|The Steadfastness of Junior
by Sandra Martin and Bill Lambrecht
Back when there used to be towns, every town had its Junior.
Nowadays towns are scarce and local characters scarcer. Scarce, but not extinct.
In Annapolis, there are a few, among them 'Happy Guy,' the fellow who speed-walks the town, arms swinging fast as wind turbines in a storm, always smiling. In Deale there was Tommy 'Muskrat' Greene, who was known not just to a town but to the world as the holder of Guinness Book speed records for downing vast quantities of oysters and snails. The beloved Muskrat, who died in 1994, would do anything for anyone.
Everybody knows town fixtures; not so many know their stories.
But if you ask, North Beach's ever-present Junior will tell you his story. In it lies the friction in towns along the Chesapeake Bay, wherever new arrivals expect to impose the standards of their dream community. For often, as sure is the case with Junior, some of the old scenery remains the same.
And if we're lucky, some of the old values live on, too. But even old values can stand a bit of sprucing up, which is where North Beach Mayor Mark Frazer stepped in.
"Do you know Junior?" Frazer wondered.
In 16 years in Chesapeake County, the Junior we knew had become something of a legend. Every time one of the family went to North Beach, we'd see Junior. He was a sturdy natural in his hearty prime of life. That much you could tell from a distance because from March through November, he never wore a shirt, so his solid Santa's belly was tanned fried-chicken gold. We sometimes thought he must be twins or triplets, because whenever we went to North Beach, where ever we went in North Beach, there was Junior.
"That's the man," said the mayor. "But there's more to Junior than meets the eye."
Whence the Fence
Junior's fond of saying that he doesn't "play too well with politicians or politics," but in Frazer he found an unlikely ally. You could cast a fish bait from the Frazer's waterfront home in North Beach west to Junior's, they live so close. Neighbor-mayor-dentist and former Calvert County commissioner Frazer took seriously a man more used to being written off.
The last time we saw Junior, he had just gotten back from a wedding at Chaney's, a bar and grill just over the line in Chesapeake Beach. Dress was casual, though, says Junior, "the ones that counted dressed up."
There was another wedding that day at the firehouse, but the two parties were unlikely to meet. "That firehouse bunch doesn't associate with Chaney's. They're too refined," says Junior.
On the way home, his '86 Pontiac sedan broke down from bad gas, he believes, and now he was lying under it, shirtless and full of grease. He climbed out from under to greet his Bay Weekly visitors.
"I read the one that had that idiot putting his boat in the water," says Junior, wiping his hands on his blue Dickies work pants. His chest and belly are still tanned, but the hair is gray. The "one" Junior is recalling is Pat Piper's Bay Weekly story from May 3 about trailered boats. More particularly, he's referring to the part where not only the boat but also the vehicle towing it go into the water.
"I've seen it happen many times," says Junior. "I've seen two trucks and a car where all you could see above water was the radio antenna. They trusted their emergency brakes, and see what happened.:"
Junior can relate to vehicle trouble. As well as this Pontiac, for which he paid $150 and is waiting on the title, he's got four or five other vehicles, at least a couple of which haven't fired up recently. On this day, trouble has arrived in pairs. The black Ford pick-up he'd been driving blew a transmission and its fate is hanging in the balance. "I can fix it, but I'm looking at $500."
With or without engines, Junior has a lot of stuff: lawnmowers, bicycles, wheel barrows, sinks, rakes, kerosene heaters, air conditioners, barbecue grills, tanks, firehoses. What some neighbors see as junk is, to Junior, full of possibilities. He knew recycling, in his own way, before it became vogue.
But to some of the neighbors, particularly those who would hasten the gentrification of North Beach, Junior's habits are a problem. That's because his trucks, cars and all the other goods, some of dubious value, are stashed in Junior's main street backyard.
But these days, the neighbors have much less to complain about because Junior's scrap yard is concealed behind a new Fort Apache-style fence erected around his property to improve the view for those traveling into North Beach from the north.
He's always had a fence up, Junior reminds, but the last one was a decade-old "el cheapo" and rotting at the posts. Plus, he says, "it had been hit a few times, by me, in the dark." That's not likely to happen again, because now, Junior has rigged up a motion sensor that lights up when he or anyone else approaches. "You walk within five feet, and it all lights up like daylight," he says.
Junior had been planning on putting a new fence up for some time but hadn't gotten around to it. So when Mayor Frazer, organized a replacement, paid for with deduction's from Junior's pay on the city maintenance crew, Junior didn't object. The neighbors, too, have less to object about, which is of no particular concern to Junior.
