Skip

Anchors Away, A Life Unmoored
October 28, 2003 5:39 AM   Subscribe

Anchors Away, A Life Unmoored An interesting, albeit sad, story about a once prominent D.C. lawyer who walked away from his life and now lives on a garbage-filled boat in the waters around Annapolis, MD. "Trash People" have always perplexed me; is there anything that society can do to truly help them?
posted by tommyspoon (36 comments total)

 
I don't find that particularly sad to tell the truth. He seems to be living like that entirely by choice - I presume he could move to somewhere on dry land if he so chose (he has money after all). You ask how society can help - does he want help? Doesn't seem to me as though he does.

On a slight tangent the article uses the phrases "is sunken" and "one of the winningest defense attorneys". Is it just me or do these sound strange to anyone else?
posted by jontyjago at 6:09 AM on October 28, 2003


Sorry to drift off topic, but what is annoying me is the Post's new habit of refusing to put an entire article on one page. Grrrr.

Anyway, the guy may not want or need help, but he certainly creates problems for others.
posted by JanetLand at 6:16 AM on October 28, 2003


Janet, try clicking the "Printer Friendly Version" link on the right-hand side of the page. That should put the whole thing on one page.

And yeah, this irritates me to no end as well.
posted by tommyspoon at 6:30 AM on October 28, 2003


Other than the trash collecting bit, it sounds almost like paradise to me. I basically agree with jontyjago's comments.

Further: We as a society are doing a disservice to our collective selves by severely restricting the possible modes of existence. This article clearly illustrates that if a person chooses to not participate in consumerism, property ownership, etc., he's a "problem." It is disconcerting to me that we have no viable choices for a person who chooses to live without money.

I don't know what the solution is. But I am sure that what needs fixing isn't this guy and folks like him, but our society.
posted by yesster at 6:44 AM on October 28, 2003


But I am sure that what needs fixing isn't this guy and folks like him, but our society.

Yes, because we should all live on dilapidated boats and collect garbage. What I found disconcerting was the lack of discussion of mental illness.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:57 AM on October 28, 2003


"Annapolis is a tolerant community that tends to appreciate the eccentricities of its characters." - What a crock. Downtown Annapolis is a gentrified post-colonial tourist trap. I love it to death, but tolerant it is not.

Collecting garbage and living amongst it is actually a symptom of a psychological disorder (OCD, and sometimes Schizophrenia).
posted by shoepal at 7:11 AM on October 28, 2003


Who says he's mentally ill? I don't think there's any call to label somebody "mentally ill" unless he drools and can't dress himself and wanders around in traffic talking to invisible people. This guy might just be an old slob who doesn't give a damn. Frankly his previous life as a lawyer doesn't strike me as any more attractive than the one he now leads.
posted by jfuller at 7:18 AM on October 28, 2003


Wow, "mental illness" is a convenient way of avoiding the possibility that a person could have a rational opposition to participating in modern society. If we didn't treat such people like garbage, maybe they wouldn't be so bent on collecting it.
posted by yesster at 7:21 AM on October 28, 2003


Yes, because we should all live on dilapidated boats and collect garbage.

Because yesster was clearly making a case for this wasn't he? and not in fact making a point about plurality of choice and the right to choose not to follow the lifestyle of the mainstream. A point which is separate I think from any discussion as to any mental illness this bloke might have.
posted by biffa at 7:22 AM on October 28, 2003


Interesting story, but I would have liked to have more on his reasons for doing what he's done.

And the whole sailing thing - does he know how to sail, and was just drunk or something, or is he bad sailor? How'd he know the boat was his brothers that he scratched?

The story was very general, which is too bad. Too much fluff.
posted by rich at 7:26 AM on October 28, 2003


I co-own a boat with a friend. One day, a guy which sounds like the one portrayed in the article moored his 3 tied-together boats next to ours. At first, we were not only cool with it, but actually grateful (24/7 free security, etc). Then one day our boat was covered with like 5 old mattresses. We go to the guy and, after a long waking up period, etc. He says: "yeah, those mattresses were mine, but I don't want them anymore". So he dumped them in our boat. Needless to say, we immediately dumped them right back into his.

