Sunday, August 23, 2009

Meet One of My Crazy Neighbors

If you're walking toward downtown and you pass in front of the Rivoli, you'll will also pass the El Rey. You know you're there because of all the people outside smoking and acting weird. Everyone who lives there is crazy. Of course, the staff looks after them, cares for them and dopes them up on anti-psychotics. I figure their occupancy is 50 or 60 - that's how many more people would be out on the street if the El Rey wasn't around, because God knows that everybody there is way too crazy to work. Even though they haven't been the greatest neighbors in the world, I still recognize the place does important work.

Walking by the El Rey freaks some people out. Lots of its residents talk to themselves. Others yell at invisible tormentors. Others still panhandle all day long. One woman, who sounds exactly like the crazy cat lady on The Simpsons, panhandled all day, every day, for years so she could buy Ding-Dongs and lottery tickets. Just as I go through my ups and downs with everything in this neighborhood, sometimes I get tired of all the craziness coming from next door. These people are never going to get well. Nobody's going to wave a wand and make any of them sane again. Still, it doesn't mean that at least some El Rey residents can't have meaningful lives.

If there's one thing I've learned in 20 years of living next to the El Rey, it's this: mental illness is not ennobling. Do you hear me talking, The Soloist? Craziness does not make you a better person. Life is hard enough if you're not crazy. It's even harder when you are. But most of my neighbors are fairly unaware that they're nuts. There isn't some noble struggle going on. Whatever awareness to their condition seems to be eradicated by the anti-psychotics. Most always appear to be in a fog. But no amount of medication, can curb pathological behavior. Like I said, the El Rey has its share of pathological panhandlers. There are also mumblers, jabberers, one guy who never says anything - ever, and another guy who always pretends like he's jogging. Those are their pathological traits, however small. Contrasted with high-achieving schizophrenics like Van Gogh, John Nash and Brian Wilson, El Rey residents may seem pretty low-functioning. And some are, but it's just that painting, math and music were Van Gogh, Nash and Wilson's pathologies. That's why they did so well with them - at least for a while. But I digress.

I was just sitting around yesterday, when an El Rey guy spotted my camera and told me to take a picture of him. Meet Peter:

He enjoys smoking, talking to himself and saying weird things to strangers. He's actually a pretty nice guy and he wanted me to tell everyone that he's not a communist. It's just a communist hat. He and the hat have little to do with each other.

Next time you're going by the El Rey, say hi to Peter.

1 comment:

Jesse C. Fowl said...

great post. that picture definitely captures the confused external perspective of insanity.