The Art of Being Crazy

I know, it sounds like a contradiction in terms, art of being crazy.  Some of the sanest people I know act crazy and some of the craziest people I know are the most sane.  Ah, another ambiguity, seemingly, on my part but I assure you it is not.  I guess I need to start at the beginning, when I was young.

In 1958 I had just turned 9.  In September of that year I started going to a new school, the Franklin School, because it was a little bit closer to my home than my old school.  I was excited to get out of the dreary old building and into a nice new building.  I walked to the old school so of course I walked to the new one.  One day early in the school year, just a short distance from the new school, a lady came out of her house in her nightgown claiming there was a man in her house.  Something told me at that moment that she was imagining things.  I don’t know what told me, instinct probably, but that’s what I thought.  It turned out I was entirely correct as for the next four years she was frequently out there claiming the very same thing.  She was the first crazy person I knew.  Now in this case, I don’t think there was much sane about her.  It was the pre-alzheimer’s era which is likely what was wrong with her.  I say that because I think that ultimately exempts a person from being crazy since in truth their brain is being turned into mush by a hidden disease, but one that you can actually see when you look for it.

In high school I was simply depressed, all five years.  Yes five, I repeated my junior year.  I think I also had to be crazy because I never got kissed, lost my virginity, drank, got into a fight, or anything else normal teenage boys did.  My biggest problem was in how I “acted out.”  I took it out on my brother and sister, not physically, but I was never at a loss for mean words and actions.

In the summer of 1964 I was working on a farm, the second summer I had done so.  I was paid the hefty sum of $25 a week for 40 hours of work, and it was hard!  Well, one day, a hot day, there were three of us weeding the onion portion of the field.  I was really thirsty and really hot and frustrated because there was no way to get out of the heat.  So for reasons I have forgotten, I fell down on the ground and started flailing around like a crazy person all the time yelling foolishly.  It was the first, and last time for many many years, I acted out my insanity.  They guys thought it was funny as hell and for my part I felt a little better afterward, although my actions had taken something of a toll on the onions.  How crazy was all that?

In my senior year at high, a private school in New Jersey, a guy came up to me one day and dared me to eat a deep-fried grasshopper.  I did it.  It wasn’t too bad actually.  The guys thought I was a little crazy, was I?  That was 1967.

Four years later I was in the army and living in Italy.  I had bought a 1960 Jaguar from a guy who was returning home.  It was a sedan but it was still a pretty fast car.  One day I was driving to work and had a friend with me, Jim.  At the time in Italy, anywhere there wasn’t a posted speed limit you could go as fast as you wanted, so I did.  We were on SS 1, Via Aurelia.  That’s the US route 1 of Italy.  Well, just before I have to make a left turn the speed limit was 50 k/h, about 30 mph.  Now also in Italy there are about 7 various police forces all of whom could have a presence on any road.  The most fearsome of all were the “Stradale” who are comparable to the state police.  The thing is, over there they carry this little thing we called “the lollipop” because it was a circular thing, white on the outside and red on the inner part, at the end of a short pole, that they would hold out to indicate they wanted you to pull over.  Also, and this may just be an urban  legend there, it was believed that if you sped by a stradale they were permitted to shoot to kil, the rationale being that you were probably a fleeing felon.  Jim believed this.  That day, just a little ahead of us, a stradale stuck out his lollipop as I was going about 120 k/h.  Even though I immediately put on my brakes I blew  by the guy.  Jim kept saying, “You’re crazy man!  We’re gonna die!  We’re gonna die.”  My response to his rantings was to laugh hysterically which I was still doing as the stradale approached my car.  In the end I got a 30,000 lire ($50) speeding ticket, payable on the spot.  Was I crazy?  Well, I do have a great story to tell.

A year later I was at a friend’s apartment in Italy.  The guy was Taiwanese.  We all called him “crazy George.”  George was not a U.S. citizen but that isn’t a requirement to be in the US Army.  George had arrived in Italy in 1971 which meant he had to stay there until 1974.  Well, as in everything, there is the “exception clause.”  In those days the “exception clause” was if you volunteered to go to Vietnam.  Remember, the Vietnam War was still going on at that time.  We all thought that act brought credence to his name.  As if that wasn’t enough, George told us he planned to get there by driving his 1965 Rambler, a very unreliable car to say the least.  We thought he was kidding but when the day came for him to leave, his car was packed and he drove off.  Last we heard George made it, but we didn’t know how.

You hear a lot of stories about the food in the army, how bad it is, etc.  The truth is, it varied.  It could be really good, and other times, not so good.  Breakfast was the exception.  They made eggs to order and I always ordered an omelet.  They were always good.  You don’t get a lot of what you want in the army but that was truly an exception.  I was living in a barracks next to the mess hall at the time when one day one of the cooks came chasing a guy through the barracks with a rather formidable meat cleaver.  I don’t remember what he was chasing the guy, but I think it was because the guy had been a total asshole.  The cook was shipped home a couple of days later and given a medical discharge, or so I heard.  Was he crazy.  Just before that the head cook, a sergeant first class, was brought up on charges of theft.  He had supposedly been selling meat to the locals.  Before he could be court martialed he was “allowed” to retire.  I never did understand that but I think that was crazy.

In 1981 I had a job in the Marshall Islands at the Kwajalein Missile Range tracking satellites.  I used to drink a lot in those days and when I did I had this habit of going out onto the reef on the ocean side to catch lobsters.  Why was that crazy?  Glad  you asked.  Because the ocean side of a coral atoll there is a very steep and very deep drop off where the reef ends.  The reef isn’t that wide either but it is fairly flat until the point it drops off.  So there I was, drunk out of my mind, stumbling all over the reef.  Now that was crazy.

There are plenty more stories I could tell but this would just become too long.  My point is, what is or is not crazy can be a very relative thing.  First you must have a definition for what crazy really is and I’m not sure I have one.  To make the point, I was certainly one of the people calling George crazy but was he really?  I think he probably had an experience of a lifetime.  Today, I don’t think he was crazy at all.  Maybe some of what he did was not thought out too well, but it certainly wasn’t crazy.  Crazy is one of the things I have reconsidered.


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