|Cobb, far right, with his buddies|
His friends liked saying that after Wendell Cobb got hired as a laborer by a construction firm. For a few weeks after they’d break out with the chant: “Cobb got a job, Cobb got a job…” After dropping out of SF State at the beginning of his sophomore year, Cobb had bummed around living off money some rich great aunt left him. He’d gone down to Mexico once and made several trips to Lake Tahoe plus he had this girlfriend in Stockton for awhile who he’d go out with and spend a lot of dough on, but Cobb had avoided work like the plague for what seemed to everyone like the longest time. In fact it was barely two years.
Finally the money was running out and Cobb didn’t want to move back in with his parents — who by this time had moved out to the suburbs, some burg called Orinda — or become a leach like Lester Coogan who everyone was starting to hate. So he looked for work and got hooked up with this construction firm that was building apartment complexes in and around San Francisco.
The pay was really good and there were benefits and best of all the work promised to be steady. The foreman on his job was a nice enough guy whose younger brother was an ex classmate of Cobb’s from Balboa High. That was all the connection Cobb had needed. And it didn’t hurt that Cobb was a big fella who looked the part of a laborer and in fact had worked one Summer helping build a church. Cobb had it made in the shade.
Then things went a little haywire. It started innocently enough. It was the weekend after Cobb’s third week on the job. Due to one thing or another the gang hadn’t gotten together for over a month and they were going to make up for lost time. Saturday night there was a big barbecue at Tucker’s place. His folks were pretty cool and liked having all the boys over. All they asked was that guests kindly respect the BYOB policy they’d enacted when Tucker and company came of age. His dad ran a butcher shop so there were plenty of meats of all variety to put “on the cue” as Old Man Tucker called it. Tucker’s mom made a gigantic potato salad and steamed some vegetables so they were all set.
Tucker’s sister Lana put on the hi fi and kept the platters spinning so it was a real festive atmosphere. Somehow nobody got too drunk at Tucker’s, maybe out of respect for his parents. But just the same everyone had a good time and they all ended up in the basement rec room playing pool or darts or just gabbing. There was some talk about the coming presidential election with most agreeing that even though they wanted Kennedy to win it seemed likely that Nixon would somehow steal it.
Cobb said that whoever wanted could come to his place. They’d pick up some burgers on the way not to mention several six packs of Olympia.
Tucker, Jankowski and D’Angelo all made it over. There was a colored fella who lived next door name of Casey who was a big 49er fan so Cobb invited him over. No one objected, although if Berger was with them he’d have kicked up a fuss, Berger was an unabashed bigot and big fan of the John Birch Society. But he had headed straight home after the game on account of his wife being seven months pregnant.
Casey brought over some beer of his own although it was Hamm’s. That was fine with everyone. Sure they preferred Olys but to each his own and after you been drinking all day there’s not much difference, truth to tell.
Everyone was getting good and stinko and after an hour or so Tucker and D’Angelo made for home. Jankowski and Casey stuck around and it wasn’t long before another trip to the liquor store was in order. As they got in Jankowski’s Chevy, Cobb thought how it was getting kinda late and he had work early the next morning so maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. But he also thought what the heck he was having a great time and he’d be fine in the morning.
The evening was warm and the three of them — Cobb, Jankwoski and Casey — sat on Cobb’s front porch. Before long they started singing. They sounded awful and Casey’s wife came out once and told them to keep it down so they finally went inside. No sooner had they closed the front door than Jankowski passed out. He fell face forward on the floor. Drunk as Cobb was he would never forget the sight of his good buddy just falling straight ahead like a tree.
Casey helped Cobb put Janowski on the big sofa in the living room. He was small enough and the sofa big enough that even with Jankowski sprawled across it Cobb and Casey had room to sit on either side of him. The two new buddies kept on drinking until Cobb finally fell asleep sitting up on the sofa next to his passed out friend. Casey took that as his cue to go home. It was 1:30 in the morning.
Three hours later Jankowski finally woke up. It took him awhile to realize where he was and what had happened. Once he did he went and took a piss then hopped into his Chevy and drove home.
Though dead to the world, Cobb must have sensed the absence of the body that had laid next to him because once Jankowski got up he sprawled out on the sofa. From then on he didn’t move a muscles for hours.
When Cobb finally started to wake up his first sense was total confusion. He had no idea where he was or what day it was. Once things cleared enough for him to think straight it was like an alarm went off in Cobb’s brain. This alarm wasn’t like the ringing of his clock but the loud blare of a danger signal. When Cobb looked at his watch and saw that it was half past ten he could feel the panic coming straight from his ass up his spine. He actually began to shake and did so for a few seconds.
“I don’t know whether to shit or wind my watch,” Cobb said out loud. He finally decided on a cold shower and a change of clothes, then he’d hop into his his car and head for work thinking up an excuse for being late on the way. In between the shower and leaving the house Cobb wolfed down a couple of pieces of bread and made a sandwich for lunch.
Cobb alternated between feeling pure dread that he would be fired and absolute confidence that it would all be fine. After all, people had been late to work before and if they had a legit excuse there was nothing worse that came of it then a warning and a little loss in pay. But Cobb was pretty new and maybe the foreman wouldn’t be so forgiving. The drive to the work site would take about 15 minutes, ample time to concoct a story.
