A Visit With Al Lipscomb

Nine years ago, I spent a few hours with Al Lipscomb at his house. It was the first interview he’d given since being put under house arrest two years earlier. With the news of his passing, I thought I’d dig up the short piece I wrote for our July 2002 issue.

At Home With Al

Two years ago, a federal judge confined Al Lipscomb to his house. In his first interview since, he reveals a lot of himself — literally.

Al Lipscomb invited me over to shoot the breeze, I suspect, so that I’d stop calling him every week, asking to be invited over to shoot the breeze. But five minutes into our meeting, sitting in his kitchen, I can tell he’s warming up to me. The man drops his plaid shorts and shows me his bare ass.

Here is Al “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, still bigger than life. The last two of his 77 years on God’s green earth have been spent confined to his 1,200-square-foot home in South Dallas, wearing an electronic ankle monitor, as part of a 41-month sentence for taking bribes while he sat on the City Council. Besides his high blood pressure, asthma, arthritis, enlarged prostate, irregular heartbeat, torn retina, and diabetes, he’s got two new hips. He’ll show you the scars.

Al’s general state of disrepair is the main reason the judge sent him home rather than to jail. “Anything is better than walking an 8-by-6,” Al says. “I thank God that I’m able to be here today, that I am at home. Because I would be dead if I were in the penitentiary.”

I keep trying to get Al — I call him “Mr. Lipscomb” — to tell me how he passes the time, and he keeps showing me more scars. It’s like that scene on the boat in Jaws, only much more one-sided. “Goddoggit, man, looky here,” he says, pulling up his shirt to reveal what years of insulin injections have done to his belly (and arms and thighs). Then there’s the permanent discoloration around his ankle where the bulky monitor rubbed him raw. They cut off that monitor only two days ago and replaced it with a smaller, wrist-worn version. Now the old one sits in a KFC bag, waiting for Al’s parole officer to come pick it up. “I thought I was going to get to keep it as a souvenir,” he says.

At length, he gets around to how he spends the day. Al reads the paper. He rides his stationary bike, which today is covered with folded laundry. He watches a little TV. Al says he’s partial to Six Feet Under and The Best Damn Sports Show, Period. And he gets a fair number of visitors. Al shows me pictures, taken in his house, of James Earl Jones and Dick Cheney.

And, as it turns out, Al is allowed to leave the house twice a week. For the past couple of months, he’s been going to Bible study on Wednesdays and church on Sundays. “After church, everyone goes to Luby’s,” he says. “But I got to boogie home. I got caught in traffic coming home once. Man, I panicked, just about.” If he doesn’t make it home in time, an alarm sounds at his house and a monitoring company calls to check on his whereabouts. This is exactly what happened when he ran up the street to help a neighbor who had fallen off a ladder while putting up Christmas lights.

“But, hell,” he says. “I’m not going to Canada. What in the hell is a 77-year-old man going to do in Canada? Good grief.”

We’re interrupted by the doorbell. “Top of the day, sir!” Al calls, and a uniformed police officer that he knows joins us in the kitchen. He’s got a bag of potatoes in one hand and a watermelon over his shoulder. He says the chief sent them over. I assume “the chief” is Terrell Bolton, and I assume the cop is off duty.

By then it’s time for me to leave. Al asks me to stay and eat a late lunch, and I’d like to, but I have a previous commitment. He walks me to my car.

“I’ve been vacillatin’ and digressin’ and moving all around the mulberry bush,” Al says. “I got carried away. I guess I’ve been waiting for someone to talk to.”

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