Capt. Buttface and Waco’s Pink House

Capt. Buttface lived in a Pink House.

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

The Finn House was an old, two-story wooden affair. It was near enough to the county hospital that you could always hear the sirens. And it was close enough to “downtown Waco”, if there was such a thing, that Capt. Buttface could get to work at the Waco Tribune-Herald in about five minutes.

My apartment was in the nearby suburb of Bellmead. It was newer, cleaner and not inhabited by 10 million cockroaches, like the Finn House. But I chose to move into the pink house’s ground-floor apartment when the tenant moved out, or got arrested, I forget which.

It cut down on commuting time, which left more time for drinking and smoking and the playing the blues.

After Capt. Buttface, the upwardly mobile night-side assistant city editor, and yours truly, the night-side police reporter, would put the paper to bed about 1 a.m., we’d sit on the Finn House’s front porch, when we weren’t sailing on the Moon Cricket.

Finn House Blues

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

Rock music was great for anger. But the blues suited Waco. 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

The Finn House’s front porch was invisible from the street at night because of a huge, half-dead hedge. It was an excellent, time-saving amenity. You could just take a few steps and have a very pleasant whiz into the bushes, while still smokin’ and drinkin’ and listenin’ to blues.

You could even watch the people driving by. You could see them because of the street light, but they couldn’t see you because of the hedge and the shadows. The porch was so clandestine it would have been a good sniper nest.

You thought about things like that as a Waco police reporter in 1982.

Capt. Buttface and I were far from the first or last baby journalists to check into the Finn House. The rent was cheap enough so that you could pay it, buy beer and smokes, and have enough money to buy beans, a hamhock and hot peppers that you’d slow-cook all week long in a bottomless crock pot.

If you could overlook the hot water heaters leaking gas, and cockroaches scampering across your toothbrush, living at the Finn House with Buttface might yield just enough relief to keep your from going postal with a sniper rifle.

And, besides, you could dream of all the cute nurses working at the nearby hospital who wouldn’t give you the time of day.

All you pretty little chicks with your pretty little hair
I know you feels like I ain’t nowhere
But stop what your doin’ baby come over here
I’ll prove to you, baby, that I ain’t no square
Because I’m ready, ready as anybody can be
Now I’m ready for you, I hope you ready for me

Being a ghetto dweller in the Finn House meant that there was always free entertainment.

Like the occasional fender-bender out front, caused by huge pot holes, the 90-degree turn and drunk drivers. These were normally good for a lot of shouting and cussing, in English and Spanish, beer bottles smashing into windshields and even the occasional gunshot.

And there were entertaining visits from John Finn. As a slumlord of sorts, Mr. Finn answered to no man. He had an empire.

He spent his days cruising around Waco in a bright yellow, Lincoln Continental convertible that was about the size of an aircraft carrier.

You couldn’t see his slicked back white hair when he was driving. It was hidden by his ever-present Panama straw hat. But you could just make out his white mustache and his smile.

Mr. Finn loved that car.

Community standing

And he loved having “members of the media” as his tenants. He got to hear the inside gossip about city officials. And, in his mind, having reporters in residence gave him a certain standing in the community. Clearly he did not grasp the concept of Gonzo Journalism. Ah well.

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

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

But the visits were never long enough to be creepy. His Momma made sure of that.

“JOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHNNNNNNNNNNNNN,” she’d cry out from deep inside the huge, run-down plantation house next door, the one she shared with a son she’d birthed maybe 65 years ago. The son who hated her.

“I’M BUSY MOMMA,” he’d shout back, then start talking to us again. But in a minute or two, Momma would beller again.

“JOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHNNNNNNNNNNNNN, I NEED YOU NOW!”

Mr. Finn’s face would flush crimson, with decades of resentment nearly boiling over. And he’d head back home to deal with Momma.

Fleeing Momma

Although he lived under his Momma’s thumb, Mr. Finn was a bidness man.

His real estate empire required constant attention which, thankfully, meant he had to spend a lot of time in his Lincoln Continental convertible, driving between his various properties, and getting far, far away from Momma. At least for a few hours.

Mr. Finn never placed classified ads to find people to work on his properties. He’d just cruise the squalid downtown bus station, eye-up young men who were obviously in need, and employ them for what might be a range of activities. It seemed to work out pretty well for him, except for that one time.

As I recall, a couple of these young fellas didn’t take kindly to Mr. Finn for some reason or another. They robbed him and drove his yellow Lincoln Continental convertible 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, where we both listened to Muddy Waters and remembered our time in the Pink House.

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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