Saturday, March 6, 2010


I was thinking about all the characters I have known throughout my days...Hilda popped into my mind. I felt a little tribute to Hilda was necessary.
Hilda was a regular at The Abbey on the day shift. She was a customer of mine, but more importantly she was a friend. After I quit working at The Abbey, Hilda and I remained friends. She knew me in some of my worst junky moments. Miss Hilda was also a junky, way back in the beat days. She understood my plight, my predicament. I felt like she always had some kind of understanding of me.
Hilda was sixty three when I first met her. There were several daytime regulars who were 63. She was a tiny little lady. I think she was barely over five feet tall. Hilda had short brown hair, and a thick German accent. She taught me that after the age of 60, you could never trust a fart. She would almost start to rant and rave when she had a few drinks, but it came across as just plain bitching about shit. Overall though, Hilda was a dear. She was sweet, and kind, and funny. She was very easy going...and she loved her pot.
Hilda grew up in Nazi Germany. She had all these ideas about Hitler and the German Reich that are foreign to most Americans. She argued that Hitler was not a bad man, and when she was really drunk she would do the whole "Hail Hitler" thing. She felt that Jews were cheap because of their nomadic background, never having a home causes people to horde what they do have. She came to the States in the 40s, I think. Her husband was a jazz musician she met in Germany, and he brought her here. She always had a thick German accent, even after being here for so many years.
Over the years, I learned a lot of interesting things about Hilda. Her son had died of AIDS. She had a daughter and a granddaughter. She had been a junky, and she even had really old scars to prove it. Her husband had been dead for quite some time, and she lived in the retirement high rise on Frenchman Street. And she loved her weed.
We often used to smoke a bowl right there in the bar. Sometimes a joint. If the owner was not around, we would blaze up...provided we KNEW it would be a while before he showed back up. The owner, Zembower, would have permanently 86ed you for smoking weed there. Hilda was always the first to want to pack it up and smoke. She was always asking Gracie or I about Zembower's status in the building, like she was just dying for him to leave so she could smoke. As soon as she could, she pulled out her little pouch. It was a little leather reptile head. I can see it clear as day, but I could not tell you if it was a frog or a snake or a alligator head. Its eyes protruded, its mouth unzipped, and inside it contained a pipe and her weed. The pouch was old and worn from years of carrying it around.
Hilda took every chance to smoke up. She was always generous and shared with her friends. Her friends returned the favor, and if for some reason they did not...Hilda was sure to call them on it. She would sit right there at the bar, drinking red wine from a plastic cup and smoking that little metal pipe full of dried up schwag.
I remember standing out front of The Abbey one time in my junky days. I was squinting in the sun, looking across Decatur Street. Hilda passes me a bowl, offering me a hit. Right there on the street. I looked at her with a "what in the world are you doing?" look. She responds to my look with, "What? What? A cop could come up? I would just say, What?What? I am crazy old lady, somebody hand me pipe...and I just smoke. I not know what is inside." I am cracking up, but I refuse the bowl. Somehow, I do not think I could pull off the crazy old lady routine with a cop. Hilda could have, though.
She always rode her bike to The Abbey. She told me one Sunday that she had drank quite a bit the afternoon before. She walked her bike home, as she often did when she was too drunk to ride it. She claims she was talking to someone on the way home, just walking beside her bike. She looked up, and nearly ran into a cop car. The cop seems all concerned about her. He is calling her ma'am, and makes sure she gets home safely. She was so sweet and she thanked him graciously.
Hilda was often in The Abbey in the daytime. There were lots of people who came into the bar that annoyed her. She never hid her contempt with anyone. She would make a face of disgust when people she didn't like got disorderly. She did not fake niceness and talk to people she did not like. And she never hesitated to put someone in their place.
She was a super cool old lady. She said what she thought, and she stood up for what she believed. She understood people, and she was not judgemental. She always had a good time, and she loved her friends. Miss Hilda was hilarious, and I miss her very much.
I miss everyone from those days very much. I do not see any of those people because I am miles away. I miss Hilda because she is no longer with us. She died several years ago from cancer, I believe. She seemed to go quietly, and few of us knew her suffering. She has been greatly missed by those who loved her, as I did.

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