Do You Have Lunch With A Crazy Person?

How is your mental health?

I don’t usually come up against moral dilemmas when out with my daughters thrift shopping. The shop has changed hands and no longer can I depend fully on the place to outfit me. I suppose it’s not a terrible thing to buy new clothes from real stores, but still.

We left a little disappointed and with empty hands and walked up the street toward our car. I had noticed an older lady outside of an empty storefront with what looked like a small rummage sale of framed paintings and other trinkets at her feet as we had driven into town but hadn’t thought much of it. In Upstate New York many storefronts are empty and people often have junk sales.

As we approached the lady who was pulling weeds from between the cracks of the sidewalk she engaged us in small talk about the town’s inability to compete with Saratoga Springs because the local government refused to learn about historical zoning and markers. She told us how she had lovingly restored seven houses in the area to their period correct beauty.

She hooked me on many levels–old houses, inept government, nineteenth century period-correctness. She was also beautiful with wavy mid-length silver hair and large and bright hazel eyes. Within a few moments she told us she was in her late seventies.

Claire bragged about the way her ass looked in the black leggings she wore quite well. She said it was due to genetics and keeping active and interested in life. With a dramatic wave of the arm she pointed to the paintings on the sidewalk and the photographs taped to the window of the storefront.

The Grieving Process

“Henry died this year,” she told us as she pointed to an obituary cut from the newspaper.

I scanned it. Henry loved dancing, old cars and the local Catholic church. The pictures showed a very handsome older man — the kind of man who possibly loved too many women at once.

Claire started stories about her time as a frumpy teacher. Stories about raising daughters alone after her second husband ran off with her best friend. About her first husband’s death in Vietnam. About her opinions on politics.

I mentioned that we didn’t have much in common politically. We both agreed that this was not a problem and that mature adults should be able to discuss ideas without having the ideas poison relationships. Since this attitude pleased us both we agreed to be friends and possibly to go to lunch and have margaritas.

“I was a frump until I met Henry,” she said wistfully. “He made me beautiful.” She pointed to one picture where she did look a bit frumpy and then another of her and Henry at some sort of garden party. In this photo she wore a form-fitting red dress and a confident expression of being loved on her face. Henry looked proud and happy too.

“So after your horrible second marriage you finally found happiness,” I said.

Her eyes clouded for a second. “No, it wasn’t always happy.” Claire looked as if lost for a moment but recovered. “So when do you want to do lunch?”

Just then the owner of the thrift store called to me from down the road. “Adrienne, you left something in here!”

I knew I hadn’t bought anything. My daughters looked equally confused. A different lady from the store came out now and called me again. Claire turned her attention to my daughters, asking them about school and such. I strolled down the street to retrieve whatever it was that I’d left behind.

“She’s crazy,” the shop-owner said. “We all loved and knew Henry, but since his death Claire has been terrible. She accosts anyone who walks by the building she and Henry own. Henry left her underwater financially. She tells everyone she’s going to run for mayor. He had her put away a few times. We knew you and the girls would be too nice to step away, but she’ll keep you for hours if you let her.”

I had noticed that her stories trailed off and circled back, but she was colorful and interesting. I thought lonely and grieving. I called to the girls, waved a good-bye to Claire as she kissed the girls as if she’d known them for years and we drove off.

I checked the time and we had indeed been talking to her for almost an hour. I’d actually enjoyed the idea of Mexican food and drink with her. I loved that she was open to discussing politics although we were diametrically opposed on most issues. But she was crazy — or so it was said and I had run off to escape it — partially to please the shop-keepers.

How can you tell if someone is mentally ill?

Okay. So she did seem a little scattered. She did consume most of the air-time in conversation but … maybe she was terribly lonely … and grieving. Maybe she was crazy and needed to be checked into a mental health facility …

I live with a girl who has been checked into mental health facilities. Should I have run from her. We jokingly say yes on some days.

What if good old Henry wasn’t perfect? What if Claire had been hurt enough times that she became unhinged every so often? What if Claire is actually right that the town doesn’t know how to manage its affairs?

Why does this lonely, creative and possibly crazy woman haunt me?


So here’s what I’m wondering:

Would you have lunch with someone who is mentally ill?

Do you chance it?

Do you take the shopkeeper’s warning to clear out as fast as you can?

Who is responsible for befriending a woman like this?

How crazy is too crazy to hang out with?


Further reading:









Random Opinions About Poets, Short Story Writers and Novelists


Goats eat up short stories.
Goats eat up short stories.

A farmer once told me that sheep farmers were elitist pastoralists interested in landscape and art, cow farmers were salt of the earth types and goat farmers were fun-loving and crazy. But what about writers? Today I want to generalize.

Poets are the ones who say they do it for the art and don’t care about publication. They LOVE words and like sharing them at small critique circles. They dress funny.

Short story writers take themselves very seriously. They’re impulsive. They’re blunt and they cut to the chase. They wear sneakers.

Novelists do things no one knows about for a very long time. They have other lives, lots of secrets and have the feeling that they’re in the world but not of it. They forget to shower and dress up only if they get discovered and they WANT to get discovered.

Okay so I just made this stuff up. My best friend in high school was a poet and dragged  a shoe around with him. He died young and had no time to stop being pretentious. So what do you imagine are the differences between poets, short story writers and novelists?