A few days later, the canals were almost frozen over and his boats were still there - with him inside, we presumed. But by then we were in no mood to sort things out for him. Then about a week later, his boats all sunk into the icy waters. To this day, we wonder if he was still inside. (FYI, a day after the sinking, the water police were all over the site so it is not a sinister as it sounds. Also, there is a fire station sitting next to the canal by our mooring point).

Moral: yeah, it might sound idyllic, but this guy is probably sicker than you think and needs urgent help. For his sake and everyone else's.

Yes, because we should all live on dilapidated boats and collect garbage.

Should we instead turn to playing just about every trick in the book to get your criminal defendants to walk free? I have no problem with living in dilapidated boats and collecting "garbage" (define "garbage"). The do-not-cross line is when that person becomes a clear nuisance to everyone around them. My rights end where yours start, etc.
posted by magullo at 7:42 AM on October 28, 2003


This fluff piece could have been far more interesting if there were more details - it reads like filler material. That said, there is no doubt in my mind that the man has some sort of mental illness. This doesn't mean that he can't do what he wants to do with his boats and his junk, up to the point that he isn't harming anyone, including himself. It seems that we as a society insist on "helping" anybody and everybody we deem as needing help. Often this means medicating people and having them live in a place they don't want to be. Of course this turns into a slippery slope since many of these people need to be medicated and have someone take care of them. The trick is knowing where to draw the line.

As far as I'm concerned, this ex-lawyer is in his happy place. Good for him for being able to find it, but it's too bad that he had to alienate those who loved him while finding it.
posted by ashbury at 7:53 AM on October 28, 2003


> does he know how to sail, and was just drunk or
> something, or is he bad sailor?

If his main vessel is sail-power only and overloaded with misc.junk, and it's also towing two, maybe more rowboats/dinghies fitted out as garbage scows, the whole assemblage is going to be a tad hard to control.

I take this as a metaphor for the problems mainstream society has with "allowing for alternative life styles." Those who naturally drift against the flow do tend to bash into other peoples' small craft.
posted by jfuller at 7:56 AM on October 28, 2003


Without any insight or even hypothesizing about why Bush would choose to live this way, this article's pretty pointless, except in a "Hey! Lookit the crazy ol' coot!" human-interest / slow-news-day kind of way. I guess I'd be interested to know what drives a man to abandon society and familial interaction, but I wonder if some of his MeFites defenders above would be so taken with him if he lived in, say, the stairwell of their building, or in a van permanently parked in front of their house.
posted by JollyWanker at 9:29 AM on October 28, 2003


Mental illness is treated in a stupid way in our society IMHO.

1. The present mental state of a person does not define them holistically (e.g. he's schitzo, she's a nympho etc.)

2. There is no easy way to define 'mental illness' by type. It is a continuum, all mental states are included, such as mine or yours.

3. Drugging people is a short-term solution, as is attempting to lock them away. It is not a way to help people in most cases. (These people offer some alternatives, following a quick google search)

4. Our society, perhaps because of historical stupidity (Victorian sanitariums etc.) has a myopic, un-reformed, pre-renaissance approach to mental health.
Our society is not inclusive, it is exclusive. Not much fun if you are one that is being excluded.

Must dash.
posted by asok at 10:57 AM on October 28, 2003


This thread recalls bong-fueled debates about whether Henry David Thoreau would be considered merely countercultural and eccentric or would be committed/incarcerated in contemporary society. In the 60s, when the book was more popular, he'd have been a hero. Today, he'd be a freak or a criminal.
posted by alumshubby at 11:47 AM on October 28, 2003


The choosing alternative lifestyles bit is so much crap. Sure, it's possible to make a rational decision to live outside the system, but this person didn't. He abandoned his wife and child, leaving them broke and facing eviction. That's not the action of a rational person choosing an alternative lifestyle, that's the action of a disturbed individual finally losing it.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:48 AM on October 28, 2003


Fine - let's say the guy is "mentally ill" (though I basically take the Szasz approach to that) - - - so what?

