A Ghost in the Mind is Worth Two in the Bush

Watching someone attempt to fight off ghosts in real life is nothing like it’s portrayed in the movies. On the big screen it’s all Hollywood special effects and computerized lasers but, in reality, it’s all cursing and screaming the right spells. I saw someone fighting a losing battle with a few demons on my way home the other day. He was wearing a dog collar, sunglasses, a long leather duster, and a backwards baseball cap. Stationed near the side of the road in a wheelchair, he was wailing on a pile of garbage with a claw hammer yelling about how he was a killer. The majority of people gave him a wide birth, disallowing him the ability to prove that claim. I was not to be one of those people and may be curious to a fault.

Finding the situation to be nothing short of surreal, I attempted to photograph the man. It has been my experience that, when a person is doing battle with ghosts, their range of perception is greatly diminished. However, as my phone slowly navigated to its camera app, I realized that I had miscalculated. He was coming for me. For a moment I thought I had a few moments to unfreeze my screen and get off a few award winning snapshots, but he was moving impressively swift for someone in a wheelchair. He started shrieking and swinging his hammer in my general direction. A girl bolted past me and I heard a lady yell that she had called the police. But, just as he was about to strike, I played my trump card of not being in a wheelchair and backed away quickly. Having functional legs gave me a decided advantage and, once I was about fifteen yards away, he refocused his rage back on inanimate objects. Rather than tempt fate a second time, I walked the long way around the block to go home and eat ice cream.


I still regret not having documented the occurrence but, unlike the meth-fueled insanity that caused a man to jump through a second story window on a friend’s birthday, the proper equipment was unavailable. The entire experience left me with so many questions though. I’m always left wondering what role, if any, drugs play in these sorts of situations. A lot of ghosts occur naturally in the brain but sometimes you can use chemicals to coax them out. During my teen years I attended a party where a man claimed he had a gun and was going to shoot everyone after someone offered to light his cigarette. I almost stabbed him in the throat in the hopes I might prevent a horrible mass shooting but he backed down and ran off. We found him punching a car an hour later and crying his eyes out while clutching a greeting card. Eventually someone showed up to take him away and explained that he was on angel dust. I think they said he worked at a bank.

Drugs are a big part of our culture. They give us energy for our day, help us sleep, improve our moods, regulate our blood pressure, eliminate allergies, give us erections, and offer an incalculably numerous list of other functions. Our ancestors would find plants, pick them, grind them up and then eat or smoke them. For a long time that was it for drugs, but eventually people realized that you could mix up chemicals in a lab to make new ones. Some of these drugs were useful but several have occasionally evaporated that piece of a person’s brain regulating emotions and whatever it is that keeps us from killing and eating each other. The ending result is rarely, if ever, pleasant. Ghosts can’t be solely chalked up to drugs though.

I have had friends that suffered from schizophrenia. While I’m not close with them anymore, they were intelligent and kind gentlemen that functioned on a level most people seemed incapable of. It was almost as if a door was perpetually wedged open in their mind that didn’t even exist for average humans. It allowed special little things to trickle in but sometimes a ghost or two would get through and wreak havoc. One of them accused our entire group of friends of theft and being evil before suddenly packing up all of his belongings and moving out of town. We were all a little hurt and perplexed by it. I wouldn’t imagine schizophrenia is a very enjoyable experience.


We met him late one night on the porch of a house we collectively partied at during college. He was in his forties, wore khaki shorts, an argyle sweater, purple knee-high socks, black tights under that, and some of the darkest hair I had ever seen on a man. We drunkenly asked him how he was and he replied “oh, not well” and proceeded to explain to us his mental affliction. I was immediately intrigued with how open he was and spent the next hour talking to him. He came back night after night just to talk to us and most of us loved him. He was educated, intelligent, funny, and knew how to get us free pizza every single night. He said his name was Ink-Ira, but I wagered he came up with that himself. I knew that Ira, like most biblical names, had a second meaning. It meant “watchful” and Ink-Ira most assuredly was. You could routinely see his paranoia start to overtake him before he would smoke a joint and ease himself back from the edge. Ironically, while they might create ghosts for some, drugs can cure them in others.

It should be noted that I had the habit of engaging most strangers in our bizarre town that passed by. I knew the majority of the neighborhood drifters, addicts, and homeless by their first names. While some of my friends found the practice unsavory, I felt it made more sense to befriend them and they always offered me a unique perspective or interesting story. I never got too close or too invested, but I made an effort to test the waters and was always willing to listen. I suppose it was, at best, a double-edged sword. They certainly had a few ghosts of their own but who was I to judge someone else? I’ve certainly felt my own sanity slip and scramble for a foothold from time to time. I’ve got ghosts of my own. Hell, we all do.

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29 Responses to A Ghost in the Mind is Worth Two in the Bush

  1. This was incredible. Might be one of the best things you’ve ever written.

    • What is even more incredible is that I saw that guy again right by my house last night. He didn’t not appear to recognize me or even be throwing a crazy fit this time. It looks like my drugs verdict was true and just.

  2. Lis says:

    My ex-bf (who now lives in the city) wore a duster and a backwards baseball cap, but he wasn’t in a wheel chair when I was with him. Things can change, though, as we all know. But I can assure you that it wasn’t him, as I have my ex-bf’s tool kit and the hammer is here with me. ;)

  3. Another good story, Matt. You’ve got me thinking about some of the tortured human beings I have met in my lifetime, one of whom I lived with and called “Mom”. I always enjoy your writing – it is way up there on the outstanding writing scale. I think humans are always trying to figure other humans out. I spend a lot of time doing that but shy away from obviously disturbed people. Experience, you know.

