A Schizophrenic Plea: Stop the Insanity!

Part V: The Road to Wellness 

Dale eventually boarded up his partial house demolition.  He never rebuilt the carport or garage, and only because of his brothers (who lived nearby) did his home ever look functional again (albeit scarred).  Dale obviously didn’t care about physical appearances and beauty.  If something didn’t seem logical to Dale, he rearranged it, or modified it to fit his specific, selfish needs: he was a little like an imbalanced ancient god, one who carried his sledgehammer like Mjolnir, ready to dole out justice on any and all inanimate objects. 

Sorry William Carlos Williams, I've never liked your
poem, but Dale understood it so well.    
Dale’s home was elevated about three feet higher than where his driveway met the road.    The slow decline grade was what allowed his truck to roll down his driveway and into the house we were renting across the street three years earlier. The slope always bothered Dale.

Unlike other people on the street, including us, who built retaining walls to maximize the useable aspects of our yards, Dale thought outside the box.  He decided to lower his entire yard to be perfectly level with the street.  This would obviously be a difficult task even if he owned a heavy equipment business, but Dale wanted to do the job with only his trusty shovel and loyal wheelbarrow. 

The Pharaohs would've only needed like three Dales
to get all their pyramids and statues built.   
This would require the removal of how many square feet? On the small scale it was maybe 1000cf, but probably closer to 1500cf.  A wheelbarrow can hold about five cubic feet of material.  The task was monumental. 

This slave labor, that Dale so eagerly volunteered for, took him half a year.  The soil that was removed was thrown into his backyard and spread evenly for his next great project (making a corn field in his ¼ acre backyard). The work occupied Dale’s mind and body.  The swearing and flipping off were minimalized.  He had a task, and he would accomplish it. 

Pretty much a metaphor
for everything Dale
 tried to do.  
Logistically, the project was doomed.  As Dale got closer to his house, the question became, how to make this look natural?  But natural wasn’t in Dale’s game-plan.  He carved the dirt straight down from his cinder block foundation-exposing the basement wall below.  His home looked like it was built on the side of a cliff.  He even tunneled under his front porch cement stairs, leaving them hanging like a diving platform over the three-foot abyss below.  The strain on that cement and rebar must’ve been astronomical.  But it held the entire time we lived there.  The three-foot gap from earth to porch was too much for Dale to climb each day, so he brought out a small stepladder to reach his staircase.  Again, a logical (yet head-scratching) use of the materials he had handy. 

It was around this time that my family decided to put our house up for sale.  We had finished the long arduous remodeling project, which is a story in itself, and Mom and Dad decided to move south, back to Oregon.  We hoped against hope that any prospective homebuyer wouldn’t ask what the heck the neighbor was doing next door.  “Oh, Dale? He’s just experimenting with landscaping techniques.” 

By this point, I was an eighth grader, and Corey was a junior.   Dale continued to awe us, but we had also become used to his outrageous behavior.  His home, however, was still a mystery to us.  We knew Dale outside his home, but somewhere, the investigative journalist, or sociologist in me, wanted to know how a person like Dale lived on the inside.    

Perhaps it’s why, when Dale offered Corey and I a tour of his current interior remodeling job, that we unwaveringly (and almost joyfully) agreed to enter his home.  Looking back, this is probably where many a situation has gone horribly wrong.  I’ve read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, and I seen enough crime shows to know that you never purposefully enter strange people’s homes, especially their basements.  But Dale, while strange, was no stranger. 

"Hey, who ate my cold
We were explorers, like young Indiana Joneses as soon as we entered his home.  Dale wasn’t used to hosting people in his house, so we just randomly started looking into rooms.  There wasn't much to see: the home must've been looted by treasure-hunters before we got there.  There was nothing in the home.  Literally nothing in his home.  Two bedrooms, his living room and the kitchen had not one piece of furniture or decoration.  But it was immaculately clean.  I opened the fridge and found one orange and a bag of Tostitos chips.  I chuckled to myself as I wondered what cold tortilla chips tasted like.  Corey waved me over to him and we peered into Dale’s room.  A small portable radio/television combo, a sleeping bag on the ground, and a clock.  That was it.  Every material possession (besides the yard tools) Dale owned. 

Dale was excited to have visitors.  He giddily asked us to see the progress he had done on his basement remodel.  What we saw when stepped down the creaky plank stairs were basic exposed studs.  No murdering implements or torture devices, like I think we secretly thought or hoped, just a blank boring room.  There were still a few pieces of oak paneling on one wall, and Dale, without a crowbar, tore at them with his bare hands.  Eventually he ripped the sheet from the wall. 

