eaten away by maggots.  Teeth were not present.”.  He was 66.  I had never met him.

Joe Miller is the family enigma.  The eldest brother of my father, he left his comfortable home in Scarsdale NY soon after high school and essentially vanished.  As kids, my cousins and I were all fascinated by the Uncle that had disappeared.  As an adult, I became more fascinated by the fact that none of his siblings seemed to have even the slightest curiosity as to his fate.  They had foggy recollections about a letter to their mother after he was discharged from the Army.  In the early 1960s he may have been to his brother’s wedding.  No one could agree on that point, and no photos exist.  No one had anything to say about him, good or bad.  It was like trying to remember a guy that you worked with briefly.  “What was that guy’s name that used to always eat the bologna sandwiches?”  He was a shadow.

My father’s generation never tried to find Joe, or if they did, they never spoke of it to me.  While I would like to think they were upset with him for vanishing and then held a lifelong grudge, I think it is more likely that they felt that if he didn’t want to be found, it would be rude for them to intrude.  The whole thing was very odd.  While I was curious as well, my curiosity can’t hold a torch to my cousin John.  John is the one that always asked questions, and eventually hired a private detective that found the shreds of Joe’s life.  There was an Army discharge after service in Germany.  A residence in Santa Monica.  Long gaps of nothing on The Grid.  No social security.  No visits to VA Health Care.  It appeared he was scraping out some hard scrabble existence for decades.  No marriage, no kids.  A sudden move to Cincinnati in the 1990s.  None of it really made any sense.

The only photographs of Joe as a child show a grim faced serious kid.  These handful of black and white pictures show a boy that doesn’t seem at ease.  I’ve never seen a photo of him as an adult.  All kinds of theories are bandied about in this family parlor game.  Joe was mentally ill.  Joe was a homosexual and became estranged from his Catholic conservative parents.   Joe had a falling out with his father over something dark and terrible.  We’ll never know.

There were no personal effects in the room he died in.  No clues.  Five empty pop cans and $231 in his wallet.  I had played shows about three miles from his room, totally unaware that the legendary Uncle Joe was so close.  The surrounding area of where he spent his final days was classic urban decay.  Dirty men pick through garbage looking for anything of value.  Joe was probably one of those men.  Who knows, I may have even seen him while I drove by, wondering “How does someone end up like that?”

I was in Cincinnati last week.  I drove to see the building where he had died.  It was pouring rain.  I looked up to the sixth floor and counted over to where I figured his room was located.  I took the picture.  I felt nothing.    


At July 19, 2013 at 2:16:00 AM EDT , Blogger AZ said...

Did the Toot's experience lead to this?

At July 19, 2013 at 2:16:00 AM EDT , Blogger AZ said...

This comment has been removed by the author.


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