He's harmless (sure, he bumped into another boat - like that NEVER happens in a marina). [actually he's very rational - open water is about the only place left in the world where you can legally stake a claim to territory (if a boat can be called territory), and not have to buy it from someone else, or pay property taxes (cough *rent* cough) on it]. So he left his wife and kids - oh, yeah, only mentally ill people do that, right?

No harm to himself, no harm to others. Leave the guy alone.

For some of you posting: May you be blessed by a plague of Social Workers.
posted by yesster at 11:59 AM on October 28, 2003


jacquilynne: You've just articulated why I hate Bruce Springsteen for his song "Hungry Heart":

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride, and I never went back
Like a river that don't know where it's flowin'
I took a wrong turn and I just kept goin'
...
posted by alumshubby at 12:12 PM on October 28, 2003


you really "hate" springsteen for telling a story set to music?
that's fairly silly. it's what springsteen DOES. once my born-again brother told me he couldn't listen to U2 because Bono professed to be a Christian while singing "I still haven't found what I'm looking for." the two things were mutually exclusive in his view. in my view, he was unable to seperate the story being told/emotion being expressed in the song from what he thought were the beliefs of the singer. that was silly too.
posted by quonsar at 12:31 PM on October 28, 2003


> The choosing alternative lifestyles bit is so much crap. Sure,
> it's possible to make a rational decision to live outside the
> system, but this person didn't. He abandoned his wife and
> child, leaving them broke and facing eviction. That's not the
> action of a rational person choosing an alternative lifestyle,
> that's the action of a disturbed individual finally losing it.

Tread softly there, heh. The dude the Episcopalians just elected as Bishop of New Hampshire also walked out on his wife and children (to hook up with a guy, though, not to live like seagoing Collyer brothers.)
posted by jfuller at 12:41 PM on October 28, 2003


This NYTimes article about the infamous Collyer brothers mansion in New York City is another example of this behavior. One brother died, while the other starved after being crushed under a giant pile of trash.
posted by mtstover at 12:43 PM on October 28, 2003


Uhhhh, on posting, what jfuller said....
posted by mtstover at 12:44 PM on October 28, 2003


For insight into why someone might just walk away from everything, the novel "A scanner darkly" by philip k dick could be interesting and relevant. There, the main character (long before the start of the story) did exactly that, and I think the book portrays that sort of mental state in a very interesting way.

I can't really say more because it is kind of hard to describe, but the book is worth reading.
posted by advil at 1:02 PM on October 28, 2003


I didn't mean to point to the abandonment thing in isolation, and say 'all people who abandon their families are insane' (though I figure they must be slightly nuts, that's a different topic). I pointed to that as what I see as the critical difference between "Person makes rational decision to leave mainstream life" and "Person irrationally runs away from everything they've ever known."

I'd imagine it is possible to make an entirely rational decision that you don't like being a sleazy criminal defense lawyer and you want to go live on a boat or in a cabin in the woods or in Tahiti for the rest of your life. When you make that kind of rational decision, though, you let your wife know, maybe get a little marriage counseling, get divorced, clean up some loose ends and move on to your newly chosen life.

And it's not just the abandonment issue. Add in the massive junk collection. The sleeping out a hurricane on a boat. The disregard for property and authority. Any one of those things in isolation is probably not a sign of illness; all of them taken together are an obvious pattern.

So yes, I think he's mentally ill. I think the combination of all of his bizarre actions show that clearly. And no, I don't think he's harmless. He shows a casual disregard for his own property and that of others, but more importantly he shows a complete disregard for the feelings of others. Ask his wife if she feels that he harmed her, I'm pretty sure she'd say yes.

Can the mental healthcare system as it currently exists help someone like this? Can we even clearly define what helping him would mean? Probably not. But ignoring him and letting him continue to live in his self-centered little world is not the solution to the problem, either.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:17 PM on October 28, 2003


jacquilynne - I appreciate your lengthy comment - and I can see your point. However, you state:

Can we even clearly define what helping him would mean? Probably not.

