Family Shares Local Roamer’s Story

Students see him cruising across the pavement on his bicycle with a collection of recyclables usually in tow. Many spot him at Spot Pizza downtown wearing his familiar black helmet.
“Smiley,” a stubbly, blue-eyed man who wanders around Los Altos, was born on Wednesday, October 4, 1944, as Craig William Lemon. He has been sighted around the city for at least 13 years.
According to Craig’s younger sister Catherine Lemon, Craig’s life changed drastically when he returned from the Vietnam War.
“That’s the tragedy,” Catherine said. “Someone who is very gifted but gets derailed.”

Vietnam and The Ranch
As a teenager, Craig attended this school, graduating in the class of 1962. Over the years, he studied law and medicine.
In the mid to late 60s, Craig served in the Vietnam War as an air traffic controller. His half-brother Lee Dawson, said that Craig’s few years in Saigon were “very disillusioning.” The war caused him to feel that the government was deceiving the population and that what it was doing was “wrong.”
“He was the model citizen when he got drafted and then ultimately enlisted,” Dawson said. “He came back a different kind of model citizen. He was willing to speak up against … the popular policies of our government.”
Upon returning, Craig switched from job to job and studied at various colleges, though he never graduated.
Catherine said that Craig soon became “very paranoid about people.” A psychiatrist at Stanford then diagnosed Craig with schizophrenia, a disease characterized by delusions, hallucinations and disorganized speech and behavior.
“He didn’t want to take any kind of medication,” Catherine said. “And part of where that came from is that because my mother was bipolar, all of us had resistance to pills.”
Craig decided to live alone in a trailer at The Ranch, the 28-acre home that the family rented in Los Altos Hills. The family made a decision not to put him in a mental institution; mandatory institutionalization only occurs if the person poses “harm to self or others.”
In the 15 years that Craig lived in his trailer, he provided his own food.
“He’d get the day-old bread… [from] health food markets,” Catherine said. “And any of the day-old food or any of the stuff that they put out in the dumpsters, Craig would collect. And that’s how he would eat. …It’s such a throwaway society that he knew all about that.”
Craig and Dawson spent a lot of time together during those years.
“No one could see the illness coming, but maybe some of that—and this is armchair psychiatry—radicalism was really him going off the tracks,” Dawson said. “It was eccentric to the extreme where I was concerned.”
Eventually, the property owners decided to rent The Ranch to “more high-end renters.”
“Craig wouldn’t leave,” Catherine said. “They literally had to go in with dumpsters, because one of the things about Craig is that he collected stuff. …They needed at least three huge dumpsters to get all the stuff that he had collected off the property.”
Craig moved from property to property, only to be asked each time to leave the land. The Talon respects Craig’s wish to keep the details of his current living situation private; Craig stays in the city, keeping a solitary lifestyle similar to what he had in his years at The Ranch.
“It’s really touching to me that he has never left [Los Altos],” Catherine said. “He grew up there, and that’s where he is now.”

Life in Los Altos
Sitting on his bench seat outside the Los Altos Costume Bank while drinking from his thermos, Craig shared some of his scattered but often poetic thoughts.
“Goodbye, drifting,” Craig said. “Is it like lift your heart? Free of weight? Where are you, really? Above my head, where the sun could only be without a flower? …My love is in sight, instead of upside down and inside out, inside out and upside down.”
When asked if he came up with the name “Smiley,” Craig responded almost angrily.
“I did not choose that word,” Craig said. “You do not coin a term without pride.”
Craig also explained why he collects bottles and cans.
“I live for the future,” he said. “I must return the favor; it is my privilege.”
As for his own life, Craig expressed thoughts that were wise, albeit confusing to others.
“I am watching my tale, not listening to it,” Craig said. “The dragon is in front, where three is. Who is higher? The tree? The oceans?”

Facing the Future
Dawson is currently looking into compensation that Craig should be receiving for being a war veteran. Dawson says it is difficult to get this money since he doesn’t have Craig’s records. Now that Craig is in his 60s, his health issues are also a “constant worry.”
“It didn’t have to be this way for Craig,” Dawson said. “If a war is worth fighting, it’s worth being honest to the troops.”
While Dawson said that he sees Craig roughly every six weeks, Catherine does not see Craig often, largely due to her business.
“What’s very hard is the last time I saw Craig, I was literally in a client meeting in Los Altos,” Catherine said. “Right across from me, not even ten feet away from me, is my brother on his bicycle. And it was very sad for me because there’s no way that in that meeting with a new client that I’m going to go, ‘Hey! Hi Craig!’”
Nevertheless, Catherine said that she still feels a strong love for her eldest brother.
“There is, without a question, a deep abiding love, but there is a way that I think I had to move on, on a certain level, from my family and the tragedy,” Catherine said. “You learn very early when you have any kind of mental illness in your family that you can’t sacrifice yourself. You can’t fix them.”
Catherine also said that her brother’s story has very much affected her outlook on the world.
“Every, every homeless person that I see, ever—I see my brother,” Catherine said. “My heart always bleeds a little, because … I just see the Craig in them.”