A puzzling man indeed.

“Maybe you should ask me questions.”
It’s been about forty-five minutes. He has tried to think up things to say to no avail — I almost started going with talking about what he can’t think to talk about.
“Like what?”
“I don’t know!”
He’s confused, with no idea what to say. Not that this is uncommon for him — he’s known for his pauses in conversation as he tries to dredge up the proper way to word things.
“I didn’t tell you to start writing!”
We grin.
He has a very mischievous sort of smile — impish, which is amusing considering his oft imposing look. He’s dressed in all black, as is his usual garb. Long sleeves, silver rings, silvering hair that lands in a mass of curls down his back. Certainly not the type you’d wish to meet in an alley alone, but he’s harmless. Mostly.
He lights another clove. Keeping with his habit of chain smoking them when he’s in a conversation such as this, he wonders,
“This is what it’s going to be about, isn’t it? Me trying to come up with something…”
I try to prompt him to give me something, anything. Anything at all. He asks me what I want to hear.
“Nothing. Nothing in particular. This is about you, not me.” I lean back, light another cigarette.
I’m a patient person when it comes to these things. We snicker about how hard this seems to be for him. In an attempt to see what I’ve written, I show him my garbled and horrific handwriting I use for things like this to keep over-the-shoulder readers and the overly curious at bay.
“Something to be said for that– writing things down in a way that no one can understand them. I wish I did that… I write things in sketchbooks of a sensitive nature. I get questioned about it if it is seen. Even then, I suppose I’m somewhat cryptic about it.”
He explains methods of encrypting his writing in a script called Voynich, which would prove to be successful, except: “If they looked at the key in the back of the sketchbook…”
He glances about, still unsure…

He hates surprises, he says.
Hates them to the point of sabotaging them. Ruining any and all ideas.
Plans made around him without his consent that directly involve his participation make him suspicious, he says. Paranoia sets in.
He says this was especially notable one birthday when he was told to stay home to be picked up, but no further details were given. He agonized over it for a time, so instead of giving in to their demands…
“I decided to make them work for it. If they found me, I’d go along with their plans. It was nice having a puzzle.”
Four people were involved in the planning of his birthday, thus four people were subject to his game.
The puzzle was very elaborate — there were twenty pieces in all. One picture with four questions on the back, four cards with one word on the front (which corresponded to the questions), and on the back of those were the possible places he could be found. Each card was designed for the single individual to figure out. Tailor made. He put a twist in it, though. When distributing the pieces — two envelopes under the windshield wipers of cars, two others hand-delivered… he gave the wrong pieces to the wrong people. There were written and visual clues as to his whereabouts, and the puzzle had to be put together in order to come anywhere near figuring it out.
“I wrote four possible places I could be on the back. The places were written diagonally so you have to put all the pieces together to understand it.”
He was certain that if they worked together, they’d figure it out.
“What I didn’t know was that they wouldn’t be meeting up at the same place at the same time.”

He’s getting a bit snarly at this point. His old aggravation is shining though for this incident, giving his tone a more thoughtful, yet menacing, feel.
“They didn’t act the way I thought they would or should, which was disappointing.”
The four locations chosen were places he often frequented, including his home.
He chose the bar as his hiding spot, the place his devious map would point to.
“I went there planning in my mind how I was going to greet them. I was patting myself on the back for being so clever.”
Unfortunately, not everything went as planned. Two of the people stayed home, waiting for notice that he had been found. The other two had the wrong pieces of the puzzle, and were therefore unable to decipher to it at all. So the best they could do was wander from place to place, hoping to find him. This proved to be frustrating to his search party, beyond what they could handle. All they wanted to do was something for him like he had done for the birthday of one of the girls, sending her on a scavenger hunt that was so well planned, everyone was amazed.

He kept to his hiding place, kicking back Guinness and expecting them to arrive at any moment.
An hour passed.
Finally, they were too frustrated to continue. One girl was in tears over the whole situation, so the other gave up and called. Luckily for her, she recognized the music in the background. He was found out.
“I didn’t think I was being difficult. I thought I was being clever.”

It only took him a day or less of planning this elaborate scheme, printing up the pieces and distributing them. His main disappointment at the time was how it all played out — mostly in how his puzzle wasn’t completed by his “players.” He views it as an unfinished project, a piece of art undone.
He felt they had failed.

In the end, only one of his friends showed. One of the girls was far too upset with the whole ordeal to even bother. She left her gift for him in the car.
He had dinner with the remaining player, where he found out the original plan.

