I was sitting outside at my favorite coffee shop; one of the last times I would do so before I moved away from the sleepy streets of Beaumont for good. The man sat across the patio from me at a cluttered table in a puddle of sunlight and his own eccentricity. I have long since come to terms with the fact that I am a divining rod for insanity. I can spot it in a crowd, and in some instances I am even magnetic. It doesn’t wait for me to find it, but instead fights its way to the front. I’ve seen a lot of crazy people.

This guys though, this guy was a rare gem. A trucker’s cap covered his balding head, which on its own would not have been unusual. He was also wearing a fanny pack and a tube top, however, and had eight mountaineering clips attached to his belt with nothing on them.

And he was carrying a record player.

It wasn’t my first encounter with this man either. He was the non-athletic type, and I somehow imagined that he lived as a stowaway in his mother’s basement, occasionally trying on her clothes when she went to work and exploring the inner workings of his turntable. The first time we met, he cornered me on that very same patio and proceeded to discuss with me the different types of solder. It was more of a monologue on his part than an actual conversation.

“We used to use lead based solder back when I was on the inside. Lead. Lead is good. Now everything’s lead-free and useless. It’s better they say, but it’s not the same thing. It all depends on what you want to join. Sometimes I just put things together to see if they’ll stick. Did you know you can’t solder something to a mouse? Won’t work. Not even with 18 gauge rosin flux. It just runs. The mouse I mean, not the solder. Ask me anything about solder, and I can tell you.”

I’ve learned since then to simply keep my earphones jammed deep in my ears whether I’m listening to music or not. It buys me the freedom to observe without participating. That day I watched, intrigued, as the man alternated between tasks, sometimes rolling cigarettes, sometimes strategically arranging the napkins on his table, and sometimes taking a moment to run his tongue along a lighter shaped like a deer’s head.

The latter was deeply disturbing.

Years ago I used to make a habit of randomly picking up homeless people and taking them for fast food. I’ve always been fascinated with other people’s stories. I’m a collector, and the vagrant population has more than most. You won’t get an earful of inner-office drivel from them. You’re not in danger of having to listen to them prattle on about their misbehaving children or how the neighbor’s dog won’t stop tearing up the flower beds. Their stories are never that mundane.

It was never unselfish. I in no way ever felt like I was doing some great service to these men. At best – even if they were in fact starving to death – I was only buying them one more day, and it was unlikely that they were going to figure things out in those twenty-four hours. Still, a Sonic burger in exchange for the chronicles of another human being always seemed like an acceptable trade to me.

More than anything, I grew curious as to whether or not these people were truly unstable and wild or if some of it was just an act. One I remember particularly clearly was named Big Chief. Over tater tots he regaled me with tales of having removed himself from the grid on purpose. Crow’s feet and thick lines cut their way through his face as he talked, making him look like a living Fredrick Remington sculpture and his Native American roots came through audibly as well, his voice possessing the broken, yet soothing, cadence of his people.

“They are watching,” he said. He glanced repeatedly in the sideview mirror as he talked. “If they knew where I was I would be dead, and you too most likely. If I can be on a different car every night, they cannot catch me.”

“You hop trains?” I asked.

“It is better that way. In 2002 the world will end, and only the ones of us with places to hide in the jungles will be safe. I have gold buried across the country, so when the economy falls, I will be ready.”

“Gold?” I was a bit incredulous.

“And jewels.” He pointed to his pocket, where I saw the metal spiral of a small pad of paper sticking out. “It is all in here. When I worked for the Secret Service I saved every check they gave me. I was there when they shot Reagan. Every dollar I made went to buying precious stones and metals and only I know where it is all hidden.”

The world didn’t end in 2002, however, and I never saw Big Chief again. I imagine him sometimes though, hiding in the forest on the outskirts of some sleepy town as night falls, burying nuggets of gold and marking their locations in his tattered notebook.

When I was eighteen I worked at a grocery store. A homeless man named Redbeard frequently hovered outside one of the entrances, begging quarters from soccer moms as they wheeled carts full of food to their SUV’s. It was a brilliant ploy, accosting these people with assertions of hunger when they couldn’t possibly argue that they had nothing to give. I never understood why these customers were so quick to go to their purses rather than hand the man a bag of chips or some lunchmeat from their carts.

We called him Redbeard not just because of his matted red beard, but also because of the invisible parrot that sat on his shoulder and gave him advice. There was a pizza place next door to the store and one day I invited Redbeard to join me on my break. Over lunch the imaginary bird miraculously disappeared and a much saner man emerged.

I grabbed another slice of pizza. “You don’t really believe there’s a parrot on your shoulder, do you?” I asked.

“Of course not,” he replied with a gleam in his eye. “But I do kinda look like a pirate, don’t I?” It was true. He did.

“Honestly?” he continued. “They won’t give you anything if they think you can help yourself.”

There was some obvious logic to his argument considering that he was sucking down slices of pepperoni on my dime. That encounter though has forced me to take a longer look at the crazy people I come across, which is what I found myself doing on that coffee shop patio with the man I knew only as The Record Player.

Like the vagrants in my past before him, he somehow ended up with a name like a Batman villain. They should have had their own line of action figures. Legitimately crazy or not, I could envision a metropolis filled with them; a world where Redbeard and Big Chief knocked off banks while The Record Player scrawled cryptic riddles on construction paper and left them behind to confuse the cops, as they all idled away into the night in the back of a boxcar. If they were ever captured, their insanity pleas would be airtight.

My own past is not exactly devoid of crazy moments, and I can’t help but wonder if I, too, have been labeled the same way by much saner people somewhere in the past. Crazy is such a relative term anyway. What right did I really have to sit there and judge this man? Maybe he continued to cross my path for a reason.

Perhaps it was even Life’s way of keeping me humble. “Don’t get cocky, Slade. Regardless of what you think about yourself, you’re still two tables away from a guy licking a lighter.”


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SLADE HAM is a stