Richard Teaches Us About Time

The first time I saw Richard, he had dragged the construction barriers on Coal out into the road and was standing in front of them, blocking traffic, smiling, and waving an egg timer in the air.

A few nights before, I had awoken to the sound of eerie chatter in the alley, someone having a conversation with themselves in a child’s voice, and then hysterical, manic laughter. The laughter went on and on. It was, I thought, the quintessential sound of mental illness. I figured it was just a passer-by, until I saw the crazy person outside the apartment next door. (What is it about that kind of insanity that makes itself so instantly known? The mismatched way he dressed in clothes that were too big or too small. The way he moved his hands, like birds trying to escape from his body.) He peered at my car as I drove by. At the time, I wasn’t sure whether he actually lived there, or if he was homeless and had decided that spot in the alley was a good place to settle down.

Stuck in the traffic jam, there was a strange moment of recognition. I wanted to yell at the people honking their horns, “Hey! That’s my neighbor!” I thought about trying to coax him out of the road, but realized that, while I recognized him, he wouldn’t recognize me. And he looked excited and harmless, waving that egg timer, like he was trying to teach us something about time.

Over the next few weeks, I was only vaguely aware that he was next door. Abstractly, he became known as “Crazy Neighbor.” I noticed that he had an affinity for trash cans, shopping carts, things that rolled, which was charming, at first. Then I was woken at four in the morning one night to the sound of trash cans (multiple) being rolled through the alley. I looked out my window to see Crazy Neighbor dragging my trash can back behind his fence. Then he came back into our lot with a piece of wood and started banging on my bedroom wall with it. In the stillness of the middle of the night, it shook the whole apartment. My next-door-neighbor ran outside in his boxers. I ran outside in a bathrobe. (Which is admittedly a stupid reaction on our parts to our insane, probably PCP-addled, unpredictable neighbor.) But Crazy Neighbor was already back on his side of the fence, pounding on his own walls and opening and closing the lids of the various trash cans he’d stolen. Since he hadn’t vandalized anything, or stolen anything of real value, we didn’t do anything about it.

That afternoon, my next-door-neighbor called the cops because Crazy Neighbor was in the alley with his pants down. After that, we learned that he had been turning his neighbors’ power off, throwing hydrogen peroxide at people, threatening to kill his landlord (who was in the process of evicting him, a long, painfully bureaucratic process,) and other not-so-innocuous-after-all shenanigans. We learned that his name was Richard, and that he was a diagnosed schizophrenic, bipolar, meth addict.

I’ve lived alone for about a cumulative three years, and I’ve never felt nervous to be in my house alone. I’ve never been afraid of my neighborhood. I lived downtown for a year and a half on a street that some people might find vaguely unsafe, and walked or biked around at all hours of the night. Nothing sketchy has ever happened to me in my twenty-four years of living in Albuquerque. Not to say that bad things don’t happen, but I maintain, stubbornly, that it has a lot more to do with bad luck, projection, and interaction than with socioeconomic location. Because Richard was insane, his motivations were a mystery to everyone but him. As a friend suggested, maybe to him, the trash cans were mini space ships full of microscopic government robots controlling his mind. We will never know. But his irrational behavior made me nervous. I didn’t think he would come and murder me, but I suspected other strange things would happen.

Instead of making any real decisions, I like to wait for signs in my life to tell me what to do. After a couple weeks of neurotic hyper-awareness and being woken up in the middle of the night to Richard screaming or laughing or pounding on something or (most upsettlingly) using power tools, I put in my 30-day notice to move out of my apartment.

Even though Richard was a scraggly, loud, crazy, drug addict man, there was a strange innocence about him, too, which was, again, a mark of deep mental illness. He would tie things to his fence, decorating it with junk he found around, fake flowers, wind chimes, a smiley face umbrella, and light religious candles around the perimeter. The decorations would change often. I mentioned Richard in an earlier blog and said there must have been someone taking care of him. There wasn’t. He seemed to have slipped through every (huge) crack of every system there was, and I marvel at how he was able to function at all.

Richard did teach me something about time. I learned his routines, how he seemed never to sleep. I knew that there would probably be trouble on trash nights. I counted down the days of the month. I paid more attention to my surroundings than I had in years. At one point, my mother asked me how things were going with Crazy Neighbor. “Richard has been reeeeaaal quiet. I hope he’s not dead.” I realized that I hadn’t seen or heard from him in over a week.

I learned a few days later that he had been arrested for indecent exposure and had enough charges accumulated by that point that they kept him in jail. Instead of an institution or a group home or any of the places he should have been in the first place, he’s in jail now. Simultaneously, his landlord finalized the eviction, packed up his stuff, and changed the locks.

With peace restored, I’m packing up my stuff as well, glad that Richard so encouraged me to get on the road. Time to go. Time to go.

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~ by Lenore Gusch on May 3, 2012.

4 Responses to “Richard Teaches Us About Time”

  1. So where ya goin’?

  2. You and Marisa have a collection starting. Hers is “The Party Is Here” guy. Paired with your crazy neighbor…

    And yeah, ditto to the above, where ARE you going?

  3. Time for a new post. Can’t wait.

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