He was to be blindfolded and taken to laser tag, in which he had no interest. It was to end at Boomers, where he was to be taken on a ride he also had no interest in.
“I felt disappointed that my puzzle failed, of course… but also that they wanted to do things for my birthday I didn’t want to do.”
I can tell he’s somewhat mournful of the situation at this point. His tone is lower still, but without the malice.
“I felt that they just didn’t know me well enough to do what I expected them to do — solve it — and that they wanted to take me to do things for my own birthday that I didn’t even like.”
He lights another clove, pausing. He shakes his head.
“I guess I should have been grateful that they even considered me. But I felt like they didn’t know me… especially to be blindfolded and kidnapped to be taken places. That puts me on edge. That makes me angry.”

He wrote one of the girls, the one that had been driven to tears, a scathing email describing his anger towards the whole situation. She had been the mastermind behind the kidnapping ideas, and this irked him.
“It all made me paranoid. I was upset. And all of my effort was for naught.”

The night ended very quietly. It was not the birthday any of them had intended, leaving everyone fairly confused and disappointed — and one friendship on the edge.

Later, during another party, he recovered three of the pieces for his puzzle. He presented the solution to his friends, and they were amazed at the detail and complexity of his work. It didn’t save his friendship with the one girl, though. “This is probably one of the worst things I’ve done, and I wanted it to be great. As they say… the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

He takes great pride in his puzzles — from Valentine’s day to birthdays, art shows and beyond. He’s become quite the master of mind games for a (willing) player to enjoy.
“I’d like to be remembered as clever and creative, not ignorant or lacking. Silly, egotistical things.”
He has decided to try his hand at it again, creating a highly detailed puzzle for his upcoming art exhibit. “I want it be solved and appreciated. I want them to be rewarded, the ones who actually figure it out.”
“This is a quest I am presenting to people. It’s satisfying to them, satisfying to me. I don’t want to make one nobody can solve. Puzzles and riddles are meant to be solved. That’s part of the fun; part of the challenge.”
He muses, “I’ve heard that if something is grasped too quickly, it’s not as rewarding. The mysterious — that’s the ineffable sense of wonder. The music, books and movies I watch reflect that. The wonder, the mystery, the ability to work towards a goal and gain insight.”

Now, working on a new one for the public at large, “I hope that my energy and skill are equal to my ambitions. When my ambition oversteps the former, I won’t succeed. I have the imagination, I think. The ambition… but without the energy, the will — I might as well not do it.”

He leans back, reflecting on his mistakes during that time. It was intended to be a joyous birthday for him, full of surprises. Yet, the idea of having things out of his control was too much for him to handle.
“I don’t like regret… I set myself up for regret.”


"Nobody really listens to me…"

He looked weak. Fatigued.

He kept fiddling with his ring finger of his left hand. It had obviously been home to a wedding band for a very long time — the pale skin reflected that much.

“Nobody really listen to me. Even when she died… my family, they don’t do no listening.”

He had deep brown eyes, eyes that spoke of the suffering he’d been through. They were framed by the darkened skin that comes from many sleepless nights and bouts with crying. He was all too familiar with pain at this point.

“She was my life, you know? I met that girl back on the beach, she paid me no mind. It took me a loooong time to get her, hoo man. She was worth waitin’ for. We got married in Louisiana. She was born there…”

He can’t even look at me anymore. Being so brave, trying to hard. He just wants someone to listen, he says. He wrings his wrinkled hands as his face grows dark. He’s lonely and scared now, he tells me.

“We was married for over thirty years. That shit jus’ don’t happen no more. Jus’ don’t happen.”

He glanced around, wary. “My stop is comin’. I jus’ get on here ‘n ride to the store… ride home. Nothin’ left for me to do. She died… and so did I. I jus’ do this because it’s what I do.”

He wouldn’t let me take a picture of his face. He said it was too old, too tired.

He smiled a little as he left the bus. Probably for the first time in a long time. Might even be the last. He told me that he doesn’t expect to make it to winter, nor does he want to.


“Take our picture!”


“Take our picture! We want our pictures taken. You a photographer?”

“Not really. It’s a hobby…”

“C’mon, here, take it.”

They were overheated and anxious for the bus to arrive. The eldest, standing behind the rest, seemed to have taken on a role as caretaker. They looked to her before really acting or speaking. The one in the center was painfully shy of the camera, and hid for every shot I tried. Before I had a chance to really enagage them in conversation, the bus arrived. I wish I knew where they were going.