Note to self:  Creepy basements with creepy people
not a good or entertaining choice.  
“These, these wires are ugly…I’m going to get rid of them, too,” Dale said, as he grabbed the white Romex electrical line snaking through the stud walls and started pulling. 

I guess we assumed Dale had shut off the power, but he did things a little differently.  After he had pulled about ten feet of cable out of the wall, he hit his first junction box, and let out a long vibrated yell.  Corey and I watched dumbfounded as Dale was hit by at least 20 amps of electrical current.  The scream lasted about five seconds.  There’s not a whole lot someone can do while another is getting electrocuted.  I guess we could’ve found the fuse box and shut down the power, but it all happened so fast. 

Dale released his grip and fell to the cemented ground.  His usually chaotic hair was sticking straight out, and his eyes were large.  He looked at us and said, “That F#*@ing hurt!” 

It was too much.  Corey and I ran upstairs, ran outside and lost it.  After we regained our composure from the hysterical laughter, we wondered if we should check on Dale again…but Dale had made it upstairs and was in good spirits.  Some behavioral therapists are again claiming that electro-shock therapy might be beneficial, despite the negative press it received in the late 1960’s.  Dale proved that at least temporarily, a jolt of 110 volts might be good for the soul.  What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?  Whatever. 

The final act that ended up saving Dale, was when he shot our house.  Why? I don’t know.  One day, a loud bang pierced our home and after we investigated the source found a hole in the side of our house.  My dad pulled out a .22 slug and found the casing next to Dale’s dirt driveway.  Dale was staring through his side window, smiling. 

How do we let those most in need of help have
access to weapons?  An interesting
psychological analysis of Lee Harvey Oswald.  
It was the closest my Dad had ever come to punching the man. And he came close a few times.  But Dad kept his composure, and through his intensity forced Dale to admit he did the shooting.  (“To get back at the girls from Bob’s Burger and Brew,” his favorite scapegoat excuse was his reasoning).  Dale had borrowed the rifle from his family.  Again, why?  Who knows, they were almost as nutty as he was. 

My Dad made it happen.  He called the police this time.  This time they were more proactive.  We didn’t press charges, so Dale avoided prison time.  But he was required to see a mental health specialist.  And the road to recovery began.  Dale’s parents finally saw the danger.  Dale got treatment and medicine, and he slowly got better. 

His appearance changed.  The beard was trimmed and the crazy look in the eye was gone.  He no longer flipped us off, and he started using the road to get to his parent's house.  He took care of his yard, and by the time our home sold, we didn’t even have to give excuses for his latest project. 
Selfishly, I missed the chaos and entertainment he gave.  But as I grew older and began to empathize with people not as fortunate as myself, I realized my Dad had saved Dale's life.  We’ve driven past his home a number of times over the years and it’s still the same.  He fixed his yard somewhat—it’s no longer a cliff dwelling.  He still lives there, now in his twilight years, and maybe he’ll never be “normal,” but he’s no longer “abnormal.” 
We live in a time when mental health resources are abnormally missing.  Help is basically non-existent to those who can’t afford it.   The clinically insane, as they used to be called, are out on the streets.  They’re usually harmless, but not always.  And we see them and laugh sometimes.  Glad it’s not us.  But mental illness is all around us, in various forms.  Many of these people only needed a hug, a moment of our time in their desperate hour, a sympathetic ear, or unconditional love from family.  Many now need lifelong medication and years of therapy, but nobody is willing to fund that. 

At least in Italy they let their crazy wheelbarrow gangs
have a carnival in their honor.  
A society that ignores, mocks, and scapegoats those with mental disabilities is one destined to have tragedies.  And as we become more and more insular and isolated as a society, we become more and more prone to mental illness and more exposed to the random violence that these illnesses sometimes manifest.  And for God’s sakes, when the warning sings are there, don’t ignore them like Dale’s family did for so many years.  Help is out there in many forms, through churches, volunteer services, hospitals, etc.  We need to help those who can’t help themselves find some level of healing and normalcy once again—for our safety, and theirs.   


  1. Wow, brought it all back again ... Truth is indeed stranger (and sometimes funnier) than fiction. I don't think our imaginations would be able to think up this bizarre behavior. I still have a soft spot in my heart for poor Dale.

  2. After all the years of stories... FINALLY they are in print. Thank GOD. I never knew there was a happy ending. This is exciting to me. Have you ever thought of visiting Dale?