Once, I met a man who ended up being a murderer. He died on death row.

That's mine. What's yours?

[EDIT] Actually, now that I look at the word, I'm totally misusing it. He wasn't a serial killer. He did, however, have a psychotic break and bludgeon his mother to death with various household implements. I don't know why I said serial killer, but that's not the right word.

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[EDIT] Sometime in the early summer of 1998 I was walking down the Drag, which is the portion of Guadalupe Avenue in Austin that runs parallel to the university. I remember that it was unpleasantly hot, the hottest part of the day. I remember it very well for a number of different reasons. But I had just mailed off my last remaining $400 to an old friend so that he could move away from our hometown. I'm rarely in a position to give that kind of money, but the donation had freed me, as if a burden had been lifted. It seemed to me that the world was full of good people and possibilities.

This is what I was thinking about when I walked down the street on that day, this old friend of mine and his liberation from small town Texas, and it made me smile. I must have looked happy. I say this because that moment created a ripple effect. Just as I was crossing a busy intersection, I was stopped by a young man. He touched my arm and said something unexpected to me. "Hello, my name is M. Will you be my friend?" It was an odd question, but I was caught in a rare moment of unbridled optimism, and so without thinking I replied without hesitation, "YES!"

Great! And in that instant I absolutely meant it.

He told me that he was an artist. What kind of artist? He could not tell me what kind of art. He was looking for a roommate, and would I like to be his roommate? No. What kind of artist was I? Did I read books? And so on. But Austin was and is full of con artists: hippies, idealists, crusty punks, wanderers, compulsive liars. I thought maybe this handsome, odd looking young man was just full of malarkey, which I didn't find cause for alarm. I reasoned to myself that perhaps this is the kind of magical shit that happens when you transform abruptly into an optimist. Who's to say?

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He told me that most people are terrible, but I didn't seem terrible to him. Not yet. Not yet.

As we talked the heat started to get to me. I wanted to leave the conversation if only to get out of the glaring sun. And I noticed something strange about this person. He was dressed from head to foot in long sleeves, pants, and a jacket. And he was sweating profusely. I realized that he was wearing heavy foundation. The heat was causing him to sweat and drip makeup onto his jacket, giving the impression that he was melting onto the sidewalk. We traded phone numbers and he promised to call. After our encounter, it took all of 2 minutes for me to realize that I had made a mistake.

M. began leaving messages on my answering machine at two in the morning. We had several brief, uncomfortable phone calls. He asked to visit me, but I politely declined. Once, he left a message for me bragging, "I'M HAVING A PARTY AND YOU ARE NOT INVITED." He also started frequenting my neighborhood coffee shop. I should mention that at the time I viewed this with both unease and amusement, but mostly amusement.

One night I was there with a friend. We'll call him Ray. M. march straight up to Ray and I and announced that he was very, very high. He introduced himself to Ray, announcing loudly, "I'm an artist."

"Oh, what kind of an artist?"

"I can't tell you!"

This tickled my friend. He felt like poking the bear.

"Are you a writer?"

"I can't tell you. It's a secret."

"A painter? A musician?"

"I can't tell you I have to go!"

I wasn't sure whether or not I should be more embarrassed for M. or my friend.

I probably should mention that at the time I viewed M. with both unease and amusement, but mostly amusement. But, like I said, Austin back then was full of strange people. It is what was great about this place and sometimes what was terrible about it.

Approximately two months later I received a call from Ray.

"Have you seen the evening news?"

M. had experienced a full mental collapse and then killed his own mother. The police had found him in the kitchen naked and covered in blood. She lived in a secluded area, and nobody was there to help her.

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I think of this story rarely, except as an anecdote and as a reason to trust my instincts. (Stranger danger is real, dude.) I am told that M. died while in jail.