Chronic Funny Business Syndrome

by Bill BoydMy friend Don passed away in his home a few months back, 2 weeks shy of his 60th birthday.

Don was one of the most colorful people I had met at JOIN. I met Don in inner southeast Portland in late 2004, and it took the better part of 6 months before he trusted my intent on offering him a way off the streets. He was successful in finding a studio apartment in mid 2005.

On the exterior, Don was a tough person to be with – he was usually drinking, often angry and always quick with a complaint. But as time and mutual persistence played its role, his true nature began to emerge. He had a sharp wit, a passion about science and technology, and a love of late night talk radio. Plus, he was an inspired harmonica player, and would share many of the old time classics, as well as some original tunes.
Don had a tough upbringing, and he developed many methods to protect himself. His efforts to hide his vulnerability often resulted in isolation. But during his 3+ years in housing, we became true friends. Granted, I had to be his social worker on occasion to help keep his housing intact, but he’d rather tell me the latest jokes than discuss ways to keep his landlord happy. He always summarized his willingness to abide by the rules: “I’ll do anything within reason. My reason.”
He loved to self-diagnose his condition, which he labeled CFBS – Chronic Funny Business Syndrome (with an emphasis on the BS). Some of the symptoms of CFBS included an insessent fascination with the trivial, endless tinkering with dead electronic equipment, ruminating over an embellishment of his last joke, and an idolization of both Alfred E Newman and Albert Einstein.

Time went on, and his love of wine and disdain of compliance with mainstream norms of cleanliness began to take their toll. His landlord began issuing the “clean up or pack up” ultimatums, which Don ignored. I knew his time in housing was coming to an end.

After two days of knocking on his door with no response, I pushed it open. He must have been on his floor for a few days. I couldn’t get myself to look at his face – death is not something I handle well. The police were the first to arrive. I know their job probably demands the development of a grim sense of humor, but I found their disparaging comments about Don and his situation both insensitive and dehumanizing. I kept quiet. The medical examiner was more compassionate about the situation. He said that it was unlikely that an autopsy would be done, since there was no foul play. Since Don didn’t have any extended family, his passing would go unnoticed by society… no death announcement, no burial stone, no recognition of his time with us in this life.

I guess this blog will have to suffice. I think of Don often.