Good Old What's His Name
I used to think I was a pretty good judge of character. I used to think I could instinctively tell whether or not I could trust a person, or at least detect if they posed a threat (real or imagined?) to me. I used to think I would just "know", somehow, on some level, the parameters of a relationship: at least, the ballpark.
I can see his pock-marked face, his perpetual grin, his bad teeth. His reddish-brown hear was conservatively short for the time (late '70s). Not really a bad looking guy, but no real catch either. But, I can't remember his first name. Gilmore was his last. I could call Oiva Anderson, owner of the woodturning mill in New Hampshire where I worked. He might remember, but I want to remember it on my own.
I was living on the northern end of Lake Memphremagog in Rindge, New Hampshire. Memphremagog is a long skinny lake, maybe a half mile across, and extends all the way to Winchendon, Massachusetts, better than 15 miles away. The cottage I was in was originally built for summer use as were most of the houses necklaced around the lake. Across the road from my place was a really small derelict shack; two rooms, windows and doors gone. It was home to wasps, spiders and at least one opossum.
In early spring, I noticed a rusted-out Ford Galaxy 500 parked next to the building and a man and woman inside shoveling broken glass and debris out the windows. They kept at it for a week, then some oversized storm windows got nailed up over the window openings and a door was hung. Weeds and saplings were cut down, a bug light was hung up, and there were lights on inside at night.
The next week, whatever his name was - I'll just call him Gilmore - came down my drive, smiling, and introduced himself as my new neighbor. He said he was moving in across the street. He had a southern accent and ingratiatingly addressed me as, "Sir". I had to struggle a little with the concept of someone actually "moving in" to that, that structure. It might have been 20 feet long and 12 feet wide. I had taken it for an abandoned roadside vegetable stand. It might have been a decent ice-fishing house if shoved out onto the lake (only if left there in the spring to sink). But he and his "wife" were going to live there - apparently. He invited me to come over to see how they'd fixed the place up, so it being the neighborly thing to do, I did.
The motif of the interior was Early Desolation. The furniture was "found" style. The storm windows looked better from the outside, but they did break the wind considerably. There was no running water. He had shingled around the entry. I pointed out that he had installed them upside down and instead of shedding water they would probably gather water and funnel it against the interior wall. He responded that he knew that, but decided they looked better that way and that's the way he wanted them. That's the only time I've ever seen shingles mounted upside down. It's one of those things I assumed people just knew. I refrained from giving anymore advice. His "wife" seemed pleasant and was decidedly the more intelligent of the two, unless I take into account that she was living with Gilmore.
I had them over a couple of times for dinner while they were getting settled. She was sociable, but Gilmore was always off a beat. He didn't know how to carry a conversation other than trying to anticipate what he thought I wanted him to say. He always agreed. I would express an opinion on religion or politics, he would try to show me that is precisely how he'd always felt. I would then say something diametrically opposed and without hesitation, he'd agree. And he didn't seem to notice. He didn't have any political opinion other than feeling the victim of an unsympathetic government and expressed a distrust of any authority figures. I sympathized with his position. I had 50 ferrets I was raising illegally, a picture had appeared in the local newspaper of my Ford Bronco smashed flat upside down in the middle of the highway (the caption was "Driver Disappears From Accident Scene"), I had been stopped for the loud exhaust pipe noise on my motorcycle, and had collected the usual tickets for misuse of plates, out of date inspection sticker, driving to endanger, failing to yield for an officer, that sort of stuff. Had any of the police bothered to run the New York plate I had on the Datsun 280Z, they would have struck pay dirt. Besides the plates being three years out of date, I had no insurance, no title, in fact, the car was listed as stolen in New York. I only mention these things to indicate the attitude of Gilmore's and mine on the authority issue was not all that dissimilar - I thought. The police could have come to my house at any time and arrested me for something. Illegal cars, guns, dope, not to mention the IRS's interest in my whereabouts. I just want it understood that I was no ingenue, I wasn't gullible, and I certainly could see through Gilmore's groveling, boot-licking, "Sir" bullshit. I perceived immediately that Gilmore was missing an essential part. I was wary. I was also very curious about what was missing. At first, I thought he was just a little mentally challenged. (I still think "dumber than dirt" is more poetic.) I found he was clever. Then I thought he was just lacking in basic social etiquette - like civilization in general.
