Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Colorful Characters

by Annette Dashofy

I suspect we all know at least one. And I don’t necessarily mean crazy Uncle Louie. I mean those “colorful characters” you see around your town. The ones that when you ask someone else about them, describing them with a few key words, the other person immediately says, “Oh. THAT guy.”

Years ago, when I was working in a kiosk in the local mall, there was a young guy who walked around town with his hands holding an invisible steering wheel. He made car sounds as he “drove” on foot. Needless to say, he was mentally challenged. Everyone knew him as Tommy the Car. Some people eyed him with suspicion and distain. But mostly, everyone watched out for him. And when circumstances demanded that he move into a more institutional setting, we all missed him.

He was a colorful character. No one knew his last name, but everyone knew Tommy the Car.

There’s an old man I pass several times a week. He hitchhikes from one small town to another small town and back almost daily. I’ve never picked him up, but apparently others do. And if you mention the guy who hitchhikes on a certain road, folks who travel that road know who you mean.

I have a bit of a fixation lately on a local colorful character. It’s the crime writer in me who is fascinated with this guy. He hangs out at one of my favorite coffee shops and I’ve spotted him elsewhere. He’s hard to miss. The guy could have been a pro linebacker for all I know. I’ve discretely asked several people about him. All I have to do is give a quick description of his height and his hair and the response is, “Oh. THAT guy.” But I haven’t had much luck getting details beyond that. I admit, I had created quite a story for the guy in my head. Scenarios ranged from rich and eccentric to homeless with an interesting wardrobe. But the comments I’ve received about him include words like “weird” and “notorious.” There was mention of “trouble with the police.”

That last one adds fuel to my curiosity. It also scares the bejeezus out of me. As if being the size of a small sequoia isn’t intimidating enough. Now I make great efforts to NOT establish eye contact. Let’s face it. I may write crime fiction, but I am an unequivocal chicken. I’m curious, but I am well aware of how that worked out for the cat.

So I continue to ask a few cautious questions in whispered tones when this particular colorful character is nowhere around. I’ll let you know if I find out anything. Maybe. Perhaps he reads blogs. Note I haven’t mentioned much detail of his clothing or appearance beyond his size. There’s a good reason for that. He scares me.

But inquiring minds want to know.

Now, tell me about your local colorful characters, past or present. I know everyone has to have known at least one.


Anonymous said...

At International folk dancing in Boston there was a guy who, if he didn't know the dance steps, would run in this wierd, crab-like movement all around the outside of the circle. Once you got to know him, you realized he was actually nice and not all that wierd, but clearly a non-native English speaker. Did I mention he always wore what appeared to be the same pair of running shorts?

Anyway, my senior year in college there was this huge blizzard in Boston that literally closed the city down (declared a disaster area) for a week. One of my friends said he was watching one of the first snowplows driving around the empty streets (only 4-wheel drive vehicles allowed) the next day, and who was running behind, in his running shorts? Well, I'll let you guess . . .

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Annette, I think we grew up in the same town. LOL Only several thousand miles away from each other. We had a character much like your guy. His name was Mike and he had been hurt in a car wreck and as a result had lost a lot of his mental capacity. He was a grown man and his parents built him a grown up sized tricycle and he wore a badge and in our neighborhood, he was Sheriff Mike, and yeah, we were little kids but we all looked out for him. I often worry what happens to people like this when their parents leave the earth. He was a kind soul and definitely unforgettable.

Another man who is unforgettable and that everyone seems to take care of in CS is a man who wears his coat 24/7 no matter what the temperature. He's black and has dreadlocks and talks to himself and obviously he lives close by the soup kitchen. But he's such a regular that people accept him and help him on occasion. I'm not afraid when I see him. He's just one of our downtown regulars. He'll never say hi, it's not in his ability to do so. I worry about him, too.

It's the people with mental capacity to know right from wrong that scare me, ya know? I'll be interested to find out what you learn a about your guy. And I read your personal blog this morning:) This is America and the people have spoken.

Annette said...

Tory, that's hysterical!

Donnell, you've nailed it. When I first started trying to figure out who this guy is I expected to find out he was either rich and eccentric or mentally challenged and basically harmless. Apparently, he's neither, which leaves a whole spectrum of "colorful" to pick from.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

For me, there's one that sticks out. Exercise girl. I have never seen her do anything beyond extreme exercise. Whether she's on the mountain bike, or pushing a baby carriage, the tandem made for twins, or just power walking.

She's stick skinny, almost to the point that people use the term anorexic to describe her.

She about 5'4" and I'd take anybody's bet on the under of 100 lbs. But, she stands out beyond her physical appearance because the way she goes about it. The glassy stare at the ground just ahead of her, the purposeful movements, it almost looks like she's pissed off at the ground the way she pounds her feet on the pavement.

There used to be the long-gray hair bicycle rider/trash picker guy, but he's been gone for a while.

As far as your big ominous guy, he may be the nicest guy in the world or he may be carrying around a pocketful of severed ring fingers that he sliced off with the fillet knife he keeps sheathed in his sock.

Anonymous said...

When I was in college there was an older man who roamed around Oakland meowing. Everybody called him Cat Man.

Annette said...

Will, my money is on the second choice for the big guy. I keep thinking Sopranos. Did I mention he tends to sit at one of the outside tables by the entrance in his bare feet? He wears sunglasses and you just know behind them he's watching everyone go past him.

Of course, he could just be a people-watcher.

Gina, did anyone give him a bowl of milk?

Anonymous said...

Annette -
As far as I recall, he seemed to be more of a chronic alcoholic than a milk drinker.

Jenna said...

We used to have a little old lady in a trench coat with a couple of medals pinned to it, who wheeled a baby stroller with a doll around. I always used to wonder what her story was... I haven't seen her for a few years, though, so I guess she's probably passed on.

becky hutchison said...

We have a man in town who walks very fast in big, purposeful strides and always has a huge smile on his face...and always carries garbage bags in his arms. He is mentally challanged and goes all around town picking up garbage at gas stations, fast food joints or any other place that pays him. We call him the Bag Man.

Once a new policeman arrested him for loitering, and it received big press in the local newspaper. Everyone was outraged and the policeman had to apologize. Gotta love small towns!