To predict the behaviour of ordinary people in advance, you only have to assume that they will always try to escape a disagreeable situation with the smallest possible expenditure of intelligence.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German Philosopher
Dave killed my rabbit.
Fred Nietzsche, Rooming House Neighbour, Spadina Street, Ottawa
UmBiPMaD: Unmedicated BiPolar Manic Depressive Stories
It’s an acronym I came up with in 1992, back when I didn’t understand bipolar and manic depression meant the same thing. I spent at least eighteen years of my life having a disease which was untreated so I’m going to start writing a little more about this period in my life. Some of these will be funny, some won’t.
The first time I met “Wild Bill” was when he woke me up to tell me our front porch was on fire. It wasn’t, yet, but would have been if he hadn’t discovered the smoke. I had been asleep in my room, which faced the street in front. My room, when Bill* woke me up by banging on my door, had been full of smoke. None of the three fire extinguishers on our floor worked, so we doused the smoke and embers using cups and pots. Someone had stuffed a lit cigarette into the rotting wood.
The next time I met Bill was when he knocked on my door and politely asked if I had any bug spray so he could “kill some flies”. When I said no he said my can of air freshener would do. For some reason that’s pretty much how William “Wild Bill” Fred Nietzsche — a 5’10”, 240lb, 50-year old, balding, heavily tattooed, ex-Nazi White Supremacist, former Hell’s Angel associate, solvent huffing, recovering alcoholic — and I became friends.
Most rooming houses, the ones I lived in anyway, operate somewhat like a prison. You never touch another guys stuff without permission and without understanding that with permission, eventually, you had to reciprocate. Then there’s cigarettes… it’s understood that if you “borrow” one, you pay it back ASAP. The most important thing about living in a rooming house is you do everything within your ability not to create resentment or envy in the other roomers. I’ve lived in some pretty “upscale” rooming houses as well and this also applies there. It’s just the repercussions that differ… I lived in one place where a Guy bashed a Dude three times in the head with a pot because Dude put a cigarette out in Guy’s beer and laughed about it. Dude took several stitches for that.
Bill had spent enough time Living that he knew the rules. So when he brought back the Glade, he brought me three Heavy Metal Magazines… because he had seen the stack of news magazines (plus a lot of Maxim’s) on my floor. So we started exchanging magazines. Living in a rooming house, in a lot of ways, is like constantly having people roaming around in your home. You go to take a shower, but Big Foot Gus is in there, and you know he’ll be another twenty minutes so there goes the idea of being on time to meet your girlfriend… and the phone is two blocks away. Or you go into the kitchen and No Neck Steve is in there with his mom and she’s crying but, fucking hell, you’re really hungry and you know you’ve got spaghetti in the cupboard and some sauce your girlfriend left… fucking Jesus fucking Steve and his mom again.
When Bill huffed (spray an aerosol product into a plastic bag, inhale the fumes, die an early brain death) his pupils would fix. He had a tiny b+w TV that he’d stare at for hours while doing endless reps with a 100lb dumbbell. His pain centre would get so fried that he could do it for as long as he was high, as a result his arms were as thick or thicker than my thighs. When he came back from the “high” he would grab his ten-speed and head out to the Ottawa River for a long swim. Now… I used to steal stuff. When I was a teenage Punk I walked into a camera store and walked out with three lenses for a friend of mine. Even ten years later, living on Spadina Street, I would be up writing at 4am when the paper delivery dudes did their rounds, so I would go down to the convenience store on the corner and grab a paper. Relatively small time stuff.
One night, about 3am, there was a tapping at my window. It was the police. A lot of police. When I opened the door they piled into the corridor… there were actual SWAT types mixed in with the Regular Cops. They start banging on doors until they found Bill and he’s yelling out “you’ve got no probable cause, there’s no probable cause”… he and his buddy Dave — an unmedicated schizophrenic recently released from the Ottawa General Hospital psych ward — had stolen six racks of bread out of the back of a delivery truck. Somehow Bill convinced the cops to leave empty handed. A couple of days later we went to the new Hintonburg Public Library and I helped Bill get his first library card… John D. MacDonald and Louis L’Amour were his favourites.
