the man next door

shutterstock_103496906_copy_712_711The crazy guy next door moved out. Well, actually, he got evicted. I don’t know why, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with his personal hygiene — the man never showered. His clothes were always dirty, too, and, despite his friendly demeanor, he couldn’t hold a conversation to save his life.

“I see you exercise a lot,” he’d say, exuberantly. “I exercise a lot, too. I walk a lot. That’s how I stay fit.”

“I saw you running the other day,” he’d say the next day. “I exercise, too. I walk a lot. That’s how I stay fit.”

And the next day. “Is that your bike? That’s a nice bike. I have a bike, too, but the tires are rotted. But I exercise a lot. I walk a lot. That’s how I stay fit.”

And so on and so forth. I used to try to respond to his comments. To his, “I see you exercise a lot,” I’d say, “Oh, I try!” Or, “Well, I’m training for a triathlon, so . . .” But the conversations never went anywhere; they always ended the same.

“A tri-a-tha-lon, eh?,” he’d say. “That’s nice. I’ve never done a tri-a-tha-lon. I want to get one of those home gyms, though. You know, one where you can do push-ups and pull-ups and stuff?” “Yeah, I’d like to get one of those—” But he’d always cut me off. “I walk a lot now. That’s how I stay fit.”

“That’s how I stay fit.”
“That’s how I stay fit.”
“That’s how I stay fit.”

It got to the point that I started avoiding him. The crazy neighbor’s headed out? I’ll stay in my apartment ’til he leaves. / There he is! He’s coming up the stairs! I’ll scoot in the door before he sees.

I felt bad, but . . .

Jon and I came to the conclusion that he wasn’t quite right in the head. He clearly didn’t work — probably couldn’t work — and I used to see him alongside the road, by the railroad tracks, early in the morning on my way to school. It would be freezing cold outside, but he’d never be wearing a coat; instead, he’d have bright Mardi Gras beads around his neck and a floppy hat atop his greasy head. He’d always be smiling goofily and looking off into the distance. I knew he walked so much because he didn’t have a car.

But he wasn’t a bad guy. He couldn’t have been more than about 35, and, while I won’t miss avoiding him around the apartment complex, I can’t help but wonder where he went. I know he had family and connections, but . . . There is a lot of homelessness in the Bay Area, and a fair amount of it is attributable to mental illness. What do you do with the man in this picture, for example? I saw him several months back at an off-ramp, repeatedly taking on and off his mismatching shoes.

IMG_1359 ..

Or then there’s this guy, a modern-day Moses who frequents the streets in Berkeley and has been known to “part” traffic with his staff.

Of course, not all homelessness is attributable to mental illness. To the man with a beer belly and a dog on the Santa Rosa street corner: Sorry, but your “Anything helps” sign just ain’t cuttin’ it. You’re as capable of work as I am. Go get some!

But, then again . . . You never know someone’s story. It never hurts to be kind.

You may have already seen these videos. They’ve been running around facebook for a while now. I love them.



I guess I might always wonder about our crazy neighbor. Wherever he is, I hope he’s enjoying his walks.


Image: Google


12 thoughts

  1. Awesome videos, I hadn’t seen them before. You finally did it – changed your theme. I like it. It has a very clean, open feel.

    • Hi Sreejit! I’m glad you liked the videos. They touched me, too, so I thought I’d share. And, yes! I finally changed the theme. I’m trying to figure out how to customize it, but overall I like it, too. :)

    • I know what you mean, Ruta. I often walk by passerbys or homeless people and find myself avoiding eye contact. At other times I’ll smile, and sometimes I’ll get a smile back, and sometimes not. But whenever I get a smile back, it makes my day. You’re right: Little things *do* count.

  2. As former homeless guy, I have to say that….just a little push. Like having room- board, and then is up to you to get yourself together. A lot of homeless do suffer from mental illness, and is quite tragic if you ask me. My case was very different from mental illness, but here in Spain they do have a big safety net from the government to take care of them. They go through a long process but overall they do take care of them if they don´t have family support. Not in my case since they saw I was mentally fit, so I couldn´t use room-board plus they do give them money for the month, money which really is tax payers money. So in my case, I quit drinking, got myself together with the help of some dear friends after they saw I was not drinking anymore and life has become better.

