-Hunter S. Thompson
There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.
-Hunter S. Thompson
-Hunter S. Thompson
Ludwig Montesa was a fixture, an inexplicable light switch in the new apartment of the New Paltz community that definitely turns something on but you can't quite say what. You flick it whenever you get home and inexplicably feel a sort of relief, promising yourself that you'll figure out the wiring one of these days, but not today. Today, you are a bit too busy.
I met him for the first time at a party my freshman year of college. My then girlfriend, Kate, seemed to know him somehow and may have simply said by way of introduction, "Oh, that's Ludwig," as though that were enough to explain everything. To me, he seem to be an overly effusive and possibly gay Filipino stranger wearing heels that gave him an additional foot in height, but he greeted me as though I'd met him a dozen times before and I was silly for having forgotten him.
Years later, Ludwig still hovered. Whenever I visited New Paltz, it was a fair bet I would encounter him somewhere. I could walk by the drumming outside 60 Main and he would be singing some nonsense song along with them, showing off his double jointed fingers. I would go to a party and he would be shrieking/crooning some mid-eighties power ballad. He carried an old boombox with him all the time to facilitate this. He seemed to know everyone and be universally loved, such that I am not sure he was invited to half the parties he attended but no one would dream of turning him away.
He inspired myths. He would often dress in garish evening wear and insist that his name was Gloria, his words running together and stretching to catch up all in the same sentence. He was a gender-bending icon, someone who was so baldly out that it was hard not to feel immediately welcome in town if you fell somewhere on the LGBTQA spectrum, so of course he was at the Pride March I attended. Some said that he was born so prematurely that the doctors did not think he could have ever survived to toddlerhood. Others maintained that he had been exposed to a lot of lead as a baby and it altered his development. Upon meeting him, it was difficult not to understand that Ludwig was not quite as most people are. He had the occasional seizure, as New Paltzians would attest from having cradled his head until the episode released him, but these seemed a very small price for his company. He would tell people of his fiancée, though people seemed to share wry smiles and raised eyebrows when he brought her up, since Ludwig seemed to be a creature well beyond the binds of romantic love. Then he began showing her around, a woman as curious as he was, as though they were made for one another. I once asked how it was that Ludwig was free to roam about without a care, doing odd jobs for the shops on Main Street but largely doing nothing more pressing than being Ludwig, and I was assured that his father was very well off from owning a few shops in a tourist village, so that Ludwig would never want for anything. He seemed never to age. The world shifted around him, but he was this fixed point in time and space. In the best ways, he was a bit like a cartoon character, curious but immortal, not beholden to the laws of physics. As I read in the days that follow, it becomes clear that Ludwig was the child of New Paltz for at least fifteen years, perhaps more, such that people living there couldn't quite imagine New Paltz without him. He was the soul of that town, the closest thing it ever had to a mascot.
People in New Paltz seemed to understand that Ludwig was too strange to harm. In a number of cities in the world, Ludwig would have been a statistic. He was sweet and trusting without question, something that the opportunistic would have found too easy to abuse. But New Paltz saw in him a wonder that perhaps they had forgotten. Harming him would be like wounding a kitten who is rubbing against your leg, an unconscionable and unforgivable sin.
Even on my first date with Amber, Ludwig loped up the night dimmed streets, greeting everyone with a wide and impossibly infectious smile that showed more of his top gums than bottom teeth, and I introduced him simply as, "Oh, that's Ludwig."
Dan Kessler's girlfriend Stephanie loved him. I do not say this in the fashion that everyone loved Ludwig, as a strange and adorable being, as someone without ego and fear at every open mic night, this entity somewhere between a pet and a minor deity. She had lived and worked in New Paltz, having spent a while as a barista at 60 Main, one of Ludwig's main hang-outs. Maybe it started out as a few conversations whenever he would come in - it was pointless trying not to talk to him, he had too much to say to allow nonparticipation - but it evolved in a relationship of her truly caring for him. The closest analog I know is that she was like a mother to him, so much so that I would exclusively use her as a reference point when Ludwig seemed smilingly baffled when I greeted him. "Hey Ludwig, I'm Stephanie's friend." Once I said this sacred invocation, his eyes would light up (more so) and he knew that he could especially trust me, though I firmly believe that he trusted everyone and was never given a reason not to.
After a trip to the City where Stephanie helped him through a seizure, he wrote her a letter like so many others to which she was the recipient, writing:
Thank you very much for all the help that you did for me when we were on the bus coming back from the city. It made me feel like that you were a mother to me and taking so much care of me.
P.S. Roses are red, violets are blue. May God bless you with love and peace, but most of all Stephanie it made me feel like that I'll never forget the moments that we had in the city or you being like a sweet mother to me when we on the bus going to the city and coming back. Because I felt like it was almost a mother and son thing to do is go into the city.
He was discovered around 10AM. He'd had another seizure, but this one proved too much for him. He was simply gone and it was far too late to do anything about it.
Usually, there is this cynical core in me that doubts a sudden outpouring of fondness for the recently deceased, but this can't be true for Ludwig. I read these messages, how Ludwig reacted to everyone as though they were his best friend, and I know they are true. Whatever altered his neurochemistry, it gave him a perpetual innocence that it seemed impossible not to find charming.
I tended to take him for granted, as something that would always be there when I visited New Paltz, whether it be a week from now or a year. When I hear of his death, I realize I miss him as more than a background character in the series that is my life but as a nearly inexplicable and truly unique being. Whatever the biological reason, he gave totally of himself and required nothing more than to be treated with the worth he had earned. People talk of putting up statues in his honor, of painting vast murals, and I believe he deserves every bit of it. With Ludwig, New Paltz lost something too precious even for grieving. Ten, twenty years down the road, people will still tell stories of Ludwig and those who never had the fortune to meet him will be baffled by the vehemence of the fondness those who know him still need to convey, knowing that they will not see his like again.
Mid-Hudson News Obituary
Ludwig Montesa Fan Club
Soon in Xenology: The Ship of Theseus.
last watched: The Prestige
reading: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
listening: Evelyn Evelyn