On weekday mornings like clockwork Gene Foisy walks to Pittsfield’s City Hall, where he shreds documents for the City’s Treasurer’s Office. Commuters measure if they are early or late based on where on South Street they pass Gene.
Gene walks with a wide and uneven gait– it’s hard to drive by him without looking. He knows this. On some level he is making a statement for everyone who has experienced a brain injury. He is declaring his presence. Rather than hide, Gene makes sure he is being seen. He is broadcasting for people with disabilities that we are here, we are part of your community, and we have places to go every morning.
A motorcycle accident 20 years ago led to his brain injury. Perhaps this is related to his penchant for asserting his rights as a walker. Morning commuters have seen Gene step out on the crosswalk with his arms raised high to stop traffic. Once across, he waves them on.
He will raise both arms in frustration to any driver who blocks the crosswalk. He blames the city for not enforcing its rules. Yes he’s talked to the City about these issues and more, including installing a mirror at a blind spot for drivers on North Ave.
“The pedestrian always has the right of way,” he insists righteously. “But this strategy isn’t recommended for everyone,” he says, laughing. “I recommend for other people to push the button and wait for the signal to change.”
The Worcester native was a certified Harley Davidson mechanic working in Dayton, Ohio, when he crashed his Harley Davidson after, as he says, going to “one bar too many” at age 28. Today he is 48. His rebellious streak has faded with age, but not entirely. No longer able to play in a metal band, he still plays guitar, bass, and drums to songs from Metallica, Rush, Iron Maiden, and Van Halen.
While he has a lot to say about traffic rules, the City, and life in general, much of what he does, he admits, is driven by impatience. “I don’t like to wait.” He prefers to walk 40 minutes to work rather than take a bus because he doesn’t want to wait at the bus stop, and he doesn’t like the indirect route to City Hall. Same for moving traffic—he’d rather step out and stop traffic than wait for the proper time to cross.
He does suffer through the bus after a big snow. “If everyone would shovel their part of the sidewalk, we’d be able to walk.”
Gene is considered high functioning in the world of brain injuries. While he lives in a home with five others, owned and managed by BCArc, he shops for his own food, prepares his own food, and more or less takes care of himself. He takes a female friend to dinner, movies, and billiards occasionally. “She’s been clear that we’re just friends,” he explained, disheartened.
Thin and eager for exercise, he’s health conscious. The book “A Man’s Diet” sits on a table next to his bed. He can still read guitar tablature—music notation for fingering notes and chords—and he can explain the difference between, say, a half-note and quarter-note.
His room is filled with Harley Davidson paraphernalia, and a few years ago he took a motorcycle repair course through the mail to brush up on his mechanical chops, but he’s since given that up. However, his commitment to staying healthy is solid.
“Even if I could drink, I wouldn’t. It’s not healthy, and it causes you to gain a lot of weight.” He’s 50 pounds lighter than the time of his accident, and has no intentions of changing that.
His family visits often, and he spends holidays with them. Ultimately he wants to move into an apartment on his own. BCArc sets goals for each of their individuals—goals agreed upon by the individual, along with their family or guardians—and reviews those goals regularly. Gene works hard to reach his goals of self-sufficiency, and knows he has work ahead of him.
While he may be quick to boast about his impatience, it takes great patience, discipline, and determination to advance as far as he has, and he knows this every time he heads up South Street, one step at a time, for everyone to see.