By Thomas Sullivan.
The first time I saw Crusader Guy I was racing up the hill in my Seattle neighborhood during the tail end of a powerful snow storm. The air was exceptionally cold for the city, somewhere in the low teens, and I was marching fast in a pair of old-school leather boots, big heavy beasts reminiscent of the weapons favored by troubled high-schoolers in Zeppelin t-shirts. Coming around the corner with my face bent sideways to avoid the whipping wind I stopped suddenly, not certain of what I was witnessing at the intersection.
The guy stood by the curb, dressed in a black leotard with a frilly, embroidered cape fluttering behind his thin frame. His head was covered by a grey plastic wig fashioned out of imitation chain links, a modern re-creation of the sword-deflecting headgear favored by King Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table. In one un-gloved hand he held a bible, in the second a huge plastic cross inlaid with fake jewels. He looked over at me with serious eyes set above a salt-and-pepper goatee and said “Merry Christmas.” Then, he turned back to the street and continued raising the cross at passing motorists.
Walking away, my main impression wasn’t that the guy might be crazy, but rather that he must be tough as nails. I get cold easily and need to cart around extra layers eight months out of the year, yet here’s a guy wearing next to nothing with no signs of discomfort impeding his art. Chilled to the bone under an inch-thick coat, I hustled away with envy.
The second time I saw Crusader Guy I was hiding from the cold inside a coffee shop at the same intersection. The guy at the table next to me glanced away from the window, spun toward the owner, and said “Am I having a flashback, or did I just see some guy from the crusades?”
The owner chuckled, made a reference to religion in the Bush Jr years, and filled us in on the details. The guy, he informed us, has been a fixture in the neighborhood for a few years. His other favored costume includes a modified red and white checkered table cloth fastened to his head by a black ring, aka Yassir Arafat. The one outfit, he tells us, that didn’t get a warm reception and didn’t last long was the knee-high black boots and riding crop accompanied by a copy of Mein Kampf.
In the owner’s opinion our neighborhood impersonator ranks second only to the Parking Clown. The Parking Clown would stalk enforcement officers downtown as they checked meters for sufficient payment. If the city employee spied a machine with expired time, the Parking Clown would slip up and put money in the meter on behalf of a stranger, before the ticket could be issued. The humorless city administration hated the guy (or woman), but citizens rightfully loved him.
When the story ended I glanced back down at my newspaper, thinking about surprises. Most surprises in today’s world seem to be bad, and we’ve become conditioned to expect dreadful shocks. To wit: Page B2 – an investment broker managing large sums of money for suspected mob figures goes into hiding after the Bernie Madoff surprise hits. Or Page B3 – a brilliant investor leaves his wife and five kids for a 23 year old English actress, a bombshell involving a bombshell. Or here – The mystery guy buying a revered English newspaper turns out to be a private equity fool who once dated a Spice Girl. The employees in the photo don’t look too happy about it.
People like the Parking Clown and Crusader Guy offer something exactly opposite and far, far better than the purveyors of today’s surprises. They offer surprises that leave people with only a smile and a great image. They don’t screw up your retirement or initiate a media circus of hostility and recrimination. They just make living more fun. Maybe they should be the ones getting the capital infusions and tax breaks, since they actually do something positive for the rest of us.
I exited the shop and started walking down the sidewalk toward a pedestrian crosswalk. A few paces in front of me I saw a tall man wearing a 70’s style warmup suit, a velour fabric thing with two stripes running down the arms and legs. He strutted toward the intersection JJ Walker style, swinging a gold plated cane in one hand. As he stepped into the road he froze suddenly and stared at a car stopped in the intersection. Inside a late model Mercedes an older man stared through the windshield, waiting for him to pass. JJ Walker Guy started jabbing his cane in the air toward the far side of the street. Then he yelled “Over there, I’m heading over there, don’t try and run me down, fool.”
I strolled past the scene grinning, thankful for another harmless and fun surprise. I laughed about it the rest of the morning, hoping that something new was in the air and here to stay.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Thomas Sullivan writes short essays from his home in Seattle. His work has appeared in Bad Idea Magazine, Lit Up Magazine, and Gloom Cupboard among others.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, February 10th, 2009.