31 May 2009


Some of Jake's neighbors go months or even years without seeing him. Or maybe it's more accurate to say: Jake can go months without being seen. He is a semi-recluse, and his ability to minimize his contact with other humans is legendary. Jake will tell you, if you ask, that people mistake him for Johnny Cash. He claims he is frequently stopped on the street and asked for autographs. On days when he doesn't resemble Johnny Cash, he might bear a striking resemblance to say, Roy Orbison. His neighbors only see him leave the building twice a week. He leaves early in the morning and returns with four plastic bags full of groceries. Never three, never five, always four plastic bags, two in each hand. Three times per week, Jake lumbers down the hall to the rest room and touches up his hair with cheap hair dye and diluted india ink. When we ask him about all the hair dye splattered on the sink and in the shower, he appears genuinely puzzled. "Hair dye?" he says. "What hair dye?" Jake's face is as cratered and gnarly as a tumor on an oak tree. His face shows every day of his 60 years, and then some. The jet black hair, swept back across his huge head, seems almost like a bad joke, or a slapdash makeup job for a Saturday Night Live sketch. This guy can't be for real. After the brief chat about hair dye, we didn't see Jake for a couple of months. Our building is an SRO, or single room occupancy. Each floor has a shared bathroom, and there is a shared kitchen and laundry on the first floor. Some of our neighbors have lived in this building for three or four years, and they swear they have never seen Jake doing laundry. Nor does anyone recall seeing Jake in the kitchen. Ever. But if the residents don't see him, they certainly hear him. He can be heard whistling and humming. His flip flops can be heard several times a day in the hall. Jake uses the bathroom as a laundry, and the sink can be heard running. And running, and running. Naturally, since a hand sink only has room for one or two items of dirty clothing, Jake must sojourn to the bathroom every day to launder whatever change of clothes he will need next day. You may wonder: How the hell does he dry his clothes? He lives in a single room, after all. Does he hang his sopping wet clothes out the window? Has he rigged a clothesline across the airshaft? The answer is: Jake apparently hangs his clothes to dry in his room. Once or twice per year, his room has to be sprayed for bedbugs, what with all that damp clothing creating a prime breeding environment. On those rare occasions when we see Jake and think to ask about the pink wheals festooning his neck and arms, his answer is: "Bug bites? What bug bites?" As for using the bathroom for what the rest of us use it for --- that's too risky. Jake is constantly heard spraying and spritzing and muttering to himself about smelly, disgusting people. Jake prefers not to come in contact with the toilet that other people have used, so he simply maintains a bucket for that purpose in his room. Several times per week, usually in the wee hours of the morning, he flip flops down the hall with his old plastic pickle bucket. While the odor is detectable, it is not overwhelming. How he manages the odor problem remains a mystery, a sort of cloaca obscura. We prefer to let the mystery be. When curious tenants stick their heads out their doors, just to get a look at the recluse, Jake's responses cover a wide spectrum. Jake can choose to not see you when he passes you in the hall, as if in an ambulatory catatonia. He his not ignoring you. You are simply not there, brushing past him in the narrow corridor, with your pathetic, stammering attempt at smalltalk. Others have reported that he does speak to them as he passes, but what he says is nearly unprintable. Neighbor: "Morning, sir." Jake: "Scum sucking slime eating skunkwad asswipe mother-----r...." Is Jake a semi-recluse because he wishes to avoid human contact as much as possible? Does he have say, Tourette's Syndrome, but remains in deep denial about it? Or is Jake's need to remain in his room God's way of giving the rest of humanity a break? Also consider the Amish belief that damaged people are sent to teach us tolerance and patience. Maybe the Amish have an extra room ....

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