That's why I'm, at the least, cautious. "Do no harm" seems like a better approach to someone like this, when we don't know if what we think is beneficial would be actually beneficial to that someone.
posted by yesster at 2:39 PM on October 28, 2003


That's why I'm, at the least, cautious. "Do no harm" seems like a better approach to someone like this, when we don't know if what we think is beneficial would be actually beneficial to that someone.

I understand fully your caution. However, don't confuse caution with correctly diagnosing his problems in the first place. Just because the best societal approach to his situation is "do no harm" does not mean that he is not mentally ill. Our inability to help is not a justification for his condition.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:46 PM on October 28, 2003


Monju_Bosatsu - If human societies are, on the whole, deranged by virtue (at least) of their obsession with spending vast sums on weapons and, even more so, by their denial of the current human impact on the earth (especially upon the the complex living systems which live in and upon it and which create and maintain (among other variables) we chattering hominids take as constants) the atmosphere and the currently pleasant temperature average we enjoy on this 'ol bit of blue and green).....

How do we define sanity except in terms of divergence from mainstream behavior?

yesster - I bestow my Metafilter Gold Star™ on you for:
"We as a society are doing a disservice to our collective selves by severely restricting the possible modes of existence. This article clearly illustrates that if a person chooses to not participate in consumerism, property ownership, etc., he's a "problem." It is disconcerting to me that we have no viable choices for a person who chooses to live without money. "

Ashbury - Right on. Condescension is the hobgoblin of small (liberal) minds.

quonsar - I have one of those born-again brothers too. His kids are (from what I have seen) forbidden to look at my weird and eclectic book collection. He knows - I guess - that it is chock full of Satanic material.

jfuller - great comments. I was thinking along the same lines. But you put it brilliantly.

jacquilynne - Yes, I'd say that the man had a psychotic break of some sort 20 years ago. But is he crazy now?

["...And it's not just the abandonment issue. Add in the massive junk collection. The sleeping out a hurricane on a boat. The disregard for property and authority."]

So: Our society choices to poison the "fish tank" (so to speak) in which we live. And we allow corporations to go unpunished after they poison thousands, even millions (and those are just the human victims). - Is this sanity? And, more to the point, does this constitute a society which has respect for personhood, life, or property? I'd say - NO, except on extremely narrow terms.

Bush's behavior of 2 decades ago does not necessarily indicate current insanity (leaving aside issues of defining what insanity actually is). He seems much more like a modern day "hunter gatherer" whose values and behaviors clash with most of American society.

But......his colorful behavior does earn lots of attention which, I rather suspect, he thoroughly enjoys.





.......I thought the WP piece quite slazy (sleazily lazy).

Does Mr. Bush have a voice? The writer says he does, but you won't read it in this post story.

Bush was horrible to his family. He'll have to live with that himself - they've come to terms with it, mostly, and moved on.

The story writer's obsession with the "trashiness" and untidiness of the old eccentric's life is rendered absurd and hypocritical if one learns of the "secret life of trash" (where stuff comes from, and where it goes, that is.)

As a phenomenon trash is, you see (mostly gentle Metafilter readers), mostly about the gradual destruction in the complexity and functions of the earth's living systems: life, and materials, are converted into consumer goods which quickly become trash (often toxic) which is then buried or burned (creating yet more havoc).

What I'm getting at is:

Mainstream US society is, as a whole far crazier than Mr. Bush for it's refusal to come to terms with necessity of living on a planet whose living systems (which we are pulling down with abandon, in part through our love affair with our throwaway consumer society) manufacture the very air which we breathe.....

"Perhaps because he did that once before, long ago. Threw away a whole life......Once, Julian Bush was one of the legendary Fifth Streeters who had their offices near D.C. Superior Court, a group of attorneys who had the reputation of taking on anyone as a client -- drug dealers, murderers, rapists -- and using any and all means to defend them. The lawyers loved the challenge and many of their clients owed their freedom to them..."

Aside from his behavior towards his family (ugly, yes, but long in the past now), Bush's current behavior seems far less objectionable to me.... almost ethical even.


