Four or five times a week I cross paths with the same guy. This has been going on for almost three years now.
I haven't the slightest idea who he is, only that he must live nearby. The first few times I noticed him only because he bears a remarkable resemblance to a TV producer (who, incidentally, doesn't like me one bit) from Knoxville. That's probably the reason that his face stuck with me. I wondered if said TV producer had gone completely off his nut and followed me to New York.
On closer examination, they are two different people, this guy and the TV producer. But they could be brothers.
The guy is always on foot and is always wearing some seasonally appropriate Miami Dolphins clothing. In the winter, it's a Dolphins' parka. In the summer, it's a Dolphins' jersey. You get the idea.
He walks like someone who has just ingested a fistful of hallucinogens and must step with great concentration lest he wander off into some technicolor nightmare. His focus is intense, like he is studiously ignoring a talking dog because he knows it is crazy to see a talking dog yet it is still there in the corner of his eye.
His age is hard to guess, given that he has the unlined face of the moderately insane. When you undeniably lose your shit you seem to stop aging. My only theory on that is that your level of daily life stress plummets when you give in to madness -- plus most of the pharmaceuticals the truly bananas take have a knack for cutting way back on the angst that ages you.
I don't think he's dangerous. He just seems to spend most of his day walking around the center city, usually carrying a shopping bag or two. He must have a place to live because he is reasonably kempt. But I've yet to see him enter or leave a residence around here. Still, he must. Oneonta is not the sort of place where one can live outside for long. Not in February, at least.
I saw him the other day when I was driving back from the grocery store. He was chatting with a guy I'd not seen before. They were laughing, which was a shock, given how affectless this guy usually is. It made me wonder if he'd hit a nice downhill section in his mental health marathon. The jury remains out on his long term prognosis.
But I did almost stop yesterday simply to talk to him. Why is he here? What does the world look like to him? Why does he walk? Is that how he keeps the demons at bay? What's with the Dolphins? I'd like to say that I want to help him. While I certainly wouldn't mind helping if there were something I thought I could do, really my interest is more base. I find him intriguing. I want to know his story.
This used to happen to me a lot when I was still working for a paper. A byline gives you a free pass to pry. It also makes you bold enough to ask questions that non-press people would have to courtesy to avoid. Now, I'm just nosy and have no way to legitimize it.
Regardless, I still want to know, you know?