The second Cobb stepped outside he could tell something was wrong, that something was missing. His car. Oh goddamn it the car was gone. His car had been stolen! It was a beat up old '52 Dodge hardly worth a nickel and someone had stolen it. Cobb was totally screwed. Cobb was scared. Cobb was outraged. Cobb didn’t know what to do. Was it even worth calling the cops over? Hell yes it was. This was his transportation. Plus it had his tools in it. The world was falling out from under Cobb. He wanted to cry and he wanted to kill someone. He paced around the front lawn for a good minute trying to decide whether to catch a bus to work — he wouldn’t even know which one to take — or call the cops. Cobb thought of calling a cab but all he had on him was some loose change.
Finally he went inside to call the cops and saw that the damn phone was off the hook. Oh hell, he thought, they’ve probably been trying to call me from work and haven’t been able to get through.
Cobb put the phone back in the cradle and sat down, shaking again. He’d have to steady his nerves. Then the damn phone rang. Oh hell, Cobb thought, it’s work. I’ll just tell 'em I’m sick.
“Hey Cobb, it’s me.”
“Yeah lissun your car is still over at my place. You gonna pick it up or what? I’ve been trying to call you but the line’s busy.”
“Oh thank merciful God,” said Cobb who had heretofore not been the religious type. "Sorry, I’ll be right over.”
“Cool, see ya.”
Running the whole way Cobb got to D'Angelo's in five minutes. He waved at D’Angelo, who was in his garage, and drove off to work determined to think of the best excuse ever. First he thought of saying he woke up sick but that would seem too close to a hangover, he’d also have to explain the phone not ringing. Then he considered saying it was a family emergency. Mom was in an accident and when he got the news he was so shook up he must have dropped the phone. Cobb hated the notion of using his mother for an excuse, especially when he’d just tied one on, but it seemed his best option.
Cobb got to the work site and immediately found the foreman. He was confident that the excuse about his mom being in accident would work, after all, who lies about their mom?
“Cobb!” The foreman barked. “Where the hell have you been? We tried calling you and couldn’t get through so we called your folks and they didn’t know what was going on neither.”
Shit. That’s right, his parents were listed as an emergency contact. Good thing he didn’t spout out his phony story before the foreman spoke. Cobb stood there without an excuse. He felt about two feet tall and weak as a kitten and naked and awful and what could he do?
“Well? Speak up!” the foreman said.
“I…I was sick. Sick as a dog. I woke up with diarrhea and vomiting and chills and…” Cobb thought of how he felt when he had the flu last Winter and just described that. “Plus I guess I knocked the phone off the hook last night. I’m real sorry.” Cobb felt relief. He’s spit out an excuse and it was plausible and best of all it was over with.
“Well Cobb you look like hell. You sure you well enough to be here?”
“Yeah I feel a lot better now. Might have just been something I ate.”
“Sure it wasn’t something you drank?” That question scared the hell out of Cobb for two seconds but the foreman followed it with a laugh and a pat on the back. Cobb was in the clear.
Mid afternoon Cobb was sweating profusely even though the fog had returned to San Francisco. He’d become buddies with a guy named Lancaster (like Burt the actor, he'd say) who asked if he was hungover. Cobb admitted it and Lancaster said he knew the only cure.
“What’s that?” Cobb asked.
“Hair of the dog,” Lancaster told him.
“You mean drink again?”
“Just a bottle or two of beer. Not enough to start another bender. Just so’s you can take the edge off.”
Cobb hadn’t gotten drunk too many times in his life and had only had a few hangovers but he’d never even thought to drink when he was already hungover. It seemed crazy to him but he was feeling pretty miserable both physically and mentally so figured once he got home it wouldn’t hurt to try.
Sure enough there was still a six pack left in the fridge so after a TV dinner Cobb downed a beer. It went down surprisingly smoothly and gave him a bit of a glow. But Cobb still had a little case of the blues so he drank another. After the second beer Cobb was feeling really good for the first time all day. It was great to be so up after having been down for the whole day. Cobb figured it was only logical that a third beer would really top things off. He was right, problem was that he couldn't stop, he finished off the second pack.
Cobb was on top of the world but knew that more beer wasn't going to keep the good times rolling. It seemed logical in his sotted brain that it was time for some hard stuff. So Cobb took his checkbook and headed for Al’s Liquors down the street where he bought a pint of whiskey. Not wanting to wait until he got home, Cobb took a couple of pulls from it right there in the parking lot. A few seconds later the world went blurry. But Cobb liked this feeling. He staggered towards home singing a current Bobby Rydell song, but after going a few yards he lost his balance and started pinwheeling into the street.
The truck was going the speed limit, it had its lights on and the driver was obeying all traffic laws. He was not at fault. Coincidentally a police car was coming towards the scene of the accident and saw the whole thing. The police officer, a veteran by the name of Ralph McIntyre, watched Wendell Cobb get smacked by the truck and fly several feet in the air. An ambulance was there within seven minutes.
Cobb suffered a broken leg, broken arm, broken ribs, a concussion, various contusions and lost a few teeth. Bad as it was, the cop, and later the doctors ,thought he got off lucky. Cobb was in the hospital for three weeks. His job was gone and bills had piled up. He had no choice but to move back in with his folks. He vowed never to drink again.
It wasn’t until mid January, just a few days before John Kennedy’s inauguration, that friends could once again chant, Cobb has a job. He hadn't been well enough to look until December and construction work was out for a time until his leg was 100%. So what Cobb got was a work as the night counter man at a liquor store in San Francisco. Cobb was never tempted to take advantage of the employee discount, at least on booze.
He was sleeping in a spare room at D'Angelo's house until he saved up enough for an apartment. Cobb had a job and this time he was determined not to screw up.