"You know," Pop says, "the one thing I say, when people come up with that question, is, because they come again on the opposite end ... 'Why the man doesn't do this? Why the man doesn't do that?' And my as—as far as my understanding is, Mike's reply is, 'My high school coach is doing O.K. He has a job. He works. He earns his own living. [None of this is true.] Even if something had come up, he has his retirement.' You know what I'm saying? 'He has some income comin', even if it takes a while.' That, that is my practicality of understanding."
By now I've asked him enough useless questions to know that the origin of this understanding is as unknowable as the origin of his fervent belief that each year has five seasons, if you count autumn. I don't know what Jordan actually thinks of Pop's situation, or whether he's fully aware of it. He declined to be interviewed for this story.
So how does this practicality of understanding make Pop feel?
"That's fine, but I can always use extra," he says. "You know [laughing], I can always—I can always use extra."
One time about 12 years ago, Pop did get some extra: a lump sum from the government of close to $40,000. The way his old friend Leroy Grady tells the story, Pop entered the bank with a shoulder bag and tried to take it all out in cash. Finally he got the money and went on a spending spree. He bought various substances and a car he couldn't afford to insure. He gave some money away. In six weeks it was all gone.
And although his retirement and Social Security checks were sufficient to rent a room, Pop was a nightmare tenant: slamming doors in the middle of the night, dropping bricks on the bathroom floor, filling trash cans with water, stuffing potatoes in the garbage disposal, turning on the gas stove for no reason, leaving food to burn and cigarettes to smolder. Landlords and fellow tenants revolted. Pop found himself homeless.
Two solutions came from Grady, a retired Army sergeant first class who had known Pop since childhood. Grady had a 1940s wood-frame house whose decrepit condition made it nearly impervious to the ravages of Pop. He rented it to Herring at a discount. And to make sure Pop's money lasted through the month, they agreed that Grady would manage the money from Pop's government checks and deliver him $60 in cash every other day to spend however he wanted. Both men said they were happy with this arrangement.
"You ain't got the music on, man," Pop says. We're driving east on a bright morning toward the blue Atlantic at Wrightsville Beach. Pop says he hasn't been to the beach in more than 20 years. I crank up the Bone, which is spinning a song called Drive, by Incubus. Pop is pleased with the music and the scenery. He remembers a nearby playground where he used to bring his daughter.
"What was she like as a kid?" I ask.
"Oh, she was just somethin' else," Pop says. "She was just somethin' else. Hard to describe, when all of a sudden, at four years of age, you go to the house and they're gone." He laughs, high and nervous, in his smoky old voice. Paquita was actually six when her mother left Pop.