If you have lived in the Wausau area for any amount of time, chances are that you have seen him walking down the street somewhere…maybe along Grand Avenue, maybe downtown…but somewhere. And it was not hard to notice him, to be honest; the gait he used in his walk earned him a nickname by which he was universally known. And even if you never saw him, chances are that you likely had heard of him at some point…again, most likely by that nickname.
Like countess other locals, over the years I have both seen and heard of the man – either within the context of “sightings”, or by the description of his walk. But, always, by that nickname; I do not recall hearing him so much as once referred to by his actual name. And, like (I am sure) virtually everybody else around town, I personally knew nothing of the man himself; my guess is that most people would have used words such as “harmless” to describe him. Now, I have no doubt that most of us would like to think of ourselves by that particular adjective as well. Nevertheless, that word – “harmless” – carries with it a certain connotation when used to describe a specific person. If in fact it is used in conversation regarding another human being, the unspoken implication is that, for whatever reason, the listener needs somehow to be reassured that the subject of the conversation possesses that particular trait.
And if we would like to think of ourselves as harmless, I would also think that few of us would think of ourselves as “cruel”. Nevertheless, whether or not we might consider ourselves as inherently cruel (and I would truly hope that the vast majority of us would not), chances are that at various points in our lives we have committed acts or said things that would fairly qualify for that description. And I will plead guilty as charged, of course; this particular baggage comes with being a flawed human being. To the point here: I certainly stared in passing more than once back in the day when seeing him on the sidewalk, and I could not help but smirk knowingly on occasion when his nickname was brought up in conversation.
But that was back in the day. I would like to think that the years, in their counsel, have made me a better (if still flawed) person. And, more than once over the years since, I will admit to having paused for a moment to wonder about the guy. Was he still around? Was he still drawing stares as he walked down the street? And what of him as a person? His life certainly had dimension beyond the peculiarities in his gait. Who – if anybody – knew any of that? And did he have anybody at all who might have cared?
And, sadly, these thoughts all began with the nickname. I have not used that name here, nor will I begin to do so now; you have likely already guessed (even if you have no clue as to specifics) that this was not a nickname that was bestowed in kindness. But, for God’s sake…what other reference point does one have when speaking or thinking of a man whose actual name is as unknown as he himself is known?
His name, as I found out today, was Nile “Nick” Seis, and he passed away this past Friday. Rest in peace, Nick. Because if anybody out there deserves that particular benediction, it is you.