The local police also shared my interest in Gilmore. Within three weeks, there was a squad car making regular visits to my new neighbors. Gilmore complained to me that they were harassing him. After an unusual night time visit from our boys in blue, I went over and asked him what the hell was going on. He said they accused him of impersonating a police car by mounting blue lights on his car. He said what actually happened was the cops drove by and saw his blue hug light hanging over his car and were trying to make a federal case out of it. There was a large hole here that the bird of reason could fly through. I was fairly confident the police could tell a bug light from a blue emergency light, at least, I hoped so. But if they'd actually seen an emergency light on Gilmore's car, they would have arrested him and they hadn't. All the times they'd been to his home, they'd never charged him with anything. Maybe they were harassing him, but why? I didn't particularly trust Gilmore, with his 49 card deck, but I knew I didn't trust the police, so I felt forced into Gilmore's camp by default. During this time, I hired him to work at the woodturning mill. I thought if he got some money, the police would stop treating him like a squatter.
For a couple months, nothing much happened, as far as Gilmore, I mean. The biggest event at their place was them getting a dog. She must have been pregnant when they got her, because it didn't seem long before she had 11 puppies. They already had three or four cats and if the saying "home is where the heart is", is true, then that little joint across the road must have been real homey. There were 17 or 18 hearts beating there. Gilmore came over one night and hounded me into coming over to see the puppies. Reluctantly, I agreed. We walked in and he cautioned me not to slip on the dog shit. Two steps and I understood why the warning hadn't been, "Watch out not to step in the dog shit." It was dark and the only light was from the furthest room. They'd solved the dog problem by putting a piece of plywood up between the two rooms, keeping the 12 dogs contained in what would have been the kitchen if they'd had water. I felt like I was walking on oil. If I could have gotten up a little momentum, I could have easily slid the length of the room. As I made my way through the slurry, dozens of little feet jumped up on my leg. I don't think they were trying to be friendly so much as wipe their feet off. I climbed over the barricade and wiped my feet on a towel that had been put there for that purpose. The smell was primal and paid not the least attention to the barricade. I stayed a half an hour or 45 minutes, I didn't want to appear rude, and had a few beers. The smell of the smoke, the booze, and the dog shit, established a new olfactory benchmark for me that was to last until I met Herb "Shitty" Sheldon three years later. Something was definitely out of whack at Gilmore's. It wasn't so much their housekeeping habits (I've seen worse. I mean, they did have something there to wipe my feet on.) What I couldn't understand was the mindset that would turn over half the living space, in a place too small to live in, to dogs. They were just plain old dogs. Not dogs that had been around for years and become friends. They were just dogs. And...the room they were left with was shared with the cats. Of course, the cats used a litter box, which turned out to be a good thing. When the box needed emptying, they took to chucking the contents over the plywood barrier. This did three things: it got rid of the kitty litter, it soaked up some of the slurry, and it provided traction. The Gilmore's had their little quirks. I like diversity and they were providing some. I've lived most of my life of the beaten path and have come to accept some pretty eccentric lifestyles. So far, Gilmore hadn't really amazed me, but my perception of him shifted gears and I remember the first time I started a major reassessment of the ballpark I was in with Gilmore.
