Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jerry: Seattle 1987

When I got to Seattle, Brock and Matt talked about Jerry, or at least mentioned him now and then. They were not too impressed by him, I gathered. But when I met him, I liked him--liked him in a kind of strange way because he was so strange. Later I found out why he was the way he was.
Jerry was from Sparks, Nevada--but his grandmother lived in Seattle, in Queen Anne, and so Jerry lived with her off and on. Jerry had been in the Navy--was discharged--and had boxed as an amateur while in the service. He was a small man--about the same age as us--and I think he boxed as a lightweight. He had a big head and black hair and a weird grin. He had gone to a state school, Central Washington, in Ellensburg--not sure what he studied--and was into woodworking. (He told me a story about his calling a professor at the professor's house, and the man told Jerry never to call him again--which seemed odd at the time.) Jerry was not an easy person to get along with. Besides his constant grin, he made inappropriate comments, had a poor sense of humor and stepped on people's toes. Maybe that's why I kind of liked him. And for some reason, I began to hang around with him some. Brock and Matt were a bit mystified. I was, too.
It was one day when we were walking down First Avenue West, Jerry and I, when he vaguely mention taking pills. A day or so later, while we talked, I just came out and said, "What are you, bipolar or something?"
And, why yes, he was.
(Actually, I think he was schizophrenic.)
This was what cemented his friendship to me. He thought I was astute and had discovered his big secret and he attached himself to me. But, as I said, I liked him and enjoyed it when he talked about the Navy (he was dismissed, honorably, due to his mental illness and received a monthly disability payment and had his schooling paid for by the government) and especially about boxing. I like boxing. Anyway, Jerry confided in me, telling me of his family history of mental illness, of his sister's schizophrenia, and other stuff. So, I got a picture of his life--not an easy one--and family, down to his contractor dad in Nevada who--not ill--had to deal with all of this tragedy. So, I had empathy for Jerry (still do, if I knew where he was). I even took him over to the University of Washington so we could look up information about his disease (this was before Google and the internet, understand). This also endeared me to him.
After I left Seattle, we stayed in touch. Usually letters, sometimes he'd call me. In many ways I didn't take our friendship that seriously--he was one of many people I stayed in touch with in those days. He was a character. But I didn't see him again until Fru and I lived in Missoula, Montana.
This was after Fru and I had moved to town from the cabin in Stevensville and, one day, I got a phone call from Jerry. He told me that he was in the Salt Lake City airport and was on his way to Missoula. He'd been living back in Sparks for quite a while and had bought the ticket and was on his way but had never told me about the plan--until then. So, I suddenly had Jerry coming to visit and Fru and I lived in this little one bedroom cottage--a miniature house, really, with low ceilings and small rooms--on Rollins Street. I had to quickly explain to Fru where he was and that he was going to stay with us and that I had to go to the airport and get him. She knew of Jerry, but did not know Jerry.
So, I did. I collected Jerry and brought him to our home and he was as strange as ever. Stranger, really. He was enamored with Fru--but in inappropriate ways--and she went along with it as best she could. Laughed about it. I had to work in the evening and she took him to the movies where he held her hand and made comments, then during the movie he disappeared. She had to go out to the lobby and look for him--an usher finally saying that he had gone into the bathroom and had not come out for almost an hour.
I think Jerry was off his meds.
That night, Jerry stayed up in the living room--where we'd made a bed on the couch--and smoked all night. Fru and I were occasional smokers, but Jerry was a chain-smoker and, as said, the house was tiny and low and it filled up with his smoke and he stood out in the living room naked and talked to himself. We also worried he'd set the bed on fire.
I don't recall if it was the second night--or a third night--that I told him he'd have to leave. I--Fru and I--put up with his behavior, but it was a final straw incident that made me kick him out. Because he was up all night, naked, smoking, talking to himself, that night he came into the kitchen--where our one bedroom was attached and door open--and clicked on the too-bright overhead light which shone into our room and I immediately became angry (a culmination of it all) (I remember now, he'd clicked on our big bedroom light by mistake, the switch was with the the kitchen light). I'd had enough and he could see it. He was frightened and I was glad that he was scared of me . . . Jerry was just too plain weird to have in my house. If it had just been me--okay, maybe. Maybe I would have stayed up all night too, smoking with him and talking to myself (but not in the nude--I draw some lines in even my own craziness). But, I had Fru and it was not okay. So, I got angry and told him that this was it and I'd be taking him to the airport in the morning. He told me he'd actually figured this would happen and had a ticket that was good for any date to fly out.
I stayed up with him that night--it must have been around 3am when he flipped the light on--and he started telling me all sorts of things. Like the game board game he'd invented. He'd actually paid to make some game, a prototype board game, based on psychological ideas. He'd actually had cards and the board and the playing pieces manufactured--a single set--and showed it to me and it made no sense. He told me how he'd watch presidential speeches on TV and thought that the president was speaking directly to him and Jerry would put needles between his own toes and watch himself bleed. And I remember--now, as I write this--how he'd made me a candlestick out of wood once, mailed it to me, and it could not even stand up, let alone safely hold a candle. And then there was his garden tool invention: the Toe-Hoe. The Toe-Hoe was a metal device you strapped to your foot to dig a garden. He'd had it manufactured, too, and had even put an ad on late night TV to sell it (I bought one, to support him, and he'd sent me a tape of the ad, this was when Fru and I lived in Champaign, and Fru and I couldn't help but to laugh at the Toe-Hoe [we still laugh]). But I guess I never told Fru how bad Jerry was--I guess I didn't quite realize it myself.
So, as we waited for dawn and the first flight out of Missoula, it went back and forth between us. I talked, yelled, sat and listened to Jerry as he smoked and ranted. Then he began to write things down on little slips of paper--things like, Love, Intelligence, Sanity, single words--and then he'd eat the paper with a positive word on it, burn the slip of paper with a negative . . . Okay . . . I knew I was doing the necessary thing. Matt and Brock had been right to steer clear of him. I needed to kick him out and send him home. He'd shown up out of the blue and never given me the chance to say no or to prepare for his visit.
And so, around dawn, I got him into my truck and drove him to the airport and made sure he got on his flight to Nevada. Yes, I felt sympathy, but also relief. Yes, I tried to contact him later on, but never heard from him again.
Poor Jerry. But I understood the professor, who told him never to call him again. And Fru, for quite a while afterwards when I said a friend was going to visit, would ask me if my friend was crazy. Sure, we laughed about it--at Jerry's expense, I guess--and still do. And I--and Fru--felt bad about it all. But what are you going to do? How far does friendship extend? Maybe to Jerry, I was his best friend in the world. Maybe I let him down in a long line of people letting him down. But he seemed to know what would happen, that the friendship would not survive his visit. Yet, he was compelled to come visit anyway, probably knew he had to do it without notice so that I could not refuse him. Jerry perhaps saw it as a test, knowing that by visiting so surreptitiously he would find out if I was his best friend or not.
I wasn't.

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