By Richard Dixon
Posted March 19, 2021
He was the best-known of all the mental patients who live in this university town full of college students, but also full of mental patients who have recently been released from the state mental hospital or the community mental health center; released to live in the community, classified (at best) as outpatients, most of them living in close proximity to the university campus, since that’s where the cheaper rents are. But not the Glove Man. No one really knew where he lived.
The Glove Man was a walker, having no driver’s license and no choice, and he walked all over the town, always in perpetual motion, as if afraid to stop, and constantly talking, like he was carrying on some kind of extended conversation with the universe, or himself: same difference. Sometimes ranting and raving; one arm, then the other thrusting up toward the sky; sometimes mumbling, muttering under his breath, quietly seething.
To say the least, I was entranced. I would roll down my car window when I was stopped at the light and he was standing at the intersection’s corner, unsure if it was safe to cross, stoplights and crosswalks not being a part of his lexicon of living, so: he would be standing there, getting louder with what he was saying, and it was always a variation on, “I tried to tell those sonsabitches, but they wouldn’t listen.”
Once, I saw him on Main Street, on the other side in a restaurant’s parking lot, picking up handfuls of dirt and depositing them into three small paper sacks, not all at once, but one at a time. The sacks were spaced a few feet apart, but in no recognizable configuration. At one point, he turned and looked in my direction, and would have caught me watching him if I hadn’t ducked down behind my car, just in the nick of time. Later, as I was driving down Main Street, I saw him walking ahead on the sidewalk, and I pulled over all the way to the left-hand lane of this one-way street, and rolled down my window. As I passed by him, I leaned my head out of the car and asked, “Hey, how you doing, dude?” For several seconds, there registered no discernible reaction on his lean, hard, high-cheek-boned face. Then he glanced at me, and then back, all in the space of maybe a second, and said, “Don’t bother me; don’t bother me,” the accent of the word bother coming down when his right foot hit the pavement, like a drill sergeant out practicing the troops.
Another time, I saw him again at one of the usual intersections. This time I wasn’t driving; my car was parked in the adjacent parking lot of the grocery store. I walked up behind him, then slightly around him to make sure I approached from the side. He didn’t look at me or in any way acknowledge my presence. As innocently as I could sound, I asked, “Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to the university?” Almost without pause, but again without making eye contact, he answered, “Go down Flood to Boyd; turn left and keep going.” I walked away smiling at the utter simplicity of his direction; most people would have given a far more complicated answer, to no better effect. And: he had answered me!
The story I heard about the Glove Man, or “Gloves,” as I called him, was that he had gone into his burning house to try and get his family out, or maybe just one person; the details sketchy, as well as the outcome: did he ever get them out? In the attempt, at any rate, he had severely burned his hands, and had henceforth worn gloves, usually heavy-looking work gloves ever since, the hundred-degree days of summer making no difference, and also making no difference to his regimen, his 15-20 miles a day constitutional. Occasionally bringing his name up to friends, maybe twice a year in casual conversation, the last time I did I was informed that Gloves had passed away, his obituary having been read by my informer the week before. Gloves was probably close to sixty years old, maybe a little older, although he had an athletic twenty-five year old body, and I wondered about the cause of his death. Heart failure from over-exertion? Hit by a moving car, trying his best to get through one of those damned intersections? Or possibly by the long-burning memories of a long-ago fire, memories that eventually extinguished? Or, fatigue and frustration, finally, with all those sonsabitches who wouldn’t listen.