I was just about to pull into my driveway, when Gilmore motioned me to come over his way, so I turned into his drive instead. He wanted me to introduce me to a friend, an old friend. "We go way back," was how he put it. I hadn't thought of Gilmore as having any friends for some reason. As far as I knew, I was the only one in town that would have anything to do with him, but then he was new and not the type most people wanted in their social circle, unless they were downwardly mobile as I was (mining in the social strata). There were lawn chairs set up in the shade of the shack, upwind of the fermenting gooze in the house. A new cooler full of iced beer indicated to me the gravity of the occasion. For Gilmore, this was pulling out all the stops, like using the good china, a real celebration. Gilmore said his friend would be staying with them awhile. The place was becoming exceedingly homey. I sat down and was immediately enveloped by a sense of...I hate to use the word...evil. An odd word. A word for Grimm's fairy tales and Christians. Not a word I use or really believe in, or maybe I should say, believed in. The air seemed to shrivel from his friend. He was dark. He was a white guy, but dark. I looked up expecting to see a cloud covering the sun, but it was cloudless. I'd never felt anything like this before. I looked around and everything was bright, clear. I looked for smoke, anything to explain what I was experiencing. The word "evil" demanded to be recognized. I resisted. This was nuts. This guy hadn't done or said anything to provoke my reaction. He just seemed to emanate a coldness, to suck light out of the air around him. Looking into his eyes was like looking into the vortex of a tornado from the top side. He was calm and spoke little. I felt him scrutinizing me, his eyes crawled over my skin. Was I prey or predator? I used nonchalance and foul language. I alluded to being in jail and bar fights and expressed a general lack of respect for anything. I was trying to connect with this guy on some level; find some common experience or viewpoint. His response was vague. Without asking questions, he was questioning, "What are you doing with this attitude now? How can I use you, now?" I felt I was being interviewed, but I had no idea for what. Gilmore acted like a dog around this guy, wanting to please him. He did everything except roll on his back and expose his privates, only because he didn't think of it. Why did a creepy, shrewd, guy like this seek out Gilmore's company? It was an obvious master/servant relationship, but I was sure he could do better than Gilmore. Maybe the position was open. Maybe Gilmore had talked me up to this guy. I wondered how many more friends Gilmore had stashed around the country. I felt amateur; naive.
It wasn't long before things began to pop. The office at the mill was broken into and looted, homes in Rindge were burglarized (a town where people didn't think of locking their doors), a local bar had its vending machines looted and the following day, Gilmore opened a bank account with 357 dollars in unmarked quarters. (I still like "dumber than dirt.") I begrudgingly began drifting toward the cops' dugout. The relationship parameters were heading for the outfield.
I had to shift perceptual gears again, trying to keep pace with the difference between my "worst case" scenario of Gilmore and the "answer sheet" of reality. I had already admitted my initial misperception of Gilmore as a down and out hick who was trying to get by with limited celestial endowment. Although the local population was shitting it's collective pants, I felt immune because of the relationship I had with him. He still came over to complain about the harassment he was receiving. Was it his fault that he decided to deposit the contents of his change jar in the bank the day after a robbery? How was he supposed to know there'd been a robbery? He said they were out to get him and anything that went wrong in town was being pinned on him. I listened to him. I wondered if he really believed what he was saying or was just trying to convince me. The difference to me was important. My ego balked at the thought that this nut would think he could con me, but if he believed what he was saying, he was nuts and that presented a new set of parameters. I didn't wonder long. I slowed to turn into my drive one day and looked (as usual) over towards Gilmore's. I stopped, backed up, and pulled into his driveway. I sat there sizing up the situation. It looked as if there had been an explosion in the house. All the windows were smashed completely out, the door was laying out in the yard along with furniture, broken glasses, and just about everything I could remember seeing inside. The top half of the bug light still hung from its chain. I got out and looked in. Not a soul around; no cats, no dogs. Nothing. The inside was totally devastated. The only thing left whole inside were the holes in the walls. Outside, there was nothing that hadn't been every specifically wrecked. The couch was ripped open, wooden and glass items were broken, metal things bent and twisted. Whatever