“It didn’t work out in D.C. for whatever reason,” Remissong recalled, “and he was going home.”
In truth, Joey Belcher’s struggles had started long before he reached Washington.
Drinking and drugs
Even in his mid-30s, Belcher had a childlike passion for the whimsical and wacky. He loved to dress up in animal costumes and show off the collection of windup toys he stuck to the dashboard of his Cadillac Escalade. He loved dreaming up business ideas, like opening a bar with a fairy-tale theme or hiring scantily clad servers to swing down on bungee cords with drink orders.
At Sticky Rice, Belcher decided that the answering machine had to include, after options for reservations and directions, the choice of listening to a speech by actor Christopher Walken.
“Press 5 if you’d like to give us an impression of Christopher Walken,” the voice says. “Press 6 if you’d like to hear a sad trombone.”
“ ‘Just do it, it’ll be funny,’ ” Belcher told Groeschel after writing the script. The Walken option became popular with customers, and sometimes Belcher could be found at his desk late at night cackling as he listened to the impressions.
His creativity was obvious as he grew up in New Orleans, where his father was a utility worker for the phone company and his mother, a Mexican immigrant, was a court stenographer. He liked to build circuit boards and dismantle alarm clocks to figure out how they worked.
As a student at Brother Martin High School, a Catholic school, Belcher often couldn’t leave home because his mother had grounded him for some infraction or another. “She was a strict disciplinarian,” said Lloyd Blanchard, a high school buddy.
Belcher’s drinking and drug use started to become noticeable after he enrolled at Loyola University in New Orleans, his father said.
Once, after returning from a trip, Joe Belcher Sr. discovered that his son had “emptied” his bank account and traded the family sedan to a dealer for drugs. His father said he went to the dealer and demanded the car’s return.
Sometimes Joey disappeared for days. Once, his parents drove all over the area searching for him. They spotted his car parked outside a motel on the edge of New Orleans. Joe Belcher Sr. said he pulled out his .25-caliber pistol to persuade the clerk to identify his son’s room, where he found Joey and two others smoking crack.
Joe Belcher Sr. became so despondent over his son’s drug use that he mulled the idea of maiming him. “If I shoot him in the back, I will sever his spinal cord,” he said, recalling his reasoning. “I’d rather have him be a cripple than go out and buy more drugs.”