London, July 10, 2014. On my first day back in London in over 30 years, I was thrust into a riveting 2-hour conversation with a well-read nutter who goes by the pen name, ‘Grampa Fred’. It was one of those truly remarkable moments when you’ve been given a gift that you damned well better pay attention to.
I had just been through the most life-altering experience of my life, so I was in a heightened sense of receptiveness. After days of sitting, standing, lying down and worrying in a world devoid of the elements of time, space, identity and nature, I was back ‘On the Road’. Still numb from the experience, I grabbed a cuppa joe and sat down at a table in London’s Covent Garden Market. I was surrounded by old geezers perched on their daily roosts, working stiffs grabbing lunch, and helicopter Moms. Trying the shake off the cobwebs, I pulled out my laptop and started sorting my ‘A Rural Death’ photos for this site, when ‘Popeye’ planted his worldly possessions at the table next to me and asked to see my pics. I let down my usual guard and invited him to take a look.
It was no more than a blink, but at that moment, this stranger and I had a meeting of life experiences.
To the average man without a fault in the world, this guy was a nutter to beware of, or worse, ignored. His wild eyes and smudged spectacles were enough to make the helicopter Moms start packing up the kids; then he started talking, and they fled for their lives lest their little chickadees be warped forever. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the lunch timers wolfing down their grub and heading out – repelled by this unique man.
So, now Popeye’s mouth is gnashing mercilessly at some unidentifiable baked good, spewing forth crumbs like an wood chipper. I watched in cool horror as the accuracy and distance of the crumbs being catapulted in the direction of my open coffee cup inched ever closer to their target. Just as I slipped the lid over it, my thumb got nailed by a a few crumbs. Undaunted, the siege continued as the little medieval knights in his mouth launched their next offensive on my open laptop. If I hadn’t closed the cover, those crumbs may have taken the ‘W’ key permanently out of commission.
Once my belongings were safe from the onslaught, I was able to absorb the verbal assault. Between some bites, he spoke with the reason and wisdom of a philosopher-poet and a professor; between other bites, he revealed a certain madness his eyes could not hide.
He rambled and ranted like this for an hour without stopping. Suddenly the mouth paused, I got in my 2 cents for 3 minutes, then he was off the races again. I could barely take my eyes off that mouth. Partially because his speech patterns were difficult to follow, but mainly because I was riveted to his conversation, his mannerisms, and the paradox of this Rain-man. When yet another hour passed, and the pause — he seemed out of steam and words instead of just recharging. I thanked him profusely for talking with me, it had been a truly remarkable experience.
Whether or not he ever had his meeting with Queen Elizabeth to discuss his invention that would provide inexpensive, portable housing for the poor, I don’t know. I do know I had a meeting with him and his shadow — madness and genius walk hand-in-hand in the shadows of a special few.