You may have heard of the pink slip (it is a euphemism for getting fired in America), but have you heard of the yellow papers? No? Then you are probably not Polish. Getting your “yellow papers” in Polish means that you are certified crazy…I mean mentally ill.
I do not have a lot of experience with the mentally ill, but I think that everybody knows someone (or at least knows of someone) who has some degree of mental illness. I just have the misfortune of attracting these people to myself…like a magnet…like a big old crazy magnet.
As I was walking the 3 minute walk from my room at PZU to school in the Village, I had my 2nd encounter with crazy…Polish style. (My first encounter was Karolek who followed me home). How much trouble can you get into in a 3-minute walk? Just leave it to me.
First, I have a habit of greeting people on the street. Well, I had a habit. It is a small-town-America habit and doesn’t really translate well to another culture, so I stopped doing it. People were starting to think I was crazy.
On my walk to school, I pretty much kept to myself and only greeted those people (usually students) who greeted me first. On this particular day, I noticed a well-dressed man approaching me. Could it be a student’s father? Probably not, he seemed a bit too old, but who was I to judge? Well, he was well-dressed in the sense that he was wearing a suit, a 3-piece suit if my memory does not fail me and a smart overcoat. He was wearing a nice hat and carrying an umbrella as well, one of those large umbrellas with a wooden handle. Strangely, one of his pant legs was rolled up to the knee, but I thought perhaps he had been riding his bike and had forgotten to put his pant leg down. But then I noticed that he was wearing only one shoe. Quite odd. Of course, my summary of this man lasted all of about 15 seconds. And then he marched straight up to me with a determined look on his face and hit me with his umbrella sharply right on top of my head…and it hurt. Then he marched away saying nothing.
I told no one of this encounter because who could I have told and who would have believed me anyway? I later found out that this gentleman was Crazy Jurek. I did not give him the nickname no matter how suitable it seems. Crazy Jurek, as it turned out, was Misiu’s sister’s downstairs neighbor. Long divorced from his wife, Jurek had been given just one room in his marital home. His wife and children remained in the rest of the apartment. I don’t know how it was possible by law to do this, but the room was simply bricked off from the rest of the apartment (it does have an exit to outside) without access to heat, water or any bathroom facilities. And I forgot to mention that Jurek was/is under sporadic treatment of schizophrenia. Hitting a passerby with an umbrella is one of the tamest things he has done.
To make life at my sister-in-law’s even more interesting, Crazy Jurek’s sister, Faustyna, also suffering from schizophrenia lived upstairs in the attic apartment. My sister-in-law lived in the middle of a kind of schizophrenia sandwich. Every time I entered the main doors of the house, I was bombarded from above with cursing screams of “You f-ing whore. Get you f-ing ass out of here”. I did not take these comments personally because #1 she was mentally ill (she has now passed away) #2 she screamed the same thing to everybody who entered the building. #3 I didn’t understand what she was saying.
Once when we came back home to my sister-in-law’s, Faustyna was hanging by her finger tips from the 3rd storey window to which my sister-in-law told her to jump, but not before she moved her car. Some dark humor for ya.
Another time while sitting in the kitchen my niece wiped a drip of a mystery liquid from the tip of her nose. This mystery liquid was dripping from the ceiling. Origin? Faustyna’s apartment. As it turned out, Faustyna had been storing bagged milk under her sofa and some of the bags had broken and dripped down to my sister-in-law’s.
Despite my sister-in-law’s dark sense of humor, she really was sorry for them. She often called the authorities out of pity and out of fear for everyone’s safety. Usually they were locked in a mental facility for some time and then released back home where they had no care and stopped taking their medication. Jurek, this last very cold winter, in his last attempt to survive somehow, destroyed my nephew’s car spectacularly and was then locked up in a mental hospital where unlike at home they have heat, water, and food. Could you blame him?