Meanwhile, here is my pick for best Metafilter Quote of the Day™ "May you be blessed by a plague of Social Workers." (yesster)
posted by troutfishing at 3:46 PM on October 28, 2003


Troutfishing, et al.: I can sympathize with the environmentalist, anti-consumerist desire to withdraw from a wasteful and polluting society, but I see no evidence of that desire in Mr. Bush. Instead he hovers on the edge of that society, collecting and living in the very pollution you suggest he might be trying to avoid. He is not living in a commune growing his own food. He is living in a pile of half-sunk boats and trash. [On a more personal note, he has also abdicated his responsbility as a husband and father, which without any persuasive justification, I find repugnant.]
posted by monju_bosatsu at 3:59 PM on October 28, 2003


I live in Annapolis and see that guy around. He is a lot more crazy looking then the picture shows, wild hair and outfits really stands out as "crazy eccentric homeless guy". He's been a local fixture of Annapolis for a while I think this WaPo piece is sort of the inside local story about that strange guy everyone sees around town and nothing more.
posted by stbalbach at 4:06 PM on October 28, 2003


OK, fine, it's silly: Mr. Springsteen is welcome to write what he likes. But when he writes a song romanticizing running out on a wife and kids to pursue an old flame (or for the sake of simple nostalgia -- the song seems ambiguous), I find the theme disturbing.
posted by alumshubby at 11:34 PM on October 28, 2003


You're supposed to.
posted by NortonDC at 9:01 AM on October 29, 2003


3. Drugging people is a short-term solution

Excuse me? Some mental conditions require medication long-term, even lifetime-term, to give their sufferers some semblance of normalcy. There is nothing wrong with this.

It's just as valid as "drugging" diabetics with insulin.
posted by beth at 9:54 AM on October 29, 2003


monju_bosatsu - Bush walked away from his family two decades ago. His family has written him off - this, to him, is likely the most painful aspect of his betrayal. Is there any statute of limitations with regard to social opprobrium about this? It's his own hell and doesn't require outside intervention, regardless of your good intentions.

Meanwhile, with regards to your ".....collecting and living in the very pollution you suggest he might be trying to avoid." observation -- there is no longer (if there ever was) any place "away" from pollution, trash, or the human impact on the global environment.

If you are curious about these statements, trying Googling on "hormone disrupters".

Human mothers who are breast feeding actually reduce their risk of breast cancer (unintentionally) by flushing fat-soluble toxins which have accumulated in their mammary glands into (along with their breast milk)........their babies.

No one can now avoid the more pervasive sorts of pollution now common in the 21st century - nursing Eskimo mothers also pass Dioxins on to their babies through breast feeding.

All of the earth is currently a garbage pit. Those who acknowledge this are , at least, more honest - and how many people do you know who live in communes and grow their own food?

Is that the only way of dealing with the situation? If so - I suspect that both you and I are very dishonest indeed.
posted by troutfishing at 6:58 PM on October 29, 2003


beth - I agree with your immediate statement but - in regard to the human impact on the Earth - how do we define "normalcy"? Normalcy equates with the normal, the usual. As a term it does not imply value judgements.

Why is it not the case that human mainstream society at large - rather than a few odd eccentrics - is given the label of "abnormal"?
posted by troutfishing at 7:06 PM on October 29, 2003


A certain clever writer made his first visit to the town of Gallup, New Mexico.

His putative host, a well-dressed and talkative corporate offical, drove him through town in the deluxe, official corporate sedan. Although traffic was light by California standards, his host was heavy on the horn while providing a running narrative for the sightseeing. He steered with one hand, and loosened the silken, half-Windsor garrotte from around his neck. He pointed to a few of the locals.

"Over there...those're just goddamned Indians...all they want to do is drink, laugh, tell stories, shack up, and ride their tired old Appaloosas far out into the desert."

So you can see how shockingly pervasive "mental illness" can be in this society of ours.

~wink~
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:11 PM on October 29, 2003


« Older Seattle's Museum of History & Industry   |   Take my advice, or I'll spank you without pants. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post