Image by NatalieMaynor via FlickrIt's almost a stereotype, the eccentric loner in a small Southern town. Harper Lee used it in her masterpiece work, "To Kill a Mockingbird" and it's been rehashed over time in various other literary and Hollywood works.
Yet, at least in my hometown the stereotype lived. His name was Andrew N. Counts but most people called him "Zip". "Zip" passed away recently although I only found out about his passing by browsing my hometown newspaper's website.
He was a classmate of my sister and 62 when he passed away.
Zip Counts, appeared to suffer from schizophrenia for most if not all of his life. I can recall seeing him walking down the street holding heated discussion with people no one else could see. Sometimes he would stop dead still and simply gaze into space.
My grandmother, the embodiment of almost every prejudice known to mankind was terribly afraid of Zip. I can recall on Saturday shopping trips she would warn me to cross the street if he was walking down Main Street. Yet, for some reason, Zip never frightened me.
There was something in his connection to things I could not see that intrigued me. I always wondered whose reality was "real" - his or mine?
When I worked in the Public Library I had more opportunity to interact with Zip. He would come in and pick up a magazine or book to read. He was always extremely polite and seemed to delight in watching the antics of children killing time waiting for story hour.
I found out from the article that Zip was also an animal lover and supported and helped with shelter activities. I had no idea of that side of him.
What most people saw when they looked at Zip was a rather strange man who talked to himself and could wear outlandish costumes. My personal favorite was a hot pink turban of the type you might see a 1940's starlet wear. It was especially fetching when he combined it with mustard yellow pants, orange socks, and multi-colored shirt.
Yet, Zip was much more than that I'm sure. He was a fixture in town and I can't imagine returning to Newberry and not running into him somewhere, either a restaurant or shop or just walking down the street.
So, goodbye Zip. You'll be missed by many for many reasons. As for me, I thank you for making me wonder about the nature of reality for the first time and opening up a lifelong interest in spirituality and perception although you never knew you did that.