Smokey Joe

When I was in my teens there was this guy whom everyone called “Smokey Joe” He would shuffle along the sidewalks chain smoking cigarettes he would bum, he had grey hair despite being only in his late 30’s. He had this pleasant and innocent sounding gravely voice and spoke very slowly when spoken to. Some of the other kids hanging around downtown used to heckle him as he walked by, but not I for I was his friend.

What made Smokey Joe, or Russ, as this was his real name, interesting was that he’d be walking along and suddenly go into some sort of fugue state where he would begin acting out his rituals. These rituals I eventually figured out were each a pantomimed Olympic sport, shot put, javelin throwing, weight lifting, archery etc…even ones I couldn’t for the life of me figure out.

I say he went into some sort of state as he was not aware of doing these things. If you tapped him on the shoulder while he was doing this and said “Hey Russ you okay?” it was as if he was coming out of a deep daze. He’d look around and very slowly eventually say “Yeah, yeah I’m okay” and then continue on his way.

I was always very curious about this guy and would sit and speak to him at times, I learned that his name was Russ, he was in his late 30’s, liked classic rock and lived in a small apartment owned by the community mental health center. He told me once that he would like to find a job but everytime he looked in the paper for one the words would just “swirl around”.

I assumed at the time that he had schizophrenia, but it was obviously a very rare form of schizophrenia, as all he presented with was flat affect and going into these bizarre Olympic mental states…

Russ has since long past away…rest in peace Russ. But I still wonder what it was that made this guy go all Olympic all of a sudden…why Olympic sports???


There could be many reasons. We’ll never know. When I was a kid we had our own Joe in the neighborhood. He was an old guy who scrounged around in trash cans and dumpsters and always wore the same drab brown suit.His name was literally Joe. But he was kind of scary and me and my friends have him a wide berth. In fact I never saw him with another person ever. After seeing him around for 7 years I was extremely surprised to find out that he lived in his own house not far from me. I assumed he he was homeless. One day he got hit by a car. I just happen to be looking out my window. I didn’t see the contact but I saw it a split-second after the car hit him and I saw him flying 15 feet through the air. Uphill. I came outside to help when I heard the sirens from the ambulance. The impact had knocked Joe right out of his shoes which is a common phenomena. He survived.


In my town growing up there was what everyone called “glove man”…story I heard was that he used to be a doctor but fell ill to schizophrenia and lost his career…he would come into the ice cream store where I worked in college and talk on the pay phone without putting any money into it…just talk and talk…he probably thought he was talking to “them” or some delusional thought like that…he would swirl his fingers (in gloves) in circles and then start doing it on the other hand a lot…totally delusional and completely harmless as far as anyone ever saw…


My neighborhood had “the cat lady” though her real name was Molly. She had four cats in a shopping cart and lived outside. She walked around all the time and would beg food in front of the market. Come to find out, she was extremely claustrophobic and slept in a tent in her sister’s back yard.

She was also an artist. Two of her copper sculptures are still in Ballard Park. She did pass away. Her sister said she went quietly with family by her side. I’m really glad I got to know her.


In my little town we had “Ronny Ray”. The only time I saw Ronny Ray was during the summer because he was always at the community swimming pool where I was just about every day. He came with his brother. Ronny Ray never swam, but would “play” the metal trash can lids like they were drums to every song that was blaring over the loud speakers. To this day, when I hear the song Wooly Bully on the oldies channel, I think of Ronny Ray playing those drums:)

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I don’t think that I have ever met another sz. I was told by the therapist at my college (when I still went to him. I am going to a different one now.) that there is another sz girl at my school but she is really sensitive and afraid other people will find out.