Every city has them, your various weirdoes and freaks that make the urban experience what it is. Tucson has more than its fair share, probably due to the extreme summer heat – it makes you crazy.
There are times of the year when it seems that every corner is populated by your everyday corner Merlins with their long robes, hair and beards and their wizard staffs. This look has been become so common that I have a hard time keeping them all straight. But Tree (with his enormous height approaching 7 feet) and GrandPa Woodstock with his knack for publicity do stand out.
Then there’s the whole series of men, wearing as little as possible, that roam the streets making us cringe at the site of their leathery skin. Speedo Man, famous for obsessively riding his bicycle wearing just a Speedo in the height of summer in the noontime sun, died of skin cancer. And Jain Man, wearing his dhoti, and sweeping the street in front of him while wearing a surgical mask lest he harm or inhale any bugs, has disappeared.
There are the more ominous characters, such as Yeshua 666 Israel, leading his family of three children and wife, chained together at the ankles, throughout the parks and open spaces. He is famous for his rambling and incoherent sermons and also for the spectacle of his bound family flipping him off behind his back while he babbled on. The “666” tattooed on his forehead was a nice touch too.
Pennyman, in his penny suit, was always a local favorite. Rumor has it that he believed that the suit helped convey the cosmic energy to his body. There was also a story that he had buried a spare suit on the university campus, which inspired more than one treasure hunt. He was smart enough to not wear his suit during our fierce electrical storms. I could never quite tell with Pennyman if it was shtick or psychosis. My theory is that it started as an act and ended as an obsession.
Except for GrandPa Woodstock all of these characters are gone – to where I don’t know. Tree is felled and Speedo Man is dead. The rest have disappeared. Is it wrong to celebrate their strangeness and mourn their disappearance? To be sure a new crop is growing but they still need a few more years in the sun.