Human beings tend to focus on first impressions as a means of judging someone by using that first impression in order to compare what they expect from someone based on their appearance or initial interaction with what the person is actually like. Oftentimes one's first impression is actually quite astute, but occasionally people who may seem "limited" or otherwise discountable for one reason or another upon first meeting surprise you by revealing a depth of character and insight not visible upon cursory introductions. In these cases, the person you misjudged not only surprises you by proving you wrong, but also offers a lesson in judgment that can be useful the next time around. So it was with my last landlord, Terry, who, upon first meeting, struck me as a burnt-out stoner, incapable of real conversation, let alone friendship. It was only after some time did I realize that in reality, he was an intelligent, kind, and vivacious stoner with a flair for storytelling and one of the most interesting lives of anyone I've ever met.
I first met Terry after a long day of searching for apartments, having found plenty that I liked out of my price range and even more that I could afford but would have instilled a deep-seated sense of despair had I actually been forced to live in any of them. As I went to the manager's office in order to start my tour of the complex, I found the door open with the manager (Terry) inside cooking pancakes. He was shirtless with a small, wiry frame and the kind of tan that only comes with being outside for far, far too long, and the kind of ragged face that seemed to scream "addict" (I later learned he had been an alcoholic and meth addict, but this will be discussed later). He introduced himself in the mumbling growl that swung wildly from highs to lows as he spoke, and gave me a brief overview of the complex.
I loved the apartment, and figured I could tolerate Terry considering it was the first place I had found in my price range that would not leave me looking to run away the moment I moved in. There was no one thing about Terry that made him seem especially limited, but somehow the overall package just did not instill a sense of confidence, and I assumed that our interactions would be brief and shallow, much like our initial conversation regarding the apartment. It is not that I disliked him, either, but simply that his ragged appearance coupled with his unique speech patterns and expressions gave me the impression that apartment manager for a budget complex was the grandest experience he had likely ever had, and that even then, he was pushing the boundaries of his capabilities.
Terry told me the he smoked weed on that first day when I went to see the apartment, saying that he told all potential tenants up front because he did not want it becoming an issue down the road. I appreciated his forthrightness, as well as the generally laissez-faire attitude he had towards personal behavior so long as it did not harm anyone else, but I did not really appreciate what that meant in regards to Terry's personality until the first time I actually talked to him while he was high. It was around ten-thirty at night when I heard a knock on the door and that gruff mumble say "It's Terry." Somewhat alarmed, or at least as alarmed one might be to imagine that their landlord is coming to tell them that the water is out, or that the heating is broken or some other mundane apartment business, I answered the door to find a surprisingly cheery looking Terry.
It had been about two weeks since I had moved in, and he was coming by to make sure everything was working out all right. He was clearly high as a kite, and all of the sudden I understood Terry, more as a person than a landlord, because his demeanor had shifted. Not changed, really, but he was simply more expressive, eloquent, and engaged than during any of our other interactions. I realized that for the most part, he was actually just shy, and that he was likely well-aware of the affect that his appearance and voice had on other people. Thus, when he was sober he was all business, sparing no unnecessary words and doing the various handyman jobs around the complex without any fuss, and only once he was done would he get high, relax, and let himself engage in the usual trivialities of conversation the rest of us rely on to hide our social awkwardness.
I invited him, and the conversation quickly changed from the comings and goings of the apartment complex to Terry's background. He talked a mile a minute, leaping from topic to topic but never straying from the overall narrative arc (which ended up being about an hour-and-a-half long). He began by answering some of my questions about the area, because I learned that he had been manager of our complex for the last eighteen years, and had lived in the area for the last thirty. That led into a brief discussion of his life in Ohio before he joined the Marine corps in the 1970s, and this was when my preconceived ideas regarding Terry's limitations were completely obliterated.
I quickly learned that Terry's somewhat gruff, mute demeanor during the work day was not due to a lack of vocabulary or inability to express himself, but was more likely a result of his years working in the Marine Corps as an embassy guard around the world, where he was required to stand silently for hours at a time, guarding various buildings and diplomatic personnel. He told about his time spent in Paris, working as a diplomatic driver and participating in a marathon against teams from all manner of European militaries (his team won, having supplemented their usual water intake by biting off pieces from a block of hashish in order to keep their spirits up while they marched). I learned about the time he met the Secretary of State, and when he served as one of the guards for Marine One, the helicopter used to transport the President of the United States. After his time in France he reenlisted and was transferred to the Philippines, where he had his first child (who he has not seen since; like all good storytellers, Terry interwove his more exciting adventures with the periods of tragedy and despair from his life).
Although, as previously mentioned, Terry leapt from topic to topic, going into precise and minute detail about certain people or places while glossing over ostensibly interesting topics, he told his life story with ease, and I got impression that he had gotten used to telling it, as if he made a regular thing of detonating his tenants misjudgments about his life and character (which I'm sure he actually did). He offered a unique and insightful perspective on the Vietnam war, having been enlisted at the time but serving no where near Vietnam, instead guarding diplomats and VIPs as they travelled around France but nonetheless experiencing some of the resentment and anger directed at the military upon his occasional returns to the United States. Upon leaving the military (for the first time) he found himself back in Ohio, desperate to do something exciting, so he and a friend (actually the brother of a woman he was engaged to marry, until he drove cross-country to meet her in Denver and only then did she tell him that she was no longer interested) decided to sell what little possessions they had and head to California.
Terry lived in California for a few months until the money dried up, after which he reenlisted in the Marines. He served for a few more years until the military announced that it was going to start drug testing, and, choosing to quit before being kicked out, he left the Marines for the final time. Terry had been an alcoholic for his entire adult life until that point, but the rigorous schedule of the military, coupled with the mellowing effects of marijuana, had thus far allowed him to keep it in check. Following his leaving the military for good, however, Terry went off the deep end, coupling his alcoholism with methamphetamine use for a dangerous cocktail which sent his life into a tailspin. Over the next decade he decimated whatever self-control he had developed during his time in the military, fathering two children while bouncing in and out of jail and homelessness.
However, he finally decided to try and pull things together when his wife and her boyfriend were granted full custody of his kids. He entered Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, started working menial, low-paying jobs, and once he was a little more presentable (having been on-again off-again homeless for some years), he was able to land…