When I was a kid, there was a man in the next town who lived in a cave. Everyone called him Caveman Dave and he was sort of our local bogeyman. Parents were fond of saying things like “Don’t be out after dark, Caveman Dave will get you” and “Don’t play down by the river, Caveman Dave will get you.” Really, the man provided a public service by keeping a generation of children out of places we didn’t belong. As it turns out, my grandfather knew Dave very well. They were pals. He’d buy Dave a beer at the local bar and they’d sit around and shoot the breeze for hours. My grandfather talked to everyone, didn’t matter to him that his guy lived in a cave. Dave was what we’d probably call an urban primative these days. He lived off the land, hunting and fishing for most of his food. He wore rabbit fur and deer skin clothing that he made himself. Dave was eccentric and maybe a little touched in the head, but he never bothered a soul. I can still see my grandfather and Dave sitting on barstools chatting away. One in denim and flanel, the other in buck skin and rabbit. It was an interesting sight to behold. The first time I met Dave in person was at the river fishing with my grandfather. Up strolls Dave with two beers. I was scared because I’d been threatened with this man for ages. He was going to cook me and have me for dinner, I reasoned. Instead, he taught me how to secure my fish stringer with a stick. After that, Dave stopped being scary. He wasn’t some bogeyman who stole children, he was just a guy who for his own reasons prefered to chill in his cave. He’d come out for supplies from time to time and occasionally take in a little league game. He’d sit in the bar with the steel mill workers and have a beer and talk. He knew things that to a kid of 8 or 9 were amazing. We never figured out why Dave chose to live in a cave. He came from a wealthy family near Pittsburgh, that much we knew because he said so. There were rumors, of course. Dave was alternately a Vietnam Vet who just snapped one day and decided to live in a cave, Dave was a genius who was in med school when the pressure got to him. Nobody really knew. Being a hopeless romantic even at the tender age of 9, I reasoned it was unrequited love or something similar that made Dave give up everything to live in that cave. Nobody asked. When I asked my grandfather why nobody ever asked Dave about it, he said “A man’s business is his own, girl.” I wonder if Dave wanted us to ask him.
For years, he lived up there in that cave. We all knew which one was his. When it was cold, we’d see the smoke from his fire. While he was ok with coming in to town for supplies or a beer, he basically kept to himself up there. We never saw Dave at the community picnic or the carnival. I don’t think he liked large groups of people. To me, even at the age of 8 or 9, Dave was as much a part of the community as I was. Sure, he lived in a cave and wore animal skins, but he behaved himself much better than some of our supposed civilized townspeople. When I was around 19 or 20, some well-meaning, but misguided folks from the state took Dave away. Apparently, a man can’t live in a cave and mind his own business in Pennsylvania. The state reasoned that Dave must be crazy, he lived in a cave afterall. That was his only crime. He wasn’t dangerous, never caused trouble, never threatened anyone, he just lived differently. For that, the state locked him up. I don’t know what happened to him. He may still be locked up somewhere. He may have gotten out and gone back to live with his parents. Maybe he found another cave somewhere. It still breaks my heart to think about these people coming and taking him away. He was happy there. I don’t know why he chose to shun modern conveniences and advances to live the way he did, but he liked it. Sometimes, I think the modern world was just too much for good old Dave to handle. I know I feel that way sometimes. Like the closer we all get via the web and email and text messages, the farther away we all really drift. Maybe Dave was sort of like me, maybe he felt more alone in a crowd of people than he did when he was alone. No matter what, he didn’t deserve to be branded crazy and locked away for living how he wanted. There are plenty of days when I think maybe I’ll follow Dave’s lead and stake out my own little cave. I’m rather attached to indoor plumbing and heat when I want it, so I don’t think I’d make it, but the idea has appeal. Of course, the state would catch me in their butterfly net and lock me up too. I wonder how many people like Dave there are out there. I also wonder why the state would choose to lock up a guy who lived in a cave by choice but do nothing about people who are homeless. Kinda crazy if you ask me. I wouldn’t last two days in that cave, Dave was there for at least 15 years. Maybe he had the right idea.