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.