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We Smoked Weed & Sipped Bloody Marys Before Listening to Crazy Phil’s Bizarro Wisdom…

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When I was living in Florida back in 1976, my buddy Moose and I rented a small house from a woman whose husband had recently passed. It was in Miramar, an affordable town not far from Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood

It was a typical Florida cheapy: a concrete single-story two-bedroom slab, clay shingled roof, narrow single-car garage with a washer and electric dryer in the back, and, in the backyard, a thick concrete patio and one orange and one grapefruit tree, which when we were flat broke became breakfast, lunch, and supper. The Florida grass was dry and prickly, and the small shrubs were full of tiny lizards that were weird-looking but harmless.

Inside, the house was completely furnished down to the sheets and silverware. There was a two-slice toaster on the kitchen counter.

We were young, and we partied nonstop. On weekends, we woke up late, lit a fatty, and sipped bloody Marys til noon, when we’d move on to harder stuff. 

We didn’t have a car, but we had motorcycles, and that was how we got around. It rained a lot, but only for brief periods and then the hot Florida sun would dry everything almost immediately, including us and our bikes.

Despite our incorrigible appearance, we became accepted members of our neighborhood. Seemed everyone liked us and the Boston accents we brought with us to South Florida.

One of the houses next door was home to a husband and wife and their two teenage sons. We became friends with John, the older kid, but we also spent a lot of time shootin’ the shit with his dad, Phil…

Phil was in his mid-forties, a chain smoker, Camel non-filtered, and he could’ve been Humphrey Bogart’s body double. Spittin’ image right down to the way he combed his hair and held his cigarette. He had all the same mannerisms, too.

Giphy Images.

I took a film class my senior year in high school because my guidance councilor said it was easy credits and that I'd graduate. We watched a lot of Bogart films, mostly from the 1940s and '50s. When I first laid eyes on Phil, it was like seeing a ghost…

It was during a conversation we had over the three-foot-high chain-link fence that separated the two yards that Phil first invited us into his backyard to have a smoke…

Once Moose and I walked around and were in his backyard, Phil held his cigarette by his side, looked at us, and said, “I know what you guys are up to…”

We figured he smelled the weed, but that wasn’t it… He stared us down, which kind of creeped us out, but we knew he had something to get off his chest, so we waited…

He looked uncomfortable, and that’s when he took his hand, the one holding the smoke, and made a circular motion and said, “Over here…”

Moose and I were half in the wrapper and with nothing else to do on a Saturday morning, and with fresh Bloody Marys in our hands, we followed him to another spot in the yard.

Once he had our undivided attention, we could see he still wasn’t comfortable with the spot…

Phil shook his head no, and using his smoking hand again, he motioned for us to follow him to another spot in the yard some 15 feet from the previous one. Moose and I were into goofin’ around, so we followed him and again gave him our undivided attention.

Once we were in the third spot, Phil took a long, hard drag of his Camel, which was burning down close to his fingertips by then. He used the moment to decide if that was the right spot. We were hoping it was…

After exhaling, Phil shook his head and said, “Nope, over here…” Then he led us to yet another spot in the yard. We willingly followed.

We could’ve done this all day, but for Phil’s sake, we were hoping he'd find the right spot soon. 

He paused again, took one last drag before he squeezed the butt out between his thumb and index finger, exhaled, looked around the yard like he was under surveillance, and announced, “I know what you guys are up to… You’re chasing after chicks, and I learned a few things in the Navy…” Then he paused and led us to another spot…

Once we were there and he knew he had our attention, he said, “The first thing you do is look at their fingernails, and if their fingernails are clean…” He paused, looked around to make sure we weren’t being watched, and said, “Look at their toenails. If their toenails are clean, then you know they’re clean down there too…” Then he nodded his head in agreement with everything he just said, paused momentarily, and asked, “Okay?”

We both nodded okay.

His Humphrey Bogart good looks had us fooled at first, but after that, we knew there was something going on with Phil. That's when Moose and I began referring to him as “Crazy Phil.” That didn’t mean we stopped talking to him or that we didn’t like him—quite the contrary. We actually started ringing his doorbell more often so we could go out back and listen to more of his bizarro wisdom, which, with fresh Bloody Marys in hand, was pretty fuckin’ entertaining.

Then, one day, we walked over to goof around with Phil, but John came to the door with a sad look on his face. We thought Phil had died. John invited us in…

We were sitting on a velvet couch in their darkened living room. They always had their shades pulled down to keep the sun out and kept very few lights on. 

After a quiet moment, John said, “My Dad has some problems. Every once in a while, he disappears, and then we get a call that he went to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport wearing only a trench coat and a pair of shoes.” We acted shocked, but we weren’t surprised. 

Apparently, long before we arrived, Phil had earned his crazy stripes. John continued… “Then he opens up the coat and flashes people. He gets arrested and taken to a local psychiatric hospital and put on meds until they tell him he’s well enough to go home…”

John shamefully hung his head, but Moose and I assured him we were big fans of his dad and wanted to visit him if we could. He told us where the hospital was and when visiting hours were. Moose and I picked up a fresh carton of Camels and headed there on our motorcycles…

Once inside the hospital, we were taken to a big, well-lit recreation room with plenty of round tables and chairs for visitors. Peering through the glass door, we could see lots of patients wandering around aimlessly. The nurse told us Phil was in there.

Giphy Images.

As we entered, we looked around, and dammit, there he was—Humphrey Bogart in light blue pajamas, the kind with the big buttons, wearing a pair of cheap hospital slippers. Once he saw us, he ran right over and greeted us like he’d done so many times over the chain-link fence in his backyard.

We handed him the carton of Camels, and he gave us a big Hollywood smile. He was a good-looking dude, and you’d never know by looking at him just how troubled he was.

He looked at me and Moose and said, “I got something I need to ask you guys… “ Then, he gave us that Crazy Phil look and said, “Over here,” and he led us to another spot in the rec room. 

Once we were there and he had our undivided attention, he scanned the room like he was under surveillance, and then he leaned in close and said, “You gotta get me outa here. The people in this place are fuckin’ nuts!”

We told him we’d see what we could do, and for a moment, he seemed happy and normal. He looked so much like Humphrey Bogart…

This time, they kept him in the hospital for longer than usual, and when he finally came home, he stayed in the house and didn’t want to see anybody, not even me and Moose. John said they put him on new meds and that he hadn’t been the same since.

Moose and I missed following Phil around his backyard and listening to his bizarro wisdom. Sipping Bloody Marys till noon just wasn’t the same without Crazy Phil