had happened had been very thorough. A squad car pulled up blocking the driveway and the officer got out and headed towards m. Now what? He asked me what I was doing there. I stifled the automatic response of "What the fuck's it to ya." I wasn't sure what I was in the middle of. I'd already discounted the destruction as being a police action (the first thing I'd thought of) because the job was too thorough, too much work. I explained to the officer that I lived across the road and was naturally curious when I saw the wreckage and was trying to figure out what was going on. The officer actually got kind of conversational, a situation unusual for me. He said Gilmore and the woman he was living with had gotten into a fight and Gilmore had lost his shit and trashed the place. The woman had come to the police station, hysterical, afraid that he was going to kill her. She said he had taken a bow and arrows and killed all the animals and then took off in the car. The officer asked if I'd seen Gilmore. No, I told him. He asked me if I would contact them if I did see him and I told him I would. I was upset. I didn't have a problem with Gilmore trashing his house during an argument. I know, sometimes things get a little out of control, although, I've never gotten so pissed that I've demolished the actual structure altogether, but then, I've never had a huge argument in such a small place either. I was upset about the animals and the implications that went along with it. It would have taken awhile to shoot that many cats and dogs. He probably would have had to re-use a lot of the arrows. What kind of fury would last that long? And the energy to wreck absolutely everything. He must have been at it for hours. I was impressed and expanded the ballpark to include Gilmore the thief, Gilmore the cat killer, Gilmore servant to Lord of Darkness, Gilmore the psycho. Now I had him figured. Now my ballpark was big enough. I now knew how much I could trust him...not much. I now knew he could be a threat if he became enraged. Maybe he was schizoid. Approach with extreme caution. I was unsettled that I had been off on my appraisal by so much, but at least now I knew what I was dealing with.
There was gossip, of course. The "wife" had left town on a bus to go back home - wherever that was. It was rumored that Gilmore had a rap-sheet and that was the reason he hadn't shot the animals with a gun, he wasn't allowed to possess a firearm. It takes at least a felony to take away the right to bear arms, so Gilmore was at least a convicted felon....if the rumor was true. True or not, it fit my new parameters. I heard he had rented a room downtown next to the bar. I was only surprised that he was still running around, he hadn't been arrested for anything yet. I began to sympathize with the law enforcers. It must have been frustrating for them to not be able to bust him for something. Rumors and circumstantial evidence didn't cut it, not in the land of free.
It was three weeks later that I came home to find my house ransacked. The only thing I found missing was a sleeping bag, my favorite piggy-bank, and my sense of security. I was beyond pissed. Gilmore had just fucked with the wrong guy. I was out and on my bike in less than a minute. I came into town doing 90 mph and could have cared less who didn't like it. Braking hard, I took a left and an immediate right into the parking lot next to the bar. The parking lot was gravel and the bike went sideways spraying gravel against a row of parked cars. Amazingly, I didn't dump it. I straightened it out and hit the brakes again, sliding within two feet of a cop who was standing in the parking lot talking to Gilmore! I expected the cop to jump in my shit for reckless driving, but he'd have to wait. I was off the bike and screaming in Gilmore's face with the cop just standing there. I threatened Gilmore with specific bodily injuries. I tried to be imaginative about his parentage and what-passed-for-his-mother must have slept with. I outlined what he could expect if I ever found him by himself. At this point, the Guardian of Peace walked back to his cruiser, got in and left. Just like that. Gilmore denied everything. He whined that I was the only friend he had in town and now the cops had turned me against him. He had tears in his eyes for Christ's sake! The brisk ride into town, the near dump on the bike, the near miss of running over a cop, screaming at Gilmore with the threat of being arrested standing next to me, the cop's unexplainable behavior, threatening a crying man....Well, all that seemed to calm me down. I told Gilmore he could keep the sleeping bag and the money in the piggy-bank, but I wanted the piggy-bank back. He pleaded with me that he didn't take my stuff, but I wasn't buying it. I told him whether he took my piggy-bank or not, I wanted it back and if he didn't take it to find out who did and get it back to me and I didn't want to see his face again unless he was holding my piggy-bank in his hands. He promised to try and find it and I felt I was talking to the man who could and that he wouldn't have to try very hard either.
