Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Runner, The Walker, The Fetus and The Cross

Every neighborhood has its Boo Radley, the crazy person who lives down the street who all the kids are scared of. The crazy person is sometimes misunderstood, often just terrifying and is usually the subject of many a dare, as in "I dare you to ride your bike past their house and knock on the door and then run away." But no one ever does it.

I've mentioned the crazy people who live near my apartment. There's the scary, one eyed man and the schizophrenic who collects junk and rides around in his beat up car that is wall-papered with stickers.

In my parents' old neighborhood there was a man everyone called "Fetus." Fetus lived alone and of course his house was in terrible disrepair. He had a screened in porch that was sagging and full of holes. He never cut his yard or trimmed his hedges. Kids were petrified of him and with good reason. Fetus, who looked exactly like when Crispin Glover played Andy Warhol in the Doors movie, left his house on foot every single morning except Sunday, carrying an enormous homemade sign with pictures of fetuses on it. He'd carry the sign, which was obviously very homemade and quite disturbing, several miles down A1A, then up a major street, over another huge intersection, where he'd finally make his way to an abortion clinic. He'd stand outside of the abortion clinic all day long looking ominous. What made the whole thing even worse was the way Fetus dressed. He had two pairs of pants. I'm guessing he called them slacks. Both were high-waisted, polyester flares that were too short in the ankles. One pair was maroon and the other was forest green. He wore these with short sleeved, polyester dress shirts, also circa 1968, which he buttoned up to the very top. There was something very sinister about these outfits and he projected a distinctly Norman Bates-ish vibe, except he looked like Crispin Glover's Andy Warhol as I already said.

But the one thing I can say about Fetus is that he was certainly committed to his cause. I would see him every single day, except Sunday, toting his sign up and down the street and standing in front of the abortion clinic, which I had honestly never known was an abortion clinic. It was called a "Family Planning Center" which always struck me as a slightly unsettling euphemism for some reason. I can't quite put my finger on why I found it unsettling and it has nothing to do with my political beliefs. Maybe it was just Fetus standing out there with that damned sign. It looked like he'd had the thing forever and it wasn't much more than a big piece of poster board stapled onto a yard stick and reinforced into stiffness with layers and layers of yellowing packing tape. That sign just screamed insanity.

Periodically I'll see another nut case around town. This one is an old black guy, dressed similarly to Fetus, who drags a gigantic cross on his back up and down the highway. I don't know where he lives, but I've often wondered if he and Fetus were friends. It seems like they would be, though I suspect Fetus would scoff at the man with the cross. You see, it's one thing to drag around a real, wooden, crucifixion-scale cross on your back, but it's another thing when the cross has a wheel. That's just cheating. I think Fetus would agree with me on this one. I'm sure Jesus would have loved a wheel on his cross as he staggered down the Via Dolorosa with blood dripping in his eyes and a bunch of jeering Romans whipping him.

You know what's really odd, is that back in Millpond there was a Cross Man too. I've also seen Cross Men throughout Georgia and I've heard of them being in other places in the South as well. It must be a thing. Some sort of club that gives lunatics something to do, sort of how hamsters like to run in a wheel. I'll bet there's even a special store or a catalogue of some sort where you can order your own cross with a wheel. They probably come in different weights or finishes. Maybe they even offer flashy rims for the wheel so you can really pimp your cross.

My parents' nieghborhood, where I've been staying all summer while my parents RV around the country, has its fair share of the crazy too. Unfortunately we're losing the madam, Velva Haux. The recession has hit her hard and men just aren't paying thirty grand a night to fly high-klass hookers to New Jersey anymore. The last I heard, things were so bad that Velva wasn't just sending her girls out, she was personally serving her clients. Velva has now sold her house and moved to an apartment. It's nearby so I still might run into her while she's buying Rock Star in the 7-11.

Luckily we still have our two other neighborhood nuts to scare the children. The Runner and The Walker are Basura del Este institutions. I can't imagine the place without these two women.

I see The Runner every single day, all over town. I've seen her in the next town over. She covers a lot of miles and so does The Walker, but they never seem to overlap. Maybe they've got something worked out between them where one doesn't infringe on the other's territory.

The Runner looks to be close to sixty. She's bone thin like raw chicken wings. Her skin looks like a used tea-bag. I don't think this woman knows that sunscreen exists, and with the amount of time she spends out in the Florida sun, it is a miracle that she has not exploded in melanoma by now. Her hair is bleached platinum and fried so that it's now the texture of a 1970s, shag toilet seat cover. She wears a hot pink visor, tiny pink running shorts and a cropped tank to show off her abs which I'm sure would be impressive if you could seem them through the shadow cast by her enormous breast implants. These things are the size of musk melons. I imagine she got them around the time breast implants first came out. They're uneven, look hard as rocks and they've fallen considerably. I'm sure this woman's constant running hasn't helped things. She's so small that she doesn't have a lot of skin to spare anyway. Factor in the eight hours a day of jogging (at least) that this woman does and I don't know, honestly how the elastins in her skin haven't cried uncle by now and just given up. It is a miracle that one of this woman's breasts hasn't torn off and gone rolling down the asphalt. Any day now I expect this to happen. Tourists on their way over to the beach will run screaming thinking the implant is some kind of monster jellyfish escaping the ocean and I'll have to explain that no, it's just a calcified bag of old silicone that's finally ripped lose from a sixty-year old exercise addict. We all knew it would happen one day, I'd say. The neighbors would all nod sadly and we'd look at the implant which would have by now rolled into the gutter, covered in sand and bits of palm frond.

