"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Weird Man on Campus

And Terry was weird. I mean, world-class weird. He gave everyone the creeps.

He was one of the few black guys at our college, but he never spoke to the other ones or anyone else besides me as far as I could tell, and our conversations ran about a word a minute.

He kept a Jimi Hendrix 'fro, and dressed with a Jimi-type style, style being something that eluded the rest of us completely. In fact, he had a white Fender Stratocaster just like Jimi. Maybe his roommate fled the first week, but anyway, Terry was the only one in the dorm who lived alone. You could hear his tuneless playing through a little Pignose amp echo down the halls sometimes.

I played a bit too, so I struck up our halting imitation of conversation, and he even let me in to jam with him. "Jam" used loosely---he didn't know any songs or even how to make chords, but he did have one piece where he put one finger on one string and moved it around to just the right three places. Over and over, round and round, some sort of mantra, and it sounded sort of good. I filled in with my acoustic as well as I could, but half an hour of few words and even less music was usually my limit.

Terry had a vintage Camaro in semi-decent shape---black, with a few red-black-green Africa decals on it. It always seemed to be parked in the space closest to the dorm doors, backed in and facing out, wheels turned and pointing to the exit. His room had a perfect view of the space, and we figured Terry sat at his window watching and pouncing on it when it opened up.

Terry took his meals in the cafeteria alone, always looking straight ahead. Two dinner rolls, the butter not spread inside, but parked on top. I found out later that's penitentiary-style, a show of existential resistance.

The one time we ever went out together, a Saturday night, we drove through one of the small and very Old South towns outside of Miami. Terry got stopped for speeding and they put him in jail. I knew nothing of the new Old South back then, in fact, I didn't even know we were in it. I thought Florida was like New York City, only with more Jews and better weather. I was wrong. Standard Negro Procedure, I thought at my epiphany when they summarily hauled him away. Today they call it DWB.

They let me drive Terry's car back to campus, saving him the impound charge, which was mighty white of them, I guess, but they didn't let him out until Monday morning. I picked Terry up, but we, or at least he, said nothing.

I'm not sure we ever spoke again. A week or a month later, the black Camaro was gone, for good.

The events of this past week reminded me of Terry. I never heard of him again, certainly not in the national news. He seemed a gentle soul, but with a Bartleby-like muteness and a thousand-yard stare that he used to separate himself from everyone and everything in the world around him. I don't know if he ever hurt anyone, or he ended up hurting himself. I hope not, but maybe just now I'll pray he didn't. There's so much I still don't understand.

2 comments:

Hunter Baker said...

Dude, where did you go to school?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Biscayne College, now St. Thomas University.