The World of “Crazy Mike” (Knowing Who You Pick On)

by Bill Brenner on April 20, 2011

Got a lot of comments on yesterday’s post about the mentally ill guy in Haverhill people call “Crazy Mike.” Read on and you’ll know him better.

Mood music:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYyK-ZvpR_M&fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0]

The most insight on Mike comes from Katherine Doot, an old friend of Erin’s and recent discoverer of this blog. She lives in Arizona now, but as a Haverhill native she got to know Mike pretty well. Here’s what she had to say:

Mike in fact is a Vietnam veteran who does in fact have SEVERE PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder. He has medication that helps, when he can take it, but as I was told, the medication is often stolen from him.

Sadly this poor man lives in his mind every day reliving the horrors that he saw in Vietnam and cannot escape.

I had run-ins with him when I lived in Haverhill. Was I scared? Of course, but the man deserves respect for going to fight in a war in the name of our country. He deserves compassion for the nightmare that is his reality, and just maybe a bit of sympathy because of the lack of all of the above.

I work at an office that serves veterans, and at this office I have seen many of the Vietnam vets, most in better condition than Mike, but most have some sort of mental condition that stems from their war time. I feel sorry for what these brave soldiers gave up. Every chance I get, I make sure to take a moment, to shake their hands, and to say thank you for doing what they did. Sadly most of them are shocked by the simple words, and it brings me to tears every time.

As I said yesterday, I’m lucky. I struggled for years with crippling mental illness, but that was nothing compared to this.

This whole affair has also reminded me of all the homeless veterans I’ve seen in Haverhill and Revere over the years.

There’s always evidence that the guy on the street is a veteran. There are the service tattoos and the jacket patches. Many of them saw things that were hard to live with, and they were rendered mentally ill. Instead of getting help, they wound up on the street because they couldn’t hold a job or stay off drugs and booze.

It would be high-minded of me to say we need to do better for our veterans. But it’s been said so often it’s pretty much lost it’s meaning. We like to praise our veterans on Veterans Day or July 4. But once the holiday is past, we go back to treating them like shit.

Because they’re homeless and, as a result, they’re dirty, scary and unpleasant to those who have lived far more comfortable lives. And, don’t you know, we LOVE to judge people even though we know nothing about them.

I single myself out for ridicule, because back when fear, anxiety and addiction had me by the balls, I used to walk or drive the other way when these guys approached.

I’ve had my struggles. We all have. But I have no idea what it’s like to be on a battlefield.

I do know that a lot of people — good people who have sacrificed for God, country and family — have taken tragic turns in the line of duty. It’ll always be this way because life’s unfair.

Do these guys deserve better from the rest of us? You bet your ass they do. Including “Crazy Mike.”

When someone is on the street and hungry, we like to say they did it to themselves. Or we say we gotta help them and then do nothing. I’ve done both.

They did drugs. They stole and lied to people.

But the fortunes of man are never, ever so simple.

There’s always something in the history of each of us that shapes the decisions we make and how we live otherwise. I’ve made many bad choices in my day. But God’s Grace has carried me through.

May the vets on the street find that same Grace.

I bunked with a Vietnam veteran who has PTSD last year when I was on team for a Cursillo retreat.

He’s been through the wringer over the years. He saw terrible things in Vietnam, and he came home to people who were spitting on soldiers instead of praising and thanking them. 

I thought it was appropriate that a guy with PTSD would be rooming with Mr. OCD. We had a lot of laughs over that.

But here’s the thing: This guy doesn’t bitch about his lot in life. He’s retired, but he spends his days helping fellow veterans.

And he’s active with the Cursillo movement.

The tragedy of service bent him in every direction. But it didn’t break him.

There’s hope for all of us.

Even “Crazy Mike.” He walks the streets talking to himself today. But with the right kind of help, who knows what kind of goodness he may be capable of.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

WALLUIS November 18, 2011 at 9:16 pm

HELLO, MY NAME IS WALLUIS, I’M A 50 YR OLD BLACK MAN FROM HAVERHILL,,, I ‘VE KNOWN OF CRAZY MIKE SINCE I WAS A KID,,,, WALKING DOWNTOWN HAVERHILL WITH MY MOTHER,,, AND HE’D COME UP TO US AND CALL NIGG – RS , AND JUNGLE BUNNYS ,AND ANYTHING ELSE YOU COULD THINK OF ,,, BUT MY MOTHER BEING THAT SHE LIVED IN CHICAGO FOR 11 YEARS AND HAS DEALT WITH PEOPLE WITH ALL SORTS OF PROBLEMS ,,,, JUST TOLD HIM ,,,, GET AWAY FROM USE MIKE ,,,, AND LEAVE US ALONE RIGHT NOW,,,, I WAS SCARED , BUT MY MOTHER TOLD ME HE HAD SOME MENTAL PROBLEMS AND CAN’T HELP IT,,,, ( SOMETIMES ),,,, SOMETIMES HE DOES THAT SH – T ON PURPOSE ,,,, BUT THANKS FOR MY MOTHER,,,,, I STOP BEING SCARED,,, AND STARTED UNDERSTANDING ,,,, BUT I NEVER TAKE MY EYES OFF OF HIM IF I’M AROUND HIM,,,,, BUT I NEVER SEEN OR HEARD OF HIM PHYSICALLY HARMING ANYBODY …… WALLUIS

m May 4, 2015 at 5:57 pm

I moved to Haverhill in 1980. I met Mike the next summer. I was 23 yrs old and Mike was younger than me. How old was he during the Vietnam War? As I recalled the troops left in 1972.

A Pirate May 4, 2015 at 6:57 pm

Just letting you know that yesterday May 3rd 2015 “Crazy Mike” passed away. I hope his pain is over. RIP. Thank you.

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