But it's not just that The Runner runs all day every day, even in the pouring rain. It's that she does it with a double jogging stroller. Often the stroller is empty and this creates a very disturbing image. It always makes me think that once there were children in there, but that they fell out a few miles back and The Runner, in her state of apparent oblivion (runner's high perhaps?) never noticed. I imagine two toddlers skinned up with gravel embedded in their knees, screaming alone in the bike lane.

Sometimes though, the stroller is not empty. Occasionally its passenger is the most pathetic Bichon Frisee I've ever seen. Tongue lolling out of its mouth, panting raggedly, it looks like it's experiencing simultaneous motion sickness and heat stroke. I know this dog often asks itself how the hell it ended up in this position. I wish someone would drive by and snatch it out of that stroller.

Even more disturbing though is when there's an actual child in the stroller. Sometimes there is. I don't know if the child is The Runner's or not. It might be a grandchild. She could have become a mother later in life or maybe she's borrowing someone else's kid so she can add some extra weight to her lengthy workouts. The child is a tow-headed boy. I've never seen the child awake. He's always slumped over unnaturally in a manner that makes me suspect she drugs the child so he won't cry and beg her to just stop, for once, to just stop running and take him home and for the love of God give him some Apple Juice and let him watch Dora like a normal child. I fear that in twenty years this child will be dumping the bodies of prostitutes in construction sites.

The Walker gives The Runner some competition in the loony department. The Walker is well into her seventies and in very good shape. She's also wiry, but you can tell that it's not because she's an exercise addict like The Runner. She does nothing but walk, and I'll bet twenty miles a day at least, but her motives aren't the same as The Runner's. I'll bet fitness never once crossed her mind. The Walker just wanders, almost ghost-like, aimlessly, everywhere. It's haunting really. She seems like she's looking for something.

Every morning The Walker gets up and decks herself out in her finest. She wears sundresses, flowy chiffon, printed things and colorful high heels. She adds matching jewelry, hair accessories. She slathers on makeup, a lot of it, including eyelashes, rouge and red lipstick. She wears oversized sunglasses. Sometimes she wears a big hat, but other times she goes bareheaded into the noon sun, her long, thin black hair wound up in a high coil, the shape of a tower of soft serve resting in a cake cone, exactly in the middle of her head. She looks rather well put together, if a little cheap and tacky, but this is South Florida so cheap and tacky is standard. The shoes get me. They're high. Sometimes wedges, sometimes full stilettos. None of them can be comfortable, yet she leaves her house and walks eight to ten hours a day in them. Her feet must be so gnarled and twisted. I don't know how she does it. I would love to ask her.

I know she takes breaks. I've seen her resting on bus benches, but more often she stops in furniture stores, where she'll sit in the Air Conditioning on plush leather couches until she is asked to leave. I know this because I've seen it happen more than once. When my mother asked me to accompany her to several furniture stores as she decorated the living room, we saw The Walker several times. Once, we ran into her sitting on a patio furniture display in the garden section of Target.

"She's everywhere," my mother said.

It kind of felt like she was following us. Or maybe we were following her.


tupelo said...

Great story, as usual. I can't help but wonder what kind of circumstances must lead to someone growing up to be called "Fetus." Classic!

Unknown said...

I'm scared of The Walker.

For some strange reason, I have a "when I was little" memory of an old, OLD, white woman (pasty) with silver hair in a bun. She wore thick glasses, her face was caked with powder from an old compact and she wore dead-red lipstick.

I don't know who she was or why I remember her but I KNOW she smelled like boiled eggs and THAT's what skeeves me out about her.

I bet The Walker smells just like her!

Selene said...

"pimp your cross" has to be the most hilarious thing I have read today.
Thanks, I needed it!

The Hosta Chronicles said...

Wait - a cross with a WHEEL? I'm totally getting my mom one of those for Christmas. It will make her a more mobile martyr!

BoB said...

my town has a cross, with a wheel

I agree it's cheating but what really blows my minds is when I see said cross on top of a grand cherokee. Maybe he's sponsored?

Anonymous said...

Only in Austin can bat-sh** crazy get you famous. Heck, he's living in a mansion in Westlake now free of charge.


Tracy said...

There's a cross guy I see on 64 on my way to Anna Maria Island. I've lived in FL for 9 yrs, seen him every time I'm on that road. I just don't get what seeing some dirty, shaggy-haired old man with a giant cross in a causeway parking lot is supposed to do for me. Remind me to plan for my retirement?

CC said...