While we were gone Dave had killed and skinned Bill’s pet rabbit, nailed the skin to the wall and was trying to cook the carcass on a hot-plate in Bill’s room. Bill was teary for a week. The worst thing I’ve ever done to a neighbour in a rooming house was use two of his new high-end pots to cook beans and soup. While they were simmering I left with a friend for the evening. The worst part was I let someone else take the fall… New-Pot Dude was huge, and angry and I was about seventeen and I really had forgotten about the pots at first…
When I left Ottawa in 1998 Bill had finally gotten on disability and had moved into a nice apartment where he could raise goldfish. I came back to apartment-sit for my brother in 2001 and — completely by accident — found Bill selling his stuff out of a grocery cart so he could get to a treatment centre somewhere, which was a common bullshit story. I was broke but we hung out for a little while over Coke and chips. He was about half his former size… he had stopped huffing while he was in the hospital.
Anyway…. I never saw Bill after that — I do miss him occasionally, he had some fantastic adventure stories. They’ve almost finished cleaning up Hintonburg. No more hookers on the corner, no more people shooting up in the park, no more crack dealers next to the convenience store. I walked past the rooming house last fall, they’ve got some new windows, a new porch and a second storey deck, but it’s still a rooming house.
*I started thinking about Bill, for some reason, when I left a response on a totally different subject on Dead Robot‘s blog… weird.
All I think if by “kicking it off” is you never know who the hell you’re going to meet through these experiences with other nutters and we’ve gone through massive insanity.
I’ve never been in a rooming house but have talked with some. It is positively hell. I was almost fearing I would end up there one day when I lost my job. I could not escape the city as I knew I had to find work and I could work but without any income or mere pennies from the government, where would I live!
I always say, get a bunch of us Bipolar whackjobs in room and see who would still be alive after we’d compared stories. It’s not a contest, mind you–we’ve all done some pretty crazy things. But that’s just the point. We can all relate to the madness of it all.
It’s not a contest, but to be honest with you I think we’d be better off if more people posted their off-treatment stories. Most of the recovery blogs I read concentrate, in my opinion, too much on the particulars of that specific day or how their medications are working on that specific day or about whether they want to continue with their current medications… which is great if the idea is to keep a diary-blog, but what I want to do with the “umbipmad” thing is show how bad it can be without the treatment in order to highlight the benefits of finding treatment. Plus, I’ve never really spoken about this shit or the clinical depression bits of my life with anyone…
good story/memoir thing…
I can see the shadowy twirlings of a book starting to coalesce more with these recent tales.
Sadly I will not be able to purchase it as I will have already read it all….
You have a special gift that a lot of people lose as they get older or never had to begin with. I know for me I would have a really hard time putting the detail into my history that you do. A lot of it with me right now is muddled in a medicated haze that doesn’t allow me the clarity to remember my work history fully let alone some of the parts of my past (though some of that was lost to me before I started meds due to blocking out some of the details that my mind had logged in as traumatic events and just not allowing me to get a hold of things that happened to me in the past). If I was off meds I could probably address these things better but it would undeniable wrap itself in another series of crises that I have lived through before.
You have a wonderful gift of story telling and that’s why I read your blog. The detail of the way you remember your past and the articulation that you put into the text is phenomenal. It makes it a pleasure to read.
Thanks Bryan… most of my memories come from notes. I’ve never been able to keep a diary, but I’ve always tried to keep track of the weirder things that have happened in my life in journals. Sometimes in poems or in narratives or short stories, but I always tried to time-stamp everything so I’d know later on when and where I was while writing it… I think the stamps are proving at least as important as the memories themselves.
When I finally started getting treated — roughly three years ago now — I started to write things down in sequence… it was really difficult at first, just trying to put years to the more than 60 apartments and houses I’ve lived in has taken a lot of thought and juggling. Then there was a list of girls/women I’ve dated that’s taken forever to put together.
Until I started the blogs I had been carrying a notebook everywhere I went, I have a bunch of small ones that fit in a pants pocket. I really suggest doing this kind of thing, every time you get dressed just put one into your pocket, the ones I have can fit behind my wallet. While I was starting my medications I found it difficult to write, but since attaining… a plateau, I guess, it has gotten much easier but I’m still doing things like “top-20 lists” or “who did I date, when” things as memory excercises.
Just having the time-stamps… like, when you remember you have a notebook in your pocket, take it out and put in the time, date and where you are. After a while you start to have a journal of sorts of your activities that you can use to work on your memory.
Thanks again for the comment Bryan.
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