Friday, October 29, 2010

Lewis and the Low Roadies

Well, it finally happened. I tossed and turned all night thinking about Lewis Greenberg sitting in jail with a bunch of criminals. It finally got to me, whether its guilt, concern over his health, the need to write more about him, I am not sure. But I am sincerely troubled by this and have resigned myself to the fact that I need to reach out to him.

Now, some people might think that jail time is appropriate treatment for Lewis, who has challenged his neighbors and the city of Ballwin, and the County and the judge for that matter; those responsible for giving the order to pick him up and incarcerate him.

The last I spoke with Lewis, there was some factor or condition that would keep the court from executing jail time--an interpretation of things, information given by his attorney, who knows?

Interpretation is the disconnect here, misinterpretation is at the heart of where the city, the county and Lewis suffer the most. We all interpret this issue differently is just what we do.

I moved on with things this past year a bit, as I normally do, so did everyone else, so did Lewis apparently, primping his art, blowing his leaves, reviving from time to time the sculptures, blowing leaves at the time when the cops came and dragged him off to jail. He wouldn't let the cops shut his house down, so the door to his garage stayed open for a time until he could figure out who he trusted enough to get things taken care of. I was out of town and couldn't do much when the call came in. I was hoping to be there if something like this were to happen; to calm him down, to attempt to calm him down, in order to interpret things accordingly. Unfortunately this would not be the case. I was able to speak with him briefly before he was transferred to the County Jail. He was mighty pissed.

I felt a bit like I had let him down. But that is the way it is supposed to be. Not because I am with him on his journey, working like he does to expose the community on his interpretation of what he can do and what he cannot do in relationship to his art. I just felt like I should have been able to interpret the fact that, if he didn't know that this was coming, the jail time, the exposure that he would feel knowing that his yard sits by itself without him to defend it daily, primp and adjust, situate. At the very least, I should have made it clear that this might have been the result and some form of indication for when it was to happen. I owe him that in return for what he has taught me about personal expression. I haven't seen Lewis much lately other than a wave and/or a honk coming and going from The Wolf. To this day he is still the only customer who is authorized to bring his bike inside the restaurant, for safe keeping.

To be honest, I am not sure if he is even out of jail yet. I am fairly sure that he is not. His sentence was 20 days back in May. It was suspended with an order to clean up his yard; another interpretation that he would miss the mark on. Maybe his attorney missed the mark. As far as I am concerned, everyone has missed the mark. And I will tell you why.

Back four or five years ago, when the neighbors got together and signed a petition to have him "dealt with", the city reacted in a way that they thought was in their best interest. A couple local council members and city officials full of piss and vinegar took the low road and began their quest to have the art removed, and at one point, refereed Lewis to a state agency for committal. This is what fueled Lewis's fight for his first amendment rights. He has it all documented, one pissing contest after the other. The names, articles, call logs, just as big of a collage of wrong doings from the city and its the yard art in his front and back yards. He was and still is one pissed off dude and doesn't have a plan other than to take one day at a time, like he lives his life, looking over his shoulder thinking people hate him.

Early on I immersed myself in to his world and wrote a couple pieces on "who" Lewis is. I get a lot of hits relating to the story telling that has unfolded that past four years on this blog. I have attempted to chronicle his frustrations, his anger, his likes and dislikes of things, his challenges as a sufferer of mental illness and the need for the community to take the high road when dealing with him. Over and over and over I have tried to reveal the fact that Lewis is a human being that does not understand or subscribe to the traditional entitlements of government having a say over whether you can express yourself on your property. The higher the volume turned up on him, the louder the art becomes. For him this is very real, being the recipient and strategic placement of energy towards his art, and his resulting efforts to not get mowed down by the city and now county government.

Now, (insert argument on property values, the fact that I wouldn't want to live next to him if I lived there, all the other crap that I choose to disregard in relationship to my storytelling on the matter).

I can't reference (the cliche) because it would dilute my ability to share such an intellectual message. I hear this from people all the time, I've been yelled at, cussed at, argued with, given warnings that my business will close, all because of my relationship with Lewis. "How can you allow that guy in your Place?" I heard once. Let me tell you something. Lewis is the first person I allow in my place, everyone else can come too. Because he is a hell of a lot more interesting than any pre-conceived suburban homogeneous, middle-of-the-road West St. Louis county white picket fence America value posture. As far as I am concerned, Lewis's art should be on display as one of our cities valued culture and expression displays, a reminder that "we the people" and our rights as citizens are in control. Not the knee jerk reaction of those who also mis-interpret the law, miss the mark on what is appropriate when dealing with our towns eccentrics.

We, the community, missed the mark with Lewis, took the low road, the jail time, the hate, the cast away to the penal colony attitude toward him. Now we have to look at ourselves and ask, what is next? More anger on his part? What will be the result of what was handed down from the court? Less art by force? Will they institutionalize him?--finding him unfit for incarceration? Will this whole thing snowball into a modern day Randle Patrick McMurphy?--anyone else want to insert a name here? Let me tell you something, we need to figure this out.

This story is like the song that never ends. I am heading out today to see if I can find out whats up. I am coming Lewis!--so I can sleep and so our town can get a wake up call.


VP Interiors LLC said...

Go Ralph!

Cheryl Hughey said...

We're thinking of you, Lewis.

Cindy Caesar Walter said...

I wish more people were free to express and be the person they are driven to be rather than to conform to things of this world. Tolerance of others. Embracing our differences. No bullying. Respect. All things our children are taught in school from the beginning. If we cannot BE ourselves within the safety of our own homes, within our own space, then where in the world can we?? Perhaps those who judge this man so harshly should take a better look at themselves....

Ralph Pfremmer said...

Cindy,pretty much sums up the dialog from me the past four years. Lewis taught me the meaning of this. That is why I never use alias or hide behind anything other than my own name and my own ability to voice my opinion. Talk about getting set free! Thanks for your comments.

Jim Alseth said...


Please tell Lewis that I just met him outside Lone Wolf a few weeks ago, and can't believe this is happening to him. He is one of the most interesting people I've met in a long time! His mnemonic for me is "Hendrix"

His issues with the city over his ability to display his art were at the forefront when we met. My first thought was that this amazing guy must also be a bit paranoid to think the city would go so far to infringe on his artistic expression. Boy was I wrong, cause he was right!

He talked about how some compare him to Cookie Thornton, and that it was a scare tactic to cow others into allowing action against him. How the Kirkwood shootings were a source of despair, and that he attended the candle light vigil.

I wish the best for Lewis, and hope that somebody can put a wrench into the gears of bureaucracy that are grinding here.


Jim Alseth
A Kirkwood resident