Leslie Cochran: Be Careful Who You Pretend To Be
I had pizza with Leslie Cochran a few months ago, thus beginning my Paying Pizza Forward feature. Sadly, some of Austin’s most interesting folks aren’t the most reliable, so the series petered off as I had a difficult time continuing the chain. But after I heard about Leslie’s recent hospitalization, I figured he could use some free pizza. So we met up last week for pizza and company.
We were supposed to meet at 12:30, and he showed up around 1:30. The kind Homeslice hosts (including two of the owners), kept offering to seat me, but I didn’t know when Leslie would arrive.
I saw him walking down the street, and could tell something was different. Gone was the pink halter top and the lime green mini skirt, replaced by a subdued navy blue sweater and plain black pants. The only way I could spot him at a distance was his leopard print cowboy hat. Good ‘ole Leslie, somethings never change.
He mostly succeeded at putting out his cigarette on The Onion kiosk as we walked in, but Terri politely asked him if she could get an old beer can for an ashtray, implying that he had to do a more thorough job. He happily extinguished it and put it back in his pack of smokes.
We sat down and Shane came by to take our drink order. Leslie perused the menu, and not finding what he was looking for, asked for a bourbon and coke. Without missing a beat, Shane replied that he could handle the coke part. Leslie declined, saying coke is has too much sugar, and settled for a water.
I told Leslie that he could pick the toppings, and as he opened the menu he said as long as the pizza had jalapenos he’d be fine. I hated to tell him that Homeslice doesn’t have jalapenos, but I told him that if anyone would be able to pull off running across the street to Guero’s for some jalapenos to throw on there, he could. But he wasn’t having any of that.
“No jalapenos! We’re in Texas for Chrissake. Why the hell wouldn’t they have jalapenos on top of the pizza? That’s just wrong.”
I told Leslie that Homeslice had hot cherry peppers which were pretty close, and that cheered him right up. Interestingly, he took out an old receipt from his many-pocketed fanny belt, looked at it for 1-2 seconds, realized it was upside down, made sure it wasn’t very important, turned it on its back and began to write down the list of toppings he wanted. Like everything else about Leslie, I found this endearingly peculiar, and it actually turned out to be pretty useful as we simply handed it to Shane when he came to take our order. He wanted “halapenos” (sic), anchovies *swoon*, artichoke hearts, “cheese”, garlic, mushrooms, pepperoni and tomatoes. I had to specify that “cheese” meant just the usual cheese that comes with the pizza, not extra cheese or fresh mozzarella. He just wanted to make sure he wasn’t getting some cheeseless vegan pizza.
Not long after we ordered, he wanted to take a smoke break outside and told me that I was welcome to join him. I told Shane that we weren’t bailing and went out front with him, where he lit up immediately. The “no smoking” sign right behind his head didn’t seem to faze him. Leslie lives by his own set of rules, and it mostly works out.
I say mostly because he’s had a rough time recently. According to him, he got hit in the head by some guys who were upset that he wouldn’t buy crack with them. He said he didn’t do crack and tried to extricate himself, but they jumped him. I know that this conflicts with what the doctors have said, but it’s what Leslie told me so In Leslie I Trust.
When I asked if he managed ok in the hospital, he said “this ain’t my first rodeo”. I let him continue and he said he’s been through numerous comas and plenty of lives. “So you’re like a cat?” I asked. “No”, he replied, “cats only have nine lives”.
He doesn’t remember too much of his time in the hospital, but he was glad to get out. The doctors told him to cut back on his drinking and smoking, but the first place he went after being discharged was Twin Liquors, where he bought liquor and cigarettes.
Leslie tells lots of little jokes, and punctuates them by sticking his tongue out of the left side of his mouth and rolling his eyes to the left. Some are hilarious, some are not. Some I couldn’t hear, didn’t understand or just didn’t like. When I asked if the doctors were nice to him he said “Well, they told me I needed to make some big changes in my life. So I changed doctors!” *Eye/tongue roll*.
The doctors shaved off most of his hair but left his beard. I complimented him on its fullness even though he seemed unaware that it dripped water well after he’d stopped drinking. I told him that I could never pull it off as well because I had some gaps. He said that when he was younger he used to fill in his gaps with mascara, but when he kissed girls the mascara transferred to their faces, giving them something of a beard. Oops! That’s alright, he said, they still went on kissing him, and he claims to have done alright with the ladies over the years. Despite his attire, he considers himself a “full man”, and has quite an interest in the fairer sex.
The pizza finally came, and we dug in. In my previous Leslie Cochran post, I detailed his unique way of eating pizza: tearing off the crust and eating it first, then taking two slices and folding them on top of each other with the cheesey sides facing each other, and eating the concoction like a sandwich. He didn’t tear off the crusts this time even though his dental situation appeared sub-optimal, but he still made himself a pizza sandwich and tore into it. They left off the artichoke hearts, but he still declared the pizza “the best tasting thing ever…besides pussy” *Eye/tongue roll*.
He invited me over (or himself over to my apt, I couldn’t really tell which) to watch his favorite movie: Mother Night, based on the Kurt Vonnegut novel. He loves the book and the movie, and gets very animated when talking about it. His favorite quote from the book, and one he lives by, is “be careful what you pretend to be.”
Leslie told me a really depressing story about the troubles between him and his brother, which I won’t divulge. I’m always saddened by family feuds. But in general, he’s doing alright. He experiences some neck and head pain every so often, and has to endure regular checkups with doctors, but besides that he’s still a friendly, flirty guy who makes his own rules. While he’s often described as homeless, he has a safe place to stay and an enormous support network around town of friends and businesses who are happy to buy him a drink or bite to eat.
He was genuinely appreciative of me buying him pizza and letting him keep the leftovers. As we left, he walked me back down the block and we were stopped by folks who wanted either cigarettes or money from him or pictures with him. One jerk had me take his pic with Leslie, and while Leslie splayed his leg across this guy’s body and said repeatedly “I accept tips”, the guy acted like he didn’t hear. You want a photo with Leslie but don’t have a spare buck for Leslie? C’mon, he’s giving you something you value, why can’t you return the favor? What a miserly asshole.
As we walked we realized that he’s exactly twice as old as I am. When I asked what advice he had for me, he said: “don’t become homeless, and if you do, don’t hang out with other homeless people, you’ll have nothing in common with them”.
Like everyone else in Austin, I had been really scared and frightened that our beloved Leslie would never be the same. But even though the hair is shorter and the clothes more dull (which he attributes to the weather, not any significant change), he’s still quite a colorful character. He does appear to be a step slower, but he’s a whole lot better than everyone feared. Unsurprisingly, he’s not living a very healthy lifestyle. But he doesn’t hurt anybody and lives an interesting life that allows him to be himself, which is more than I can say for most people I know.
He’s very approachable and down to Earth, and I encourage everyone to hang out with him and buy him a bourbon and coke pizza. You’ll both appreciate the experience.