    • Trying to figure out other people always seems like a worthwhile pursuit. In the end we always learn a little about ourselves too.

      As always, I’m glad to have you say kind things about my writing.

  4. prenin says:

    Hi dude! :)

    Yes, having a mental illness does give one a different point of view! :(

    The main problem I have is that it gives others an excuse to abuse my life while blaming my responses on my illness.

    I’ve had eighteen years of crap, but for no gain either for myself or my tormentors who have used up every last one of my friends here in the UK and my family in order to get a story out of me I have no wish for them to publish.

    Today is shopping day and I’m already a bag of nerves wondering what stunt they are going to pull on me as I gather my food supplies for another two weeks.

    There is nothing worse for people with my condition for them to REALLY have people out to get them, especially because I have nobody left around me to trust.

    According to my ex-friend Darren, the last of my old friends, I and my tormentors are now ‘quits’, Darren boasting about how he is now a gangster as well as a dealer in stolen goods.

    Amazing how a gutless coward who caused me so much grief should think he’s now something to ‘respect’, which makes me wonder just WHO is insane???

    Now all I have are my internet friends and a lot of bad memories.

    My crime?

    I didn’t want to have published the fact that, at the age of eleven, I was beaten and raped.

    For that they have destroyed my life and continue to persecute me even though they were supposed to have stopped months ago.

    Trouble is: With my condition I am paranoid to begin with, so when they do FINALLY quit playing games, how am I going to know???

    Still: I have good things happening in my life despite them, so all I can do is outlast them.

    We all have our burdens my friend, which is why I agree with your point of view.

    Everyone is different: Some more than others…

    God Bless my friend! :)


    • Dark stuff, but this is exactly what I’m talking about. It’s never so easy as we would like it to be and maintaining a willingness to entertain alternate perspectives is important. It’s lazy to just write someone off and cruel to use them. If people were kinder and better to each other, we’d all fair a lot better. All the best to you, Prenin, and thank you for always sharing so openly.

      • prenin says:

        Thanks! :)

        Liars need a good memory – I find the truth far more damaging and takes far less effort! :)

        God Bless my friend!


  5. llordsauron says:

    Street stories are such a delight. Nice habit you got there, engaging with strangers and wondering.

  6. syntaxsinner says:

    I don’t know what to say. Except… leaving that town and those friends would prove other worlds exist. If you go 1000 miles away into a suburbia and count that you owe none, you could be embraced by receptive new people so your talent is not wasted on people you may only think love you. That may sound harsh yet doesn’t it also sound like respect. I hate to make the comment public but I care man. I care how the rest of one of my favorite author’s life goes while he’s still livin’ it. Hell, I’m presuming to write your future. But you’ll never leave? Hahahh- I’ll see you soon brau. Have a brew for me.

    39 of Milwaukie “no crack hos” Oregon

    Peace, man

  7. Hey! That’s the guy who handles my investments! I wondered where he’s been. Thanks for locating.

    All joking aside, we have a family member who’s schizophrenic. When he goes off his meds, he calls the White House, which sound funny but, believe me, it isn’t. The FBI doesn’t kid around with that stuff.

  8. Well, those ARE experiences, I’d say that.

    Do you still do that–engaging with strangers (strange or not) and people deemed “unsafe” for interaction? I just noticed most of that last paragraph is in the past tense, so…

  9. David says:


    Mental health is the most precious commodity there is. :)

  10. funofe says:

    I’m really heartened that you are willing to talk to them (people with schizo) :) People around me, even some of my closest friends freaked out merely at the thought of having one walked past them, as though it’s some contagious disease (you will catch by sharing the same air). You never know how your kind little gestures can mean A LOT to them or be the butterfly effect for them :) So thank you!

    • I don’t like the concept of someone with mental illness being devalued as a person. Our society is really quick to write off people as “defective” after they’re an inconvenience. It’s not just mental illness either, it’s old age, social stigmas, and physical illnesses too. We don’t want to invest anything into a person if they’re deemed even a moderate risk. That seems like a really stupid way to run a culture.

  11. Anna says:

    This wasn’t quite what I expected when I first started reading.
    I hope someone can find my own ghosts interesting. Maybe yours and mine can have a picnic.

  12. Soul Walker says:

    I like what you do here.

  13. Your title says it all.

  14. emmy44 says:

    This was a very interesting read. I had a conversation with my grandpa over the weekend, about the kind of people on the street that “scare” me, living in Toronto (he’s from a small town just north of here). I explained that I only really fear people who are aggressive towards me in a sexual or violent way, but otherwise I find that by listening to people, I get to know a lot of really great individuals. Sometimes our values don’t quite match up (I’m afraid to take drugs, because my mental state is already unhinged), they deal/enjoy taking drugs, but generally I find that they have some piece of wisdom to impart on me.

    I had one life changing experience where my few moments spent with a man, discussing what he should give his daughter for her birthday. I have no idea why he was living on the street, but I took the time to come up with an idea (a necklace) and when I saw him several weeks later he hugged and kissed me (on the head). While it was slightly jarring for a 20 something woman to be vulnerable like that, it was also incredibly empowering. I never take for granted my ability to listen to what people have to say, there’s so much value in humans whether we have ghosts or not.

    My personal ghosts are creeping to the surface lately – as such I was really pleased to read this piece. I’m glad that there are people out there who don’t run away from mental illness. There are some real benefits to being able to think differently – we can all learn from that.

    • prenin says:

      As a paranoid schizophrenic I thank you! :)

      I find we have many who are at differing levels of illness – I’m just lucky that I have responded well to medication and learned how to handle my condition! :)

      Love and hugs always!


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