The Story of The Lance

George Orwell’s book 1984. That’s why I started telling you about Lance.

Tell me again.

He had some mental disability. I forget what his actual diagnosis was. He was homeless. But he never broke the law, always polite, mannered, and respectable. Very well kept and clean. Amazing exception for a homeless person with mental disability, I think.

Where did he sleep?

I don’t know where he slept at night. But all he did every day was walk up and down Duval Street in downtown Key West. He used to hand little flyers printed in a printing place to everyone passing by: The Lance Rules written on them. And bumper stickers. Would stick them on people’s cars. The Lance Rules. He loved attention.

One day, he found a big piece of cardboard, probably from a fridge box, about 12 x 4.5 feet, and he wrote on it with black paint and huge very elaborate letters: THE LANCE. Like an artwork. And he would drag the cardboard behind him, like an enormous banner, holding it at one corner, up and down Duval, the full length on the street, from beach to beach, all day for weeks, honest to God. THE LANCE. Until the cardboard got worn down on the opposite corner from too much dragging on the sidewalk.

How did he look?

This don’t matter. The hobbit in The Hobbit book was never described. It doesn’t pertain to the story. What matters is the story, not how he looked.


He was a young guy, about eighteen- twenty years old. Slightly chubby. He looked normal, is how he looked. Like everyone. You wouldn’t know he was mental. Like Rainman, remember the film? Normal.


He always carried a black Mead notebook. Every day he would write a wish-list of things he wanted that particular day. Things he needed right then. His list would start fairly realistic and the extravagance of his wishes would increase as the list grew. At the end you could read: I wish for a helicopter.

The first wish would be something like a cheeseburger from McDonalds, but with all sorts of stuff in it: mushrooms, onions, bacon, and ham. Something that doesn’t sound unrealistic, but is not on the menu. But that’s what he truly wanted to eat. If he really needed a watch because he didn’t have one and he wanted to know what time it was, he would ask someone sitting in a coffee shop, What is a real good watch? And they’d tell him, a TAG watch. A TAG is a good quality watch and it is expensive, no way he could get one. But he would write in his wish-list:

1.      I wish for a hamburger from McDonalds with mushrooms, onions, bacon, and ham;

2.      I wish for a TAG watch.

3.      I wish…

About 80% of the things he would wish for would realize in a mysterious way, honest to God. Like that TAG watch. One day he just showed up with a TAG watch. Someone bought it for him or gave it to him; he didn’t steal it for sure. I think people just liked him.

Once, he wrote in his notebook: I wish for Harley Davidson boots with bright orange laces (which they don’t make). And he got them for free, only with bright red laces instead. One of these guys in the shop just gave them to him. And they cost probably like three hundred dollars!

(He never showed up with a helicopter, though. If he did, I would buy myself one of those black Mead notebooks and start writing my own wish-lists…)

How many wishes?

A full page. You know these black Mead notebooks? It was always the same notebook, and the list was always a page long, every day, so as many whishes as there are lines on a page. Thirty two, I believe.

Thirty two whishes per day…

Yes… One page full of whishes… I got some of his Mead notebooks full of whishes. I kept them. Somewhere in a box in my boat.

Really? Can I see them?

Sure, I have to dig them up…

That’d be cool… What about the book?

One day he showed up with the book, 1984 by George Orwell. I don’t know where he got it from, could be from the library. He would walk up and down Duval Street, the full length, from beach to beach, holding it two inches from his face, not looking where he was going at all or who was coming in front of him (people had to avoid him), reading out loud from the book. So loud he was actually shouting. Everyone could hear him. He did this every day for two months, honest to God! When he got to the end of the story he would start reading it all over again. Walking and screaming all day so that people would listen. I don’t know how many times he read it like that. Every day, all day, for two months. He probably red it like ten times at least.


I think that’s how the book was meant to be read… Shouted out loud in public for months in a row by someone considered outside the social (and mental) norm… Perfect

The book should be mandatory reading in high school.

It’s like a slap in the face.

A wake up call.



A conversation with my friend Richard Michael Jaworski in Key West.