Ezra Titus

1966 – 2009

SUNNYSIDE

Luke Ramsdell was a tall, thin man with long, frizzy red hair who always had a troubled look on his face, as though some unspeakable tragedy had befallen him, which was perhaps simply being the man he was. He worked at Tires Plus, one of the largest tire retailers in upstate New York. He drove a red Mustang Mach 1, his pride and joy. He loved to smoke pot, drink beer and do acid. He and his bulky, strong, greasy-haired brother Al both had girlfriends who lived in the same orphanage in Poughkeepsie. Luke had gotten some horrible kind of VD from his. He tried snorting his medication and thereafter began to behave in a very idiosyncratic manner.

 

During the last half of my senior year in high school, I lived with Luke and Al at their mother’s house, a slovenly, dilapidated abode where Mrs. Ramsdell had given up all hope of control. Luke, Al and I had the run of the house. It was the muddy spring of 1984 and, following a popular trend of the era, we’d started a speed-metal band. Anthony, our bass player, lived there in the Ramsdell’s house as well.

 

We were scheduled to play at the junior high bunny-hop, but when we showed up, someone had told the children’s parents that we were a Satanic band, which was marginally true, though we only saw that aspect of it all as a joke. The band was called “Inflictor” but for some reason we had mistakenly been billed as “Anthony Saddler’s Impaler.” So they didn’t let us play. They did, however, allow us to appear in the school talent show, where we evoked such excitement that three-hundred kids tore the auditorium to pieces. As soon as we walked off the stage, the principal told Anthony, who had encouraged the students to go wild simply by saying things like, “Are you ready to rock?”, never to set foot on the school-grounds again. Also, our malfunctioning smoke machine had attracted the attention of the fire department and the police.  They watched bemused as we played our marquis song, “Ayatollah,” and then ordered us to stop.

 

Luke and Al’s mother was strangely gray, nearly albino, with Tammy Faye Baker style makeup and one walleye that perpetually gazed toward the extreme left. Sometimes it was hard to tell if she was looking at you or someone else. Once when she was yelling at us about what a mess we’d made of Al’s room, he asked, “Mom? Are you talking to Ezra, or me?” She was one of a set of identical triplets who all played matching mother-of-pearl accordions at polka parties. They’d all been afflicted with the same lazy eye, and their names – Evelyn, Elsie and Eleanor – were written in silver lettering on their accordions. All together, we were a musical family of sorts.

 

Luke’s friend Mad-Dog also lived with us in a large, walk-in closet adjoining Al’s bedroom. He truly believed he was the reincarnation of Jim Morrison, and he did bare a striking resemblance to the dead vocalist. He was always running around in his underwear with an axe he called “Mildred,” trying to make us laugh. Once, I took a picture of him with Mrs. Ramsdell’s camera, in his underwear, axe raised and screaming. When she got the film developed, Mrs. Ramsdell was so shocked she nearly fell to pieces.

 

She didn’t seem to mind all the bongs, transients, Satanic heavy metal, or even the runaway girls. I’m not certain that she was fully aware of any of all that going on.. In either case, she never said anything about it. So it was a teenage madhouse with no rules. We had big parties where we’d play for beer-saturated crowds of other teenagers. We all loved drinking what we called a Berlin Smash, which is a glass of beer with a shot of grenadine. I invented something called “The Inflictor Drink.” It was a concoction of fruit, ice and vodka, intermingled in a blender. Though Mrs. Ramsdell also drank, she didn’t smoke pot or do methadrine or acid like we did. Mrs. Ramsdell was lost in a universe she didn’t want to understand. We called it “Ramsdell Hell,” and it was the setting for many a happening. There were a million stories to tell, like the time Al shot Luke in the head with a BB gun, or the time Al accidentally burned down the barn. For the time being, we’ll just stick to the time when Luke finally snapped.

 

He had taken. like, a whole sheet of acid and locked himself up in his room for quite some time. A few days later, Al and I had come home from school and rushed up to his room to do bong-hits. We noticed Al’s stereo was gone. We immediately started freaking out about that. Then I noticed the armrests that attached to Al’s gray foam love seat were missing. Confused, we looked again and again at the spots where the stereo and the armrests should have been. Suddenly, we heard a loud, crashing noise outside.

 

I looked out the second floor window and was aghast. While we’d been at school, not only had Luke thrown Al’s stereo, various pieces of furniture and a bunch of other stuff out the window, but he’d also thrown almost everything in the house out the windows of every room. Bewildered, Al and I looked for Luke, and heard him talking to himself, moving furniture in his room. We knocked on the door and immediately heard another large concussion coming from outside the house. I looked out the bathroom window, Al peering over my shoulder. Luke had now jumped out of the window and was running away into the woods. We called after him and ran to aid him, but by the time we came to the edge of the woods, he was long gone.

 

Three days later, Luke mysteriously reappeared in the living room. He was extensively scraped, distraught and covered in dried mud. Horrified, we asked where he had been. “I went for a walk,” he said very quietly, and then ran quickly up the stairs into his room and locked the door. Al and I looked at each other, completely confounded, but we had no idea what was going on or what to do about it. So we just got some beer and put the whole thing out of our minds.

 

Luke then began filling his room with stolen tires from work. Mad-Dog started to taunt him regarding that, addressing him as “Tire Man”. Undaunted, Luke fashioned chairs, a sofa and even a strange bed of tires. He hung Michelin calendars depicting women in skimpy outfits on his walls. He installed at least thirty fluorescent lighting strips and didn’t say a word to any of us, even when Mad-Dog bedeviled him, shrieking, “Tire Man! Tire Man!”

 

One day, Luke was silently driving his oblivious Mother to the mall in Kingston. When he ran the red light near the corner store, a semi-trailer tore the entire back of the Mach 1 right off the car. Dazed and speechless, Luke refused to exit the car. When the police arrived, Luke still declined their request that he get out of the car. He persisted in turning the ignition key, and insisted that the car might simply be low on gas. Before the night was through, Luke had been admitted to Sunnyside Sanitarium.

 

After graduating high school, I went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. A couple of years later, when I came back to town, I saw Luke in a pinball arcade trying to sell burnout kids on Christianity. He was wearing a light blue polyester suit and holding a large bible, looking at everyone as if he were appalled by each one of us, and terrified for our very souls. I walked over to say hello. He immediately said that what had happened up until the sanitarium was all my fault. Luke repined that I had been the instigator of disturbing events and even a “purveyor of smut” in his home. That was all true, more or less, but I didn’t think it was my fault that Luke hadn’t been able to hold himself together. His brother Al had taken as much, if not more acid, etc., and he wasn’t standing there bitching to me about how I had sinned against the Lord. So, I never really felt that bad about it. I guess Luke needed someone to blame and, since I’d done so many terrible things, adding Luke’s psychosis to the list wasn’t really going to bring my average down very far. I happily pretended to shoulder the blame for everything that had happened. Of course, I couldn’t accept that Luke had situated it all in a ridiculous, religious context.

 

One day, Anthony and I were hanging out in town and noticed a wedding party exiting the church. We watched from a distance, seeing that, unbelievably, Luke had found a wife. Even if she did appear to have Down’s Syndrome …

But any girl was a blessing as far as Luke was concerned. He’d met her at Sunnyside, during one of his many slips, in the aftermath of which he would often reenter the psych-ward. Al told Anthony and I about all it. These days, Luke manages the fish counter at the supermarket. I am very proud of his having overcome his difficulties. As far as I’m concerned, being the manager of the fish counter at the A&P is absolute proof that Luke has beaten his illness. I don’t feel guilty at all.

 

 

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