Maida is our local crazy. Every community has one. The guy with the the most loyal dog ever, the Austrian woman muttering on her Schwinn bicycle as she runs over things on the sidewalk, the camera-toting teenager, repeating every third word. Oh, those are real characters too. So is Maida.
You find them often in literature: think Kafka, Dostoevsky, Dickens. One of my favorite local crazies is from the film “Cinema Paradiso”: the village idiot who takes over the plaza every night at midnight. He comes out of nowhere and cries, “it’s mine! it’s mine! the plaza is mine!” (or something like that). And the villagers accept this cry and go on home.
There’s also a great song by Richard Shindell called “Balloon Man” in which he tells of Balloon Man’s antics and explains to his friend, “and you’re so far away / on the other side of the world / I thought you might like to know / that Balloon Man lives in it too.” This wistfulness, the details of the here and now with the colors of your neighborhood, ring so true. We don’t necessarily interact with our local crazies, but they are a part of our landscape. (John Gorka has a good tribute to one too, but I can’t find it. Let me know if you do.)
Maida is our own local crazy. I interacted with her on a daily basis for several years. Like clockwork, she would be here just as I sat down for lunch, standing gloomily, holding court, asking absurd questions. Clinically, she probably falls under the category of paranoid schizophrenic, but she has no use for the label. Over time, there was change. For instance, she originally talked about her urgent need to get to Saskatchewan, but after I told her of my dream of going to Nova Scotia, she started talking about Nova Scotia. When I first got to know her, she talked incessantly about Josh Duhamel, then it was about her Wachovia/government check, later about meeting Vincent. It was all gibberish to me. (I had to look up Josh Duhamel, who turns out to be a real actor. Who knows, maybe Maida did work with him back in her healthy New York days. But, Josh, if you ever read this, you weren’t very nice to her.)
Maida once worked in publishing, you see, and she was an artist, too. She came from a good Cleveland family, not that I know anything about all that. But I do know she was not homeless: her family put her up in a nice apartment near Shaker Square. She spoke of a bad stint in Florida, where I gather she had been sent to some kind of psychiatric ward that she hated. Her family brought her back home to Cleveland, hoping she could just live out her days in her own crazy way, on her own terms. I saw her once on Thanksgiving Day, making her usual rounds. She said she spent the afternoon with her family and I asked if she had a good dinner. She replied, “oh no, I don’t eat with them.” I think she lived on corn flakes. And I honestly don’t know which is kinder treatment: the medical attention she obviously needed, or the independence she desperately craved. She could behave like a wild animal if threatened; I’ve seen it, and it’s hard not to think crazy and independent is a kinder choice.
Maida could respond lucidly to direct questions. She read the Wall Street Journal and could comment on current events. She wrote letters to the editor and Terry Teachout. We developed a good rapport over the years, and I tried to carry on a real, if absurd, conversation with her to keep her from slipping into the monotonous drone of nonsense. She wore that black wool coat year-round, even in 100-degree weather, and she carried that (seemingly heavy) bag/purse. And she walked down the middle of the street, “to keep from getting killed,” she told me. It’s no wonder the cops were all familiar with her, they told her repeatedly to keep out of the street, but it was no use. Her Loganberry visits changed from 2pm to 4pm to almost 6pm, and then I stopped seeing her altogether. I wondered if it was her internal clock gone awry, or if she’d been hit by a car. I knew times were rough for her, even if she didn’t know: her brother died in November (I think he was hit by a car), and her step-father is reportedly old and ill. So I started asking.
Over the years, I had met a number of people familiar with her. There were customers, neighbors, mail carriers, old friends, legal guardians. They mostly treated me as her friend, because that’s what Maida called me. I finally heard back that the legal guardian, the guy who inherited the job after Maida’s brother was killed, had her institutionalized in a nursing home/psych ward. I’m glad she didn’t get run over, but I fear I have failed in my job as friend. Being stripped for a bath, force-fed and drugged is definitely not something Maida will understand or tolerate.
And that is my story of Maida. I’m sorry it doesn’t have a happy ending. And while I’m relieved not to be growled at on a daily basis, I miss her all the same.