A man the neighbors probably think is crazy...

A few weeks ago, Ken poked his head in my office to say somebody was here to see me. He had a twinkle in his eye and an impish grin which told me he had something up his sleeve.

In came a little old man in dirty clothes several sizes too large. He had few teeth and grey stubble. His crumpled, limp seed cap was piled on his head like dirty laundry.

I asked him to sit down. He sat on the edge of his chair and grasped his knees. In halting yet rambling sentences, he asked me about a plant I knew nothing about, and which we don't carry. I looked it up on the internet and found some information. His appearance and difficulty speaking probably caused me to speak to him more loudly than I should have, like those who shout at people in wheelchairs, unconsciously assuming that one disability must lead to another.

He absorbed what I said about the plant, and spit it back to me in semi-gibberish. "You're saying...its...not hardy....an herb...some sort of medicinal...something Indians used..not good here, though? Not here. But its an herb. Medicinal. I see. Not hardy. Okay."

Gradually we drifted away into alternative medicine. "Doctors...chemicals...chemo..will kill you. Bad stuff...but nobody argues..." and he shrugged. I knew what he meant.

He went on for twenty minutes. I had no problem figuring out that he was opposed to the federal debt, to credit card debt, to people who get things without working for them. We were poor way back, he said, but we had something that kids don't have today. I nodded, but he didn't let me interrupt. He could sense my sympathy with his views, and it warmed him up.

Finally, I got up out of my chair. He said, "I see that you might agree with me!" I said, here's a book I wrote, read it and see. I signed it for him, and he walked out the door mumbling thanks and lots of other things under his breath.

Two days ago, I got a letter from him thanking me for the book. It was handwritten, on a small piece of paper, in a handwriting that was as garbled--and beautiful--as his idiosynchratic way of expressing himself in speech. The writing was wall-to-wall on the page, top-to-bottom, then up the side, and over the top margin again. The text looked like hundreds of interlocking circles overlaid, one slightly to the right of the next. But it made sense. It was a heartfelt thank you which soon drifted into the problem of debt, and the crazy way people spend money these days, and for what, and then the government spends more than it has, too, and where is this all going? He thanked me for inscribing his book because it made it special to him.

I get letters from cranks every now and then who read my column and for some reason think I would be willing to write about Zionist conspiracies and such. But this was different.

I suspect this man is known to his neighbors, at the very least, as an eccentric. But after he was in my office for a few minutes, my urge to run went away to be replaced by a feeling that I was in the presence of an original and fragile person, perhaps a crazy man to some people, but somebody more interesting than four dozen suburbanites any day of the week.