He would sometimes stop traffic on the Interstate highway by stepping in front of moving cars. Cars moving at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. That’s a helluva way to get attention. Donald Knopp was definitely an odd one. Solid of stature, wispy graying unkempt hair in not-quite-a-comb-over the only hint at his age, he was nondescript enough to be generally ignored.
One booth at McDonald’s practically had his seat imprint in its molded plastic, and he spent most of his other time at the public library or walking the streets of the small town where his parents raised him. All he knew was Marsburg, and his reputation preceded him with many of the townspeople there.
He’d strike up inappropriate conversations with complete strangers, ogle at women who didn’t know him from Adam, and scare children away in a fit of stranger danger. Everyone suspected he wasn’t quite “all there” but not in an innocent way. A trace of malevolence lingered just below the surface, and people ducked into storefronts to avoid him on the sidewalk and risk an uncomfortable interaction. Regardless of the stories, most folks though he was relatively harmless. One just never knows for sure.
Rumor had it his parents were first cousins and probably too old when he was born, those being the main reasons he was so strange. Some people said Donald was simply “cursed by birth.” The man had no social skill whatsoever, was a complete misfit, but not quite full-on mental. Getting along in society seemed even harder for him after his mother died, and he acted out in public more often. She’d arranged for a court-appointed guardian before her passing, but the social worker couldn’t always keep tabs on him.
And hooligans took full advantage of those disabilities.
A colossal statue marked the final resting place of Colonel William Mars of the State’s historical and much revered 100th Cavalry, with the town founder’s stone likeness brandishing a bayonet atop a rearing stallion. The monument was where those boys once left Donald Knopp tied up overnight. Bored teenagers with a little too much St. Patrick’s Day cheer in them scooped Donald off the street and to the cemetery at the edge of the city park. They’d had enough drink that they considered their prank innocent fun and quite a humorous finding for the caretaker when he unlocked the gates at daybreak the next morning.
Donald hung there limp for hours, weather-beaten and tethered to the horse’s legs at the monument’s base. Quite cold upon discovery, having been exposed to the elements over an unusually cold March night, he sported a permanent limp from that time forward. In their inebriated celebration, the boys had shaken up their bottles and sprayed beer over his legs and feet in a contest of who had the best aim at his extremities. Hypothermia in Donald’s soaked limbs claimed several toes on one foot.
No telling who won the cruel competition, but the irony came as county taxpayers picked up the tab for the indigent man’s hospital bill, some of whom were undoubtedly the boys’ parents.
Knopp stomped along with his weight centered in the right leg and the other one dragging behind him, frightening little kids with such a striking resemblance to a modern-day Quasimodo. Adults stole a second glance to see if a giant wart covered his right eye.
Donald tried to move swiftly along and one step ahead of that annoying conservator. He haphazardly crossed the street wherever he pleased, feeling like all of Marsburg was his oyster, his new gait impeding traffic more than ever before.
(photo credit: “snow cemetery” via DerekL on Flickr)