    • That’s wonderful news, Charly. Good for you. I think you’re right that ultimately our decisions are up to us. We create our own fate. Yes, some of us need help — room and board can go a long way for someone in a bad spot — but, ultimately, we end up doing with that help what we choose. Some choose to “pick themselves up by their own bootstraps,” so to speak, but others? In the case of mental illness, I just don’t even know. Where do these people come from? How do they find themselves in these situations? Everyone has SOME family, at least to begin with. What happened to theirs? I definitely think the government needs to take care of its mentally ill, so good for Spain. The United States has work to do. Homelessness is a big problem in many cities throughout this country.

      Thank you for sharing your story! And sorry for my late response!

  3. You really can’t help but feel a bit sad for the homeless. I thought it was very nice of you to try to make some small talk with him whenever he struck up a conversation…trying to keep things as normal as possible for him. Maybe it’s one of the few times he feels a sense of normalcy. Agree with you that mental illness could be a cause of homelessness, but you can never really be sure. It could be falling in with the wrong crowd, a physical disability or just plain bad luck.

    Just today I was walking in the city and was hanging around an alley taking photos – and a few metres away was a homeless man meekly saying to passerbys, “Anyone got any change?” over and over. No one gave him anything – he had a cigarette in his hand and after a while, he started smoking what smelled like some kind of drug. I felt bad for him…what can you do in these instances really. Hope you are well, Jess. Good luck with the exercising :)

    • You’re right, Mabel. It’s hard to imagine, and I do feel sad when I think about, what it’d be like to be homeless. I see homeless people all the time where I live right now. Some are mentally ill, some are not. Ultimately it’s not up to me to judge or even guess why a person is homeless. I try to be kind when I can, but the rest is not up to me.

      That being said, I remember being in Cambodia and seeing men and women who were homeless because they’d lost their arms or legs to landmines. Without arms and legs, the people aren’t able to work and care for their families and are forced to the streets to beg. Talk about sad…

      Thanks for the well wishes! I hope you’re well, too! I did a triathlon this past weekend and it went much better than my half ironman. :)

  4. When I was a kid, my godparents’ oldest child had Down’s Syndrome. As an adult, we have friends whose children have Down’s, others who have children who are on the autism spectrum. I have a colleague whose brother is struggling with schizophrenia. For about four years, my job required me to hear a lot of testimony about children with special needs of all different sorts. A lot of these “disorders” can be really dangerous. There’s no avoiding that. But a lot of them aren’t. People I know who have individuals in their families with Downs talk about how they are the most loving, affectionate people they know. They have an innocence and purity to them. And autism is just gut-wrenching.

    It is far too easy to judge these individuals as somehow less than the rest of us and assign them to humanity’s scrap heap. It’s unfortunate though. The rest of us … the ones with “disorders” … could learn a few things from them.

    This morning I was at the grocery store. There was a family with three young boys. One of which never stopped whining in a loud voice and demanding things … and I initially was annoyed that they didn’t have better control of him. And then I remembered all of my experiences over the years and I figured there was something there and I shifted my view. Good for you, for getting out as a family and doing what you should be able to do.

    I could ramble about this forever. It makes me sad to see how we all to frequently take the easy out with people who have disabilities, mental illness, disorders. I’ll stop now.

    Thank you for writing something that prompted me to remember the value of our humanity. All of it.

    • And here I thought I’d responded to this, King! I must have started and not finished it. Forgive me!

      I appreciate your thoughts on being able to/trying to shift your perspective on things. It *is* easy to judge — the homeless, the mentally unstable, the family with little kids in the grocery store. All it takes is taking a step back, though, and imagining yourself in the other person’s shoes for that little bit of shift. I wish more people would try to follow your thought pattern.

      Hope your week is off to a lovely start. I pray the fires go away soon!

  5. homelessness is a world wide problem and it seems to be only getting worse… I am thinking of all the refugees from Syria, thousands and thousands of people displaced by war, and can’t even find a welcoming country let alone a place to call home. It is difficult to know how it will ever be overcome. Great videos.

    • I saw a video on Syrians just the other day. You are absolutely right. Homelessness is a HUGE problem. I wonder what percentage of the world’s population is homeless?

      I don’t know that homelessness will ever be overcome. But those of us who are fortunate enough to have a roof over our heads must remember to be grateful, and to be kind. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but it’s always worth striving for.

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