Daring Do

Most everyone who has stepped into The Purple Onion coffee shop in Dinkytown has noticed William “Bill” Grimes IV, a regular for nearly a decade who whiles away the hours sipping mochas, reading Kierkegaard and science fiction, and “flapping with cats.” You can’t miss him: Grimes is a 6’3”, 170-pound man in his early 30s of half-Bohemian (as in Bohemia, near the Czech Republic), and half-African American descent. He sports an enormous afro, a mustache which extends into the crease of his chin, and oversized 70s-style glasses. He frequently wears a vintage polyester shirt hanging open to reveal his naked chest.

More than a few stuffed shirts suffer from Grimes-envy, or at least admiration. This fondness is most often construed in what Grimes calls “differential treatment,” demonstrated through free admission to concerts (comped by various bands including Fat Lip and Greazy Meal), a free trip to Chicago with the Honeydogs (a gift of a bar owner intent on having Grimes’ mere presence at the band’s show), and, most strangely, an autograph request from another audience member at a Jimi Hendrix tribute show Grimes attended. When a bemused Grimes protested, iterating his mere fan status, pointing out that he wasn’t in any of the bands and noting that he didn’t even play an instrument, the clean-cut, suburban man became insistent. He wanted Grimes to sign his Hendrix poster.

Grimes suspects it’s the hair that commands the initial attention. So much so that his life’s timeline consists of “before hair” and “after hair” experiences. But it would do Grimes an injustice to attribute his charisma merely to the massive afro, which is often adorned with a peacock feather above his right ear. People were drawn to him even in his Army Reserves days, when his head was shaved. They were baffled by how he could stay up all night reading John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and chain-smoking in the latrine. They were astonished by this 18-year-old Minneapolis kid who had been “tricked” into joining the reserves, by the man who would grow up to claim on his census form that his race is “Nietzsche’s übermensch.”

It is not surprising that Grimes is a font of progressive thought. Although soft-spoken and even introverted, he is forthcoming with his ideas. He wrote a book documenting his beliefs. The Mystified Sojourn: Resurrection of the Meaning of Spirituality and Religion is an exploration of alternative spirituality and capitalistic conundrums. At 189 pages, the self-published tract is dense enough to rival a semester’s worth of discussions in an entry-level cultural studies class, and original enough to have sold 270 copies.

Some people admire his derring-do. Others, like one Purple Onion regular who has repeatedly complained to employees that he caught Grimes “looking at him,” seem unaccountably threatened by him. Grimes cannot help but be amused. After all, he’s always looked different, from the days of his gangly, buck-toothed adolescence to his still-gangly, retro-stylin’ self. He says any attempt at conformity always fails, regardless of his hair.