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Wednesday, March 12, 2008 12:32 pm

Be patient

Bill Geiser had plenty of problems, but did he have to die?

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Untitled Document Initial reports didn’t reveal the name of the mentally ill man killed by Springfield police last Saturday night at the Bel-Aire Motel — so when I heard the news I spent a few seconds pondering the possibility that the departed was the same guy who had, less than two weeks earlier, called to invite me to his motel room to discuss politics. As anybody who has attended a City Council meeting knows, Springfield has more than its fair share of folks who are, as we say in Texas, a taco short of a combo platter. What are the odds that the man who called me and the man who lunged at an officer with a steak knife were one and the same? Oh, wait. This is Springfield, where nobody believes that whole six-degrees-of-separation thing because, here, six is way too many. Of course it was the same man: William “Bill” Geiser. The call I received on Feb. 25 was, as far as I know, the only time he had ever telephoned our paper. As soon as he identified himself I got a mental image of his name, written in old-school script, on letters — more than I could count over the years, that had tended to lie uncollected around our fax machine.
Geiser’s faxes were brilliantly incoherent, as was his phone conversation. He called early on that Monday morning, so I let him ramble while I cleaned out my e-mail inbox. Geiser was earnestly inviting me to join him for a “high-level intellectual discussion” concerning the overhaul of the two-party political process — on Sunday afternoon, in his room at the Bel-Aire. None of the usual logic dissuaded Geiser: I don’t cover national politics. I don’t usually work on Sundays. I’m not a “high-level intellectual.” Plus, I have a young son I can’t leave home alone. “Oh, you can bring him,” Geiser said. “I like children.”
Several times during the conversation he encouraged me to check out his Web site (wrgeiser.com). I didn’t bother until after his death, and then I read until I began to feel like I was going crazy by osmosis. His writings showed him to be highly intelligent, stunningly delusional, and downright creepy. Geiser believed that he was on the verge of transforming civilization with his “bold new world-class philosophy.” He imagined the rise of a class of philosopher/scientists who would express their ideas through minimalist-art “CONstructs” they would use to “duel” in arenas ranging from street corners to stadiums. His plans included our good neighbors out there in the galaxy — benevolent extraterrestrials who are shielding us from their microwave communications by means of an invisible “faraday cage” that encircles the earth. “We should realize that these E.T.s know our entire planet would panic if they went public at this time,” Geiser wrote. He described himself as “a devout Catholic” who attended Mass almost every day but believed so strongly in astrology as the predictor of personality that he proposed to rid society of mental illness through the practice of “astrological birth control.” He envisioned hospitals equipped with computers that would run up-to-the-minute calculations allowing doctors and parents to decide the perfect moment for each baby to be born — not as an option but as a matter of law. You might say he had delusions of grandeur, except that his delusions were beyond grand. He didn’t plan to simply rule the world; he planned to become “mayor of STAR PORT city.”
But alongside these delusions were smaller ambitions, such as his desire to afford “technology (like a dishwasher),” and his ceaseless yet futile quest for a worthy wife — a woman who would be childless, literate, eager to understand and promote his philosophy and who would never allow herself to get fat. This quest had apparently led him to make “mistakes” with a neighbor girl in the 1970s. “I wanted to marry [her], but the age difference was too wide for our culture,” he wrote. The “few mistakes” were “almost always spontaneous and not deliberate” and occurred “in the context of mutual friendship and affection,” Geiser wrote. “I still get a warm, magical feeling whenever I see a woman who resembles her.”
In the autobiographical section of his site he admits to having had two “nervous breakdowns” and describes himself as “complex (but not a multiple personality).” He seemed blind to the profundity of his mental illness. Still, did this man deserve to be shot to death by officers who showed up at his door because he had been harassing various agencies by phone all day? There’s been much public speculation about the possibility that a Taser would have saved him; the Springfield Police Department says it wasn’t feasible in the tight space. Apparently the three thirtysomething officers couldn’t come up with any other way to overpower a 63-year-old man with a steak knife. It’s easy to criticize, but let’s be honest: The only thing any of us knows for sure is that we’re darn lucky we weren’t the ones dispatched to the Bel-Aire to try to reason with a horny old man who thought he was smarter than everybody else because he was the future ruler of the galaxy. And obviously SPD officers have encountered Geiser — and countless other future galaxy-rulers like him — more times than any of us would like to imagine and managed to resolve the situation peacefully. Some departments arm their officers with another weapon — a little card to remind them how to deal with mentally ill subjects: Remember, there is a voice in his head. . . . He may be slow to respond. Give your first name. Try to make eye contact. Don’t be offended by strong language, don’t be angered by his comments, don’t challenge (his) bizarre ideas. Speak slowly; ask short, direct questions; reassure him. Give him space. Don’t move suddenly. Be patient.
Be patient? Sometimes, being patient is the hardest thing of all.

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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