That night, around 10 or 10:30, a cruiser pulled into my driveway with just the parking lights on. "Here we go," I thought. The officer knocked and asked to come in as he didn't want to be seen talking with me. Now I've had cops kick my door open before, but I've never had one sneak over to see me in the middle of the night. The police were sure acting twitchy today. So I let him in. I reasoned that anything he observed without a warrant couldn't be used against me and was tempted to offer him a joint. He seemed uncomfortable and nervous. That was usually my job when in the presence of a law enforcer. He got off to a sputtering start, but basically wanted to make sure I was aware of one of the finer points of the law. He said that if the situation ever arose that I wound up killing Gilmore, to be sure to drag him into the house. He said it would make an easy self-defense case if the body was inside when they showed up. Even if I killed him somewhere else, bring him home and put the body in the house, then call them. He said they would take care of any details to make sure I wasn't charged with anything. He made a point of telling me that he wasn't suggesting that I kill Gilmore, but in the event that I did, he wanted me to know how to handle it. Then he left, backing out of the drive with the lights off. What the hell was going on? This was going a little beyond harassment. Many emotions fought for recognition. What did they take me for, a murderer? I recalled the scene in town and I could just see the cop that left the parking lot high-tailing back to the station. "I think we've found our man. This guy was ready to kill Gilmore right in front of me. I left hoping he would." The concept of vigilante cops was always a fear of mine. I was on the right side of the gun - this time, but this sure didn't help my faith in the "land of the free". If Gilmore was such a frustration, there were other ways to make him feel too uncomfortable to hang around. I felt killing him was a little drastic.
I saw Gilmore one more time. The gossip had it that he'd been thrown out of his rented room and was living out of his car long Route 201. I took the bike out for a ride and thought I'd check the rumor out. Sure enough, about eight miles out of town, I spotted his car parked on a rock outcrop. He must have driven through the woods to get it up there, but however he did it, he had a good view of the highway in both directions. I left the bike and walked up. He was glad to see me and showed me how he'd set up the car like a bedroom. He had a fire-pit and crap strewn all over. He said he really liked living out in the fresh air, he had a great view, and the cops hadn't bothered him much since he set up camp. As far as he was concerned, his life was proceeding smoothly and he couldn't ask for more. I asked about my piggy-bank, rhetorically, and listened to the expected denial. He invited me to stop by any time. The next time I went by he was gone.
Early in the fall, I walked into the office at the mill and Oiva asked if I remembered whatever-his-name-was Gilmore. Oiva said he'd been talking with the police chief in New Ipswich (where the mill was located) and in the process of investigating the break-in of the office, the chief had been in touch with other towns and with computers and such, and had been kept informed about Gilmore (as he was an obvious suspect). Gilmore and another man had been arrested in Missouri and charged with murder. They were robbing a house and the old woman who lived there came home and discovered them going through her dresser drawers in the bedroom. That's where they found her body. But that had occurred in southern Illinois the week before. They admitted to killing the old woman while being interrogated about another murder. They had raped, beaten and killed a wheelchair-bound woman in Missouri. The investigation was winding its way back toward New Hampshire, where Gilmore and his dark mentor had left months before.
I never heard what else was discovered. I moved on myself the following year. I think of Gilmore every once in awhile. I've thought of contacting the prison system in Missouri and finding out where they've got him incarcerated. More importantly, is he still in prison or have they let him out for good behavior or because they're overcrowded or because he was nuts and not responsible for his behavior? I haven't followed up on this thought because I don't think I'd like any of the scenarios. The concept of Gilmore is difficult to integrate into my life. Whether he's alive or dead, the idea of him, of others like him, is now part of my reality. My ballpark was never big enough for Gilmore, I was always a quantum jump behind him. To include "Gilmore's", my life has not more "ballparks" or pigeon-holes. I stereotype people at my own peril. My preconceptions blind me to what is real. When I'm tempted to flip somebody "the bird" in traffic or call someone an asshole for cutting the line, I automatically and vividly remember screaming in the face of an emotionally unhinged killer for stealing my piggy-bank.