“I got nothin’ to lose
Not even the blues
Just a bummin’ around …”
–“Just Bummin’ Around”
Luther “Skip” Lutz hunkers down over a cup of coffee at St. John’s Coffee House in downtown Covington one cool morning. Lutz sports a monstrous beard that covers nearly his entire face and the slits in that face never reveal his eyes.
Today, the 64-year-old Lutz may make it to New Orleans … or perhaps Abita Springs; maybe he’ll make it to Bush or Sun; or he may just hang around Covington. It all depends on who needs what built and where they need it. Then again, it hangs on how Lutz is feeling at the moment. The only thing that’s certain, is that Lutz had a great night’s sleep in the cab of his blue-green pickup truck – The plinking of the giant raindrops that fell on the roof of his truck during the night only deepened his dreams.
“I’m on social security and I do okay,” he says. “I can pick and choose what jobs I do. I’m not what you would call a carpenter or especially talented with woodwork. I just have a great affection for that work. I’m not really good at it, and I don’t advertise or carry business cards, but people keep asking me to do it for them. I must be doing a good job, ‘cause they keep getting the word out and they keep coming to me.”
He takes a sip from his cup and reaches down and rubs his knees.
“Man, I ruined my knees when I had that small truck,” Lutz says. “I couldn’t move the seat back and I really couldn’t lean over and use the steering wheel as a pillow. Not a good night’s sleep, you know what I mean? I went out and got this semi-extended cab and man it’s perfect. I can move the seat back and put my feet under the brake pedals and sleep like a baby.”
Not exactly snoozing on a king sized bed, but for Skip Lutz – who literally lives in his truck – it may as well be the Palace of Versailles.
“I don’t like living in a house or sleeping in a bed,” Lutz says. “I just can’t get comfortable with that. I go where people need me. I specialize in building decks, but then again, I fix just about anything that people need fixed. I may get down to New Orleans in the morning and Slidell in the afternoon. Overall, though, I like it right here in the Covington area.”
Here, he has worked a trade with a woman in town: he cuts her grass a couple of times a month and she allows him to store his clothes and books in her unused garage. A couple of friends scattered around Orleans, St. Tammany and Jefferson parishes let Lutz use their showers when he needs them.
“Emerson wrote, ‘sleep outside as often as you can’,” Lutz says. “I know what he meant. It’s a great life. I work when I want, go where I want. You know, I have friends who do the coat and tie thing and go to a job every day. I’ve got a friend who’s worked at the paper mill in Bogalusa for the past 40 years or so. He’s got a big job and he makes beaucoup money. He has a lot of land. But he said, ‘Skip, you know, I’m jealous of you. You just sort of live on the wind. I could never do what you do!’ I understand that. I don’t criticize them. They have their lifestyles and I have mine. But I never could live like that: coat and tie. I know a lot of those people like that though, who chase what’s called ‘the American dream’ and they’re very unhappy. Then again, I know others who are perfectly happy with that sort of life. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be doing it. I’m comfortable with what I do. I can breathe with it. You know, I was reading Herman Hesse and there was a character who was a ne’er-do-well. He lived on the street and one day it was raining and freezing and he was on the street and he must have anticipated death. He started thinking, ‘Maybe this is really why I’m here, to wander the earth and let other people see what they could have been.’”
To be sure, Luther “Skip” Lutz is no ne’er-do-well; he actually is an oblate at the Benedictine Monastery outside Covington. He has a degree in English and has worked ‘regularly’ as a juvenile probation officer in New Orleans and in Wisconsin.
It was a dark incident in Wisconsin, about which Lutz is loathe to go into detail, that was the catalyst for this turn of events. He will only say it involved a hunting trip with a friend. A shot was fired and a friend was accedentially killed. It was then that Lutz returned to south Louisiana.
“I’ve got grown childen,” he says. “One biological and two adopted. I was married to a wonderful woman – Jean. She actually sold magazines to help me get through college at Loyola. I met her when I was going to Southeastern. But, after a while she dumped me.” Lutz tries to make light of the breakup with a short burst of laughter. His unseen eyes cannot reveal any pain from the breakup of nearly 20 years ago, nor of his children, nor of any regrets he may hold.
“I don’t live in the past,” he says. “But like all people we have our fond memories. I remember when I was going to Loyola. Jean and I lived right next to Audubon Park. I’d take my fly rod to school and on the way, I’d stop and do some fly fishing in the lagoons. I’ll never forget that.”
Lutz orders more coffee and a group of women come in and sit at a nearby table. As they pass him, each one calls out his name and asks how he’s doing. He responds with a smile and a “… fine, and you?” to each of the women.
In his deep basso profundo voice, Skip Lutz rattles on as the morning turns to midday. He recalls his quote from this author or about that deck he built nearby. He recalls how he left Gadsden, Ala. to come to New Orleans with his parents when his dad went to work for an airline company. He recalls a furlough from the Navy in Christmas, 1961 when he was to meet his parents at a relative’s home in Virginia.
“I got to the house at around 2 a.m.,” he says. “I didn’t want to wake anybody by knocking on the door. So I just slept in the garage. It was cold and damp. But I was perfectly comfortable and I felt so free. Since that time, I never again felt comfortable in a bed, or in a house. I have a complete sense of freedom.”
On this day, Skip Lutz will not work. He will chat with friends on the street and he will drive outside Covington, down the narrow, tree canopied River Road, across the small bridge traversing a creek and onto the grounds of the St. Benedict Monastery where he will spend much of the day.
“I love the abbey,” Lutz says. “It’s good for me … and to me. It’s a place of solitude, and freedom, and I like that. I need that.”