"These people think you're supposed to live like everyone else does around here," says Junior, speaking of a town where borders are jumping with flowers, where banners, flags and hanging baskets now grace many porches and patios.
"They act as if I'm retarded because I don't conform to society," observes Junior. "I'm too busy to conform."
Junior's too busy, too, to worry that his own garden is overflowing with a different sort of native species than fastidious neighbors are planting: poison ivy.
"That's one thing I can't tackle," he says.
Julius Lubbes is indeed a junior. At 46, he's lived all his life in North Beach, where his parents settled when Senior, from Little Rock, Ark., got out of the service back in '51 or '52. Mary, his mother, was of Italian descent from the District of Columbia. "German and Italian butting heads," says Junior of his family, "and I inherited their temper."
Junior's dad first rented a place next to Beach Combers beauty parlor, one of North Beach's enduring businesses, on the corner of Annapolis Avenue and Seventh Street. When the older generation joined the young family in North Beach, they became property owners. Between Junior and the beauty parlor, a sister still lives in a house bought by their grandfather. His scrap yard stands on a lot his grandmother bought to, he says, "keep it from being developed." It was a wetland, filled in by pick-up truck load, as is much of the North Beach waterfront.
"You name it," says Junior, "it's in here. Some yards here are full of asphalt. Others oyster shells. This is a bit of everything."
Strength, too, runs in the family. When Senior hired on at the Navy Yard in D.C., he had to lift a 100-pound sack to prove he could work. Like him, Junior is a working man. "I can fix just about anything," he allows - "unless it's full of new high-class electronics."
He's also fixing a four-wheel drive pick-up truck for a neighbor.
"When you're done she'll have a good-working truck," we observe.
"That," says Junior, "remains to be seen."
Meanwhile, Junior might drive the truck a few weeks, especially while his job has him playing in the mud.
For his part, he won't begrudge neighbors the use of a weed wacker, lawn mower or extension cord. As often as not, he'll do the cutting for them. As, ever since he was cutting grass, he has at Union Baptist Church, which he claims as his church but does not attend. "And," says Junior, "I never charged them anything."
"I help them out, too," he says, of a couple who've waved as they pass by.
He does, on the other hand, charge for his taxi service, which is an impromptu kind of way for folks who've had too much to drink and who would otherwise be a hazard to themselves and other motorists to get home. Dozing in whichever car runs, Junior simply waits around bars till he's needed. Whether home is near or far - he ferried partiers home to Benedict recently - Junior knows the way. "Any place you can get in trouble, I've been there," he says.
But that was years ago, "back when the Beach wasn't civilized like it is now." Junior remembers that "you could go play in the woods." That's what he was doing up on Fifth Street, on a trail bike, when, he says, the bike "tossed my ass 20 feet." He still feels the accident in his back and knees. He also remembers the hard old bars: the Cotton Club, the 410 Club, Blackie and Lil's.
Now the motto on his cap, "Nobody makes me drink. I'm a volunteer," belies his sobriety, for, Junior says, "I quit drinking 30 years ago. I got into too much trouble."
Yes, he nods, as the calculation takes us back to a teenager, "I started young. We all did years ago. Back when we were getting in trouble, it was a joke. It's not a joke anymore."
Next, A New Home
Junior's cottage was, so he was told, "brought down by train." That's where he lived with his parents, taking care of them until their deaths "about 10 years ago." Over the years, it's been much added onto, and Junior has in ready memory the history of each addition.
"My father did the front porch" he says, "and in the '60s when sewer came in, he did the utility room. I put on two additions myself."
But Junior, who never married and takes most of his meals out, was never much into home beautification. The house, to which an out-of-town sister, Rosie Jones, holds title, is as weathered and worn as a shack in a country song. What's more, Junior says, he doesn't need that much room. For 10 years, he's wanted to put up a garage and apartment. "But everybody said it was a bad idea."
Sometime this summer, Junior's dream house will rise on the land where he's always lived and to which his sister is donating life interest. Junior doesn't pay much attention to the details except to say it's what he's always wanted: a two-bay garage topped by an apartment just big enough for one. Only two or three rooms, but working plumbing, hot water and a central heating and cooling system.
Most construction materials are donated, but there's still a need for framing lumber and plywood. Volunteers working alongside Junior will put it up.
As for his old house, says Junior, "I won't miss it."
Help Junior build a house. Saturday, July 21 is Junior Lubbes Appreciation Afternoon at Chaney's on the Bay, in Chesapeake Beach. There, Mayor Frazer hopes to raise close to $10,000 for a home whose material cost is estimated in the $25,000 range. Donations are welcomed, including goods and services for silent auction. Owner Kevin York will donate a portion of beverage and food sales to the cause.