Maybe the etching on my tombstone should say something about being “serendipitous.”
Everywhere I go I stumble onto people and situations which magically enrich my life. They just happen, and I am the lucky beneficiary.
The Archway Apartments, for example… I had a small upstairs corner place there for most of the 90s. It was a modest building, six units: three upstairs, three down. And for a scant few years a handful of incredibly unique tenants got thrown into a melting pot where we laughed and played and forged a singular identity as the ‘Outlaws of Olde Naples.’
We were right smack in the heart of the ritzy part of town, one block from 5th Avenue and within walking distance from both the beach and the Third Street South Historic District. Fortunately for us, the owner of the property was an absentee landlord from Ohio and he had not yet bothered to upscale the apartment building to fit in with the surrounding neighborhood. Which means the rent was dirt-cheap and tended to attract counter-cultural misfits like myself.
Amongst the slew of us were the likes of, for example:
• ex city attorney from a small town in Indiana
• renounced law to become a massage therapist at an upscale spa
• lit candles, burned incense, sipped Chardonnay & stared at the Milky Way every night
• 23 yr old virgin from California who exuded tons of sweetness & smarts but had absolutely no clue as to what she wanted to do in life
• briefly thought about taking one of my classes and pursuing a college degree but wisely moved to Amsterdam and became a full-time slacker instead
• veteran of Burning Man who according to her FB page seems to have gravitated toward the artsy crowd and now hangs out in San Francisco
• the black sheep of the Morton Salt family, Donald “Duck” Morton was given a sizeable monthly stipend to stay out of sight
• every cabbie’s best friend because he would have them chauffeur him from bar to bar and tell them to keep the meter running and wait outside while he drank scotch ’till the cows came home
• got very talkative when drunk and would pound on my door late at night shouting “Johnny! Johnny!”, wherein I would quickly turn off my lights and pretend to be asleep
And then there was Scott. I don’t know that Scott can adequately be captured in words. So let me just humbly offer this little character sketch I cobbled together a dozen years ago.
“THE VILLAGE ODDBALL”
My upstairs neighbor wears sandals and dresses all in black, like a Vietnamese peasant.
Actually, he’s a third-generation farm boy, Scott is, from Michigan.
Scott’s on a hunger strike these past few days. He tried to get me to sip his “base-sustenance” concoction of molasses and water sprinkled with cayenne pepper. It’ll empty your sinuses, he said.
Yeah… Just sniffing it cleared me right up, like doing lines. But why are you fasting, I asked? They thought they could quiet me with a four-cent raise, he said. No way! So I stood up at the Christmas party and vowed to abstain from food on behalf of exploited hotel and service workers everywhere.
“Until they treat us plebians with dignity!” he added.
Scott’s a seasoned veteran of hunger strikes. He traveled with Dick Gregory back in the 70s, fasting for various causes. This time around he even called the local newspaper to garner publicity, but a reporter has yet to show up. Maybe they’ll finally take notice when I die, he said.
Scott is in his mid-40s. He just got married for the first time a couple of months ago. His wife is twenty-some years younger than he is, and no one has seen her yet. She doesn’t live with Scott. They have agreed never to sleep with each other, Scott tells me. She speaks mostly Spanish, you see – but she certainly deserves to become a U.S. citizen!
Okay, so it’s maybe against the law, Scott admits. But not really. He will always forever and ever financially and emotionally support her – and, besides, a bubbly young thing like ______ should have a chance to pursue the American dream, eh?
Day or night, Scott’s laughter can be heard for blocks. He seems to like who he is. The other day I wandered into his apartment and he told me to look in the freezer. Carefully rolled up in a small towel was a dead hawk he had found on the side of the road. It was a majestic, beautiful bird, eyes still wide open, perched eerily next to the vegetables, frozen solid.
Last week Mr. unemployed Scott, still fasting, forked out over 1500 dollars to go up to Tampa for three days and cut up human cadavers. Why? I don’t know exactly. Just curious and full of urges, I guess.
Scott drives weekly up to the god-forsaken hinterlands of rural Immokalee to march with the tomato-workers. He flew to Denver recently to plumb his human potential in an EST workshop. He sat around a campfire, he said, getting in touch with his inner self. And just the other day he took his adopted hound-dog, Homer, canoeing in the Ocala National Forest, camping out & running amuck for several nights.
Not long ago Scott bought a little wooden crucifix from a yard sale across the street. Like its predecessor, the famous 14th century Cologne Crucifixion, this Christ is expressively rendered in minute detail – with emaciated torso, wiry hair, elongated limbs. But, unlike the original, this wooden rendition, which is about 12 inches in height, is missing a left arm. Scott stuck it up on the wall alongside our row of apartment mailboxes with a card that reads: “Wishing you a speedy recovery.”
Why do I mention Scott? Do I think he is the village oddball? Not for a moment. Maybe if I tell you what happened just yesterday, you will understand . . .
We were both leaning out over our second floor balcony, talking, laughing, when we noticed a pelican standing on the sidewalk in front of us. He didn’t seem to be hurt. But neither did he make any kind of normal attempt to go about his business. I figured the bird was sick, maybe with parasites, and kind of hoped that he wouldn’t wander out into the street and get run over.
But that was mostly the extent of my concern. I went back into my little alcove to rehearse the Book of Job and the Problem of Suffering, two topics I had to teach that night, and thought nothing more of Mr. Bird.
A few minutes later I heard Scott calling my name. I leaned out over the balcony again, this time to find that he had donned heavy gloves, had found a large towel, and had somehow gotten Mr. Pelican pinned between his legs and the front wheel of his Toyota truck. “Bring me some scissors,” he said. “He’s all tangled up in fishing line.”
I would like to think that on behalf of pelicans everywhere I acted heroically that day.
I didn’t. Okay, I helped hold him. And maybe I offered a bit of advice and some moral support, given that I still remember a thing or two from back when I was a Vet Assistant. But it was Scott on his own initiative who coaxed him in, who clipped the wicked barb off the tip of the fishhook, who disentangled him and gently nudged a grateful pelican back out into the world.
We need more people like Scott, fewer intellectuals like me.