The Mad Monk
He was tall and hairy, with a full beard and a thick accent.
"You haf room to rent?"
â€˜He looks like Rasputin,â€™ I thought, remembering a TV documentary about the Russian mystic who mesmerized the czar and czarina before the 1917 revolution.
Rasputin was known as the Mad Monk.
"Uh, j-just a minute,â€ I stammered. â€œI have to get my stepfather."
It was deep winter in Minneapolis, 1962. My new stepfather, Joe, was caretaker of this skidrow hotel a few blocks from my motherâ€™s small diner. At sixteen, I had just moved into a room on the third floor, where I loved pretending I had my own little apartment.
Until the Mad Monk moved into the room next door.
At first, he was unobtrusive, like the other men who occupied dreary rooms that lined the long hallway. They lived solitary, broken lives with no sign of family or friends. They worked or had pensions. Some drank their checks away.
But they seemed to like having a teenage girl living among them, reminding them of happier days. One solemn alcoholic named John insisted on giving me a dollar every Sunday when we cleaned the rooms.
"My daughterâ€™s name is LaVonne too," he said with a sad smile.
John disappeared one day. Joe looked for him, but we never saw him again. My mother said he must have jumped off the nearby Mississippi bridge.
Late one night, I was jolted awake by an argument in the room next door. I heard male and female voices shouting in another language. There were sounds of scuffling.
I was too frightened to sleep.
I crept downstairs and woke Joe. Mom was already at the diner, feeding the early breakfast crowd. I told Joe about the argument and how scared I was.
â€œIâ€™ll take care of it,â€ he said. â€œYou can sleep here.â€
I gratefully crawled into their bed. When I awoke, Joe was in the kitchen drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette.
â€œWhat happened?â€ I asked.
â€œThere wasnâ€™t any woman there,â€ he said, â€œjust him.â€
â€œWhat?! But I heardâ€”â€œ
â€œI know. Heâ€™sâ€”letâ€™s just say disturbed. I called the hospital and they took him away. He wonâ€™t be coming back.â€
It was another sad ending in a place full of sad stories.
I decided I didnâ€™t want my own apartment any more. I moved back down to a room closer to my parents.
I could wait to grow up.