Friday, June 19, 2009

Chronic Funny Business Syndrome

by Bill Boyd

My friend Don passed away in his home a few months back, 2 weeks shy of his 60th birthday.

Don was one of the most colorful people I had met at JOIN. I met Don in inner southeast Portland in late 2004, and it took the better part of 6 months before he trusted my intent on offering him a way off the streets. He was successful in finding a studio apartment in mid 2005.

On the exterior, Don was a tough person to be with - he was usually drinking, often angry and always quick with a complaint. But as time and mutual persistence played its role, his true nature began to emerge. He had a sharp wit, a passion about science and technology, and a love of late night talk radio. Plus, he was an inspired harmonica player, and would share many of the old time classics, as well as some original tunes.

Don had a tough upbringing, and he developed many methods to protect himself. His efforts to hide his vulnerability often resulted in isolation. But during his 3+ years in housing, we became true friends. Granted, I had to be his social worker on occasion to help keep his housing intact, but he'd rather tell me the latest jokes than discuss ways to keep his landlord happy. He always summarized his willingness to abide by the rules: "I'll do anything within reason. My reason."

He loved to self-diagnose his condition, which he labeled CFBS - Chronic Funny Business Syndrome (with an emphasis on the BS). Some of the symptoms of CFBS included an insessent fascination with the trivial, endless tinkering with dead electronic equipment, ruminating over an embellishment of his last joke, and an idolization of both Alfred E Newman and Albert Einstein.

Time went on, and his love of wine and disdain of compliance with mainstream norms of cleanliness began to take their toll. His landlord began issuing the "clean up or pack up" ultimatums, which Don ignored. I knew his time in housing was coming to an end.

After two days of knocking on his door with no response, I pushed it open. He must have been on his floor for a few days. I couldn't get myself to look at his face - death is not something I handle well. The police were the first to arrive. I know their job probably demands the development of a grim sense of humor, but I found their disparaging comments about Don and his situation both insensitive and dehumanizing. I kept quiet. The medical examiner was more compassionate about the situation. He said that it was unlikely that an autopsy would be done, since there was no foul play. Since Don didn't have any extended family, his passing would go unnoticed by society... no death announcement, no burial stone, no recognition of his time with us in this life.

I guess this blog will have to suffice. I think of Don often.


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. It's hard to lose friends, and nothing is the same without them, and it always seems too soon.

It sounds like he got a kick out of you as well.


Vickie said...

A very touching and real story. I like that he retained his authentic identity, was interested in life and passionate. He made his mark and will be missed.

I am also grateful that he crossed paths with such a great group as JOIN and that you were able to provide him with the dignity of being off the streets and the blessing of your aid and friendship.

Anonymous said...

That was a very compelling story and speaks volums in both your compassion as well as the "faceless people" called the homeless. I am fortunate to be working for Loaves and Fishes on a part-time basis. I currently have a roof over my head, but I, too have been homeless and it is so demeaning. I have met many other homeless people and have met those that did not want help or trust anyone to help them. Your story gives me pause to reflect the human condition and to be thankful for what I do have. I was an addict, and homeless but I was given an opportunity to change and change I did. It is not possible to save the world, this, I know but it is possible to save one person at a time in our own little ways. I always remember something my mom told me years ago, that as long as one remembers one never is forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Bill- I stumbled across this note. I too think of Don often. He is unforgettable! Thank you for sharing his story and his passing. Rachel