Spring's coming on, and I saw Benny Lunkin hitchhiking on Benner Pike just outside of Bellefonte. I guess he survived another winter.
Benny is something of a fixture in the Middle Valley. He's a paranoid schizophrenic - he hears voices, babbles constantly, sings, rants, etc. He's a minor thief - one of the reasons why I keep my front door locked on my apartment. He lives somewhere in town - down along Water Street, I think. Rumor has it that he's the son of a wealthy local family, but I have no idea how much of that is true, and how much is legend. Somebody keeps buying him new clothes. Benny looks to be about forty-five to fifty-five, short, wizened and quite mad.
He used to scare the crap out of my female co-workers when I worked convenience for the Armenians - they said he was aggressive and sexually suggestive. He was usually quiet and squirrely around me, but then I'm a scary, sulfurous-looking guy, so maybe I just scared him. Not that this was necessarily the case with all large, manly men. Benny used to get in trouble with the 'roiding college kids, who occasionally beat the crap out of him, or tried to. Benny got his ass saved by State College police on more than one occasion.
Besides his habit of getting into fights with kids half his age and twice his weight, the main reason Benny's continued survival continues to impress me is his nomadic habits. Benny is a peculiar breed of traveller. He loves to go back and forth from State College to Bellefonte. As I said, he seems to live on Water Street in Bellefonte. But he prefers to hang out in State College. Now, he's a clinical psychotic, so he doesn't have it together enough to afford a car or to pass a driver's exam. The local construction companies occasionally seem to give him charity work, and you'll occasionally see him with a work belt w/hammer and tools, but it's not the sort of thing with which one might support oneself. I've been told by some of the local taxi drivers that some of them drive him back and forth as a further charity, but the rest of them are quite tired of him constantly stiffing them. More often, he'll be found on the Benner Pike or Rt. 26, thumb out and hitching. Few folks give Benny a ride twice. As I've said, he's a mutterer, he's freaky-looking, and he smells like your standard-issue bum. I've only given him a ride once. I never intend to do so again, mostly because I don't want to encourage his perpetual procession. I keep expecting to hear that some drunk ran him over on the Pike. It's not a wide road, and it has some blind spots where a froggy little man walking in the dark could easily escape notice by a swerving driver until it was too late.
I don't know why I spend so much time thinking about Benny Lunkin. I suppose it's because I once spent the better part of two years staring at the back of his head, listening to his vapid, querulous muttering at all hours of the night. Those two years were pretty much the nadir of my existence - selling legal drugs and junk food to drunks, psychotics, and insomniacs. I spent them with this old lunatic, in a sort of accidental, incidental companionship. I managed to pull myself together and crawl out of that sewer. But Benny will never do so, can't do so. He's going to die one of these winters – beaten to death by some pissed-off boyfriend, or run over by a night-blinded driver. Every spring, I see him emerge from the snow and slush, still surviving, still living. Evidence that even a man devoid of sanity, companionship, and purpose can still find something worth living for, even if no-one else can see what or why.