Thursday, April 3, 2008
Mad Props Vol. 12
Here was a man who fooled everybody that thought he was looney. Everyone from soccer moms, corporate dads, ambulance drivers, police officers, smug cyclists, and the village of Downers Grove, Illinois were victims of a personality that exemplified humility and cradled enlightened individuality. Bruce was both an enigma and simple. Bruce was a paradox.
He could be seen on the hottest days and the coldest nights riding his Novara touring bike pulling a Burley trailer splendidly outfitted with colorful plastic butterflies on springs. He was always in his standard outfit of black t-shirt, shorts, and sandals. He occasionally wore hats too. My favorites were the one with fake boobs on the front, and another that looked as if a duck had impaled his forehead with wings jutting out of both sides.
Other than the hats and usual ensemble, Bruce wore no other articles of clothing. No gloves. No jacket. No pants. And, absolutely no socks. Ever. He had a disease that had swollen his ankles and couldn't comfortably wear shoes or socks. In the early days, we had nicknamed him "Ankle Man", which was perhaps something of a mockery at the time, but came to be a term of endearment.
Bruce often hung out at the Starbucks on Burlington and Main in Downers Grove. This was back when it was a cool place to hang out with good people and well made drinks. He would talk aloud while reading the newspaper sometimes, sighing "Ohh boy...", or "Did you hear about this...?" Some folks would venture into conversation, others would pretend they didn't hear, most would ignore him. It seemed Bruce's appearance and uncommon cordiality would cause those who were uptight or prudish to become uneasy. The kids knew better, though. They hadn't yet succumbed to the veneer of frigid banality and fear of anything improvised.
My most memorable moment with Bruce was in that very Starbucks. I had raced down in Dixon, Illinois and crashed badly, but was well enough to drive home. I hadn't eaten and it was quite hot for a two hour drive home in a car with no air conditioning considering the condition I was in. I stopped off at the Starbucks so I could get a drink as well as clean out my wounds a little better.
As I grabbed for my drink at the counter, I suddenly became dizzy and fell into a heap on the floor. I had fainted. As I came to, it was the beak of a duck that had impaled Bruce's skull that I awoke to. He told me to relax and lay still until the ambulance got there and announced to the small gathering of onlookers "I saved his life."
I remember one of the medics taking me away in the ambulance commenting that Bruce was "crazy". Unfortunately, the village of Downers Grove believed that too. They evicted him from his home where he cared for his schizophrenic sister in-law. The reason they gave was because the grass was perpetually "too long", thus condemning his home. Bruce's claim that it was a "prairie" didn't wash with them. They wanted him out. And with that, out went the both of them.
I'm not sure where his sister in-law went, but Bruce mentioned he might go to northern Wisconsin. Presumably to be where some people were not, and he could sing the University of Wisconsin fight song aloud until his heart was content.
Mad Props, 'ol' Bruce. We hardly knew ya. And, Downers Grove is a lesser city for it.