At least once a day he makes his way down from the attic of the 14-unit Victorian house. Carefully, he steps out dressed in cowboy boots, a button up colored shirt and his big cowboy hat with a matching patterned scarf around his neck. His shirt is tucked in, and looks to pull his hunched back around his tight shoulders when he rigidly turns to say “Well, hello there.” Wild Butch Man D. is going out to entertain the public.
“I used to play the tambourine, harmonica. … different little stuff. You know, I never was a musician, I’d sing and dance so much that ah, you know, instruments I felt were superfluous.” Most times Darrell is seen in public singing and playing an instrument to entertain surrounding revelers. His memorized songs are many but when asked to improvise, he bows out kindly. “I always dreamt, I would like some pocket instruments. Little guitars and little accordions that you can use while you are singing and dancing.” Performing for anyone is how he gets along.
“When I was a kid, a teenager, that was in the sixties, I was a big Shaman, all the kids loved me. Like a Chief. Thats because I used to dress like that. … We used to drink white port wine, smoke and sing doo-wop. Woo-woo-woo. We’d be all Shop, you know. Do-do-do-dwee. Walk around there, the Garden, over the Esplanade, fool around.”
During those years when music pulsed the heart of a youthful crowd, Darrell was tuned in. “Everybody played music … Folk- that was a big thing and Rock too, and the Blues. And I met a lot of big famous people doin’ that. You get back stage and they’d all be just singing and playin’ you know, natural like.”
Performing is Darrell’s spirited sense-of-self and his social security, but it hasn’t been financially supportive. “A-lot of people made big money with it, toured around… I was never really into it that much. I’m more of a home body, I like to stick around. You know, take things easy. Plus, it’s off-and-on type of work. At times I had more steady jobs, more good paying jobs…”
A steady fashion job came easy to Darrell. “I was a Clothes Horse. I could walk into a boutique, they’d say ‘You’re hired.’ because I was on the peaking edge of the new styles and fashions. So, I done that, for four or five years.” Being promoted from Consultant to Buyer was the impassable hurdle in his progression, causing strife to his stylish, confident character and so he moved on.
Other jobs came and went but he was never really satisfied. “I was never one for work. I don’t have the work ethic like a-lot of folks do. That’s why I stay single, to keep out of working, ya know.” Except for various housemates, there is no special companion for Darrell these days.
Darrell rarely settles memories as regret. ‘Looking on the bright side’ seeps through his smile and makes a pleasant view of his past. He understands his habits as the preferences that shaped his life.
The American Dream didn’t hold clout with Darrell. The standard; wife, kids, house and car wasn’t worth working for. “I haven’t been one, really, for the old grindstone. Everyone that is twenty years old, they want to get married, start a family, this and that. I’m like, gee-whiz, to me it doesn’t seem practical. Even now I don’t see it. Of course, it works for them. People my age, I knew them, they were working when we were playing… They got a-lot of stuff, big houses. I’m pissed off not to have a house at this late date.”
Loosing his family house in Jamaica Plain was a milestone for Darrell, followed by a period of homelessness and frustration. “My house sold to Wells Fargo… I lost it and I was at loose ends for a while. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.”
Decades after stomping around the Boston Garden as a teen he started making regular appearances as a public entertainer. “I used to play the Common every noon. About twelve till two everyday. I done that for about 2000 till about 10.”
Without his home, Darrell tried renting but it became too much and he turned to Boston Housing for assistance. “ ‘Are you married?’ ‘No, I’m not married.’ ‘You got any kids?’ ‘Uh, no.’ ‘Well, I don’t think you’re going to get it.’ ‘Well, you know I’m on disability.’ ‘Ah, that don’t get’cha housing.’ ‘Well, I just want to apply.”
Darrell’s physical condition renders his neck and waist untwist-able. His eyes lead his body before he shifts his feet to turn. “I got no neck, no waist. Spinal condition. I had an adverse reaction to the polio vaccine when I was a little, little kid, … I was already four years old, that was probably what saved me. It don’t do me no good.”
Over the years the condition has gotten worse. “I was 6 foot,” but he has now hunched over to around 5’6″ and is constricted in the most basic tasks. His eyes strain to meet the gaze of taller people. “I can’t look around. I used to use two mirrors [to cut his hair], but now I can’t. Have to use one.”
For two years Darrell lived on the streets. “Sure enough, the next couple of months I grew a big beard… You see me three times in the newspaper with the same clothes on. [laughing]” Sometimes people would offer help but rarely return to keep promises. “Ahgh, it was a cold, cold year. Coldest year in… It was ’05, ’06, oh, my gosh, It was ten below in March.”
Through it all, Jamaica Plain was still his home. As a lifelong resident, JP has given Darrell a bond that brings pride to his life and identity. “Fort Hill, Mission Hill, Parker Hill, Walnut Hill, Forest Hills, Parley hill, all these hills over here is what they call Roxbury Highlands. I’ve lived [here] in JP my whole life. People think I’m strange. I don’t know, I’m at home in JP.”
Housing in other neighborhoods was offered to Darrell. “I just don’t aim to be run off like no coyote. Ya know, I’m 50-something years old and I’ve lived here all my life. I don’t want to mo-ove. I can’t move, I got no wheels and, ya know. … A goner sure.”
For such a confident and committed man of 63, the stability of his roots and his life seems unquestionable, but more frequent funeral social events have given him pause. “The last five years I lost a dozen friends, good, good buddies, musicians, girlfriends n’stuff. I said, gee whiz! There goes the whole band. Yeah, it’s a drag. That’s another reason why I still try to go to the pub and keep up with the local cats because you never know when you’ll be able to see them again. You’d be surprised when the generations turn. Ya know, it’s weird.”
Wild Butch Man D. is locally known as one of the herbs that spice up Boston with entertainment. His matching outfits and accordions are memorable and have had three newspaper appearances. As an extra in the movie ‘TED’, he gave the Boston Garden scene a true representation. Nowadays he doesn’t dress-up the Garden much at all. All the “dancing, talking, flirting and playing” takes a lot out of him and ” ya gotta compete with kids showing up with amps and crowding the place.”
“Ya know, I’d like to come back on these chumps one more time. … I’ll make a bigger splash than any of these young pups.” Dreaming can bring back the past or stir up the future and Darrell does both. He wants more of the good’ol times. “I used to entertain a lot. I had the big yard and the patio and all my accoutrements. So I used to rock the casaba. We would have accordions and guitars and mandolins… the whole neighborhood would be out. Ya know, gallon of wine and some nice paella. But it seems them days is gone for me, right at present, ya know.”
Currently Darrell lives in a congregate-style community home with 13 others. It was opened in December 2006 by the HEARTH organization with their dedication to eliminate homelessness among the elderly.
“I’d like to have a musician’s village, at least a house full. A courtyard or something, a little cul-de-sac. Alot of these guys are getting’ old, they getting’ fragile, frail, and we’re scattered to the friggin’ wind. So, I thought it was a good idea. An idea who’s time has come. I guess I didn’t do enough about it. I had a couple’a opportunities I let slip by. I always felt I could do pretty much anything I wanted. Shit, I [just] never wanted anything.”