My college campus had a graduate student who was conservative about showers (did I say that nicely?) and who used to ALWAYS carry a sandwich cardboard sign around his neck that said something like "Jesus loves you" or other religious messages.

He wasn't that scary, though, and I can attest that he was a great physics tutor. He was just a bit eccentric.

(If anyone went to this university, you know who I'm talking about, this was around 2003-2007.)

CC said...

Oh, and we had a group (GROUP! Double cheating!) that dragged around a cross with wheels, too.

These are many of the perks of attending a religious college. I have so many stories to tell!

Jeannie said...

I aspire to be the neighborhood crazy person but I doubt I'll ever wander like these ones - more likely I'll just sit on my porch and yell at little kids.

Nicole said...

I remember when I was little in our town we had a walker. She was a little midget lady with white snowy hair and wore a lot of polyester. Most of her outfits were blue and she always carried a big bag. Maybe it was a regular sized bag but just seemed big on her. We would drive by her and we always had to point her out to our mom; you know just encase she missed her.

As time went on, one day we say her walking with some family and that really got me excited. I just knew she was some poor lonely lady and to see her with someone made me happy for her.

Dayna said...

The Runner and The Walker must be related to "Ponytail Girl" from my neighborhood. Ponytail Girl appears to be in her late 20's. She wears a baseball cap with a long bleached blond ponytail hanging out the back that swings when she runs. The interesting thing about Ponytail Girl is that I only see her running in uncomfortble weather conditions. 10 degrees-she runs. Snow/rain-she runs. 110 degrees-she runs.
68 degrees and sunny - No sight of Ponytail Girl.

*Just Wondering. You think The Walker is a double-amputee, that would explain the heels.

mcgrimus said...

Will it be long before they make a jogging cross with a spoked, pneumatic tire?

Liz said...

Completely off topic, I was wandering the internet and saw this new 'healthy' version of the 7 layer salad and thought of you.

Schrodinger's Kittens said...

The Walker must have a sister and she hangs out at the major intersection near where I work. She wears a threadbare ladies-who-lunch type suit with a huge Eliza Doolittle hat and striped tights, and drags a big wheeled suitcase with plastic shopping bags crammed with stuff tied to the extendable handle of the suitcase. Usually she drags the suitcase up and down the street on a circuit of about 5 miles round-trip, waving at the drivers, but on her bad days she runs around in traffic banging on people's cars and screaming at them. Last year a friend took her some breakfast and the lady went on about how her new mansion in Palm Beach was nearly finished. Maybe she's another casualty of the real estate crash, poor thing.

onemeanmfa said...

I was thinking about your characters here, The cross and the Fetus especially. There was a man in the town I grew up in who always stood at the same intersection with a megaphone. When I was in high school the local newspaper did a profile on him. Before the newspaper article came out I always thought he was crazy. I didn't understand what that man's deal was.

On his megaphone he would recite The Bible and was always talking about forgiveness. I didn't get him.

Then the newspaper profile came out and I learned that he had gotten in car accident. He was driving and accidently killed a young girl. He felt so guilty about it that from the time of the accident on (we're talking 20 years maybe more) he stood at the intersection (yes the one where the accident occurred) and asked for forgiveness.

Maybe that's what The Fetus and The Cross are doing in your parent's neighborhood.

Something to think about.

Great post by the way.

Anonymous said...

Did you forget about Junie and cherry ball from Millpond? Oh my! I don't care where you go or where you live, every single town in America has these type people. As a child they scared me half to death. Tomorrow I have to call MomMom to find out about tap foot. This is a story and a half. He walked the town of MillPond with pepsi cola metal tops on the bottom of his bare feet and danced through the town. He was an old black man that was also very religious and as he danced, tapped danced I guess you would say he also sang songs to you. He was always around and always had those tops on his bare feet. He once helped PopPop build an underground bomb shelter incase the Russians bombed us. I guess PopPop didn't understand that if that happened that bunker they built would not keep us alive. You still wonder why i'm nuts? At times I opened the door to the bunker and would sit in the cold dark of dirt and eat a bologna sandwich by myself. I felt safe in there. I guess because PopPop said it was safe there. I was only 5 yrs old.

Orwell's Ghost said...

I read somewhere that there is only a certain number of combinations of words possible in any language. With all that's been written, everything should have been said by now. And yet, you created two phrases that have never been said before (I googled them to be sure), the pimping the cross and the boob rolling along the asphalt. Well done!

Anonymous said...

I've speculated that the wheels are a way of not tearing up roads and yards as they wander. Maybe the wheel gives them an excuse to be on a road like it qualifies like just an awkward bike or something.
The lady who got all dressed up and hung around in furniture stores story? When I was in my early 20's and unemployment happened I couldn't afford to heat my apartment beyond 60F, enough to keep pipes from freezing. Jobs were impossible to find and after a while I'd walk around stores because I was cold and wanted to feel warm for a while. Could she be hunting for air conditioning in Florida?

woolywoman said...

There was a cross guy in Denver, but I only ever saw him during Easter week. His had a little wheel, too, and I thought it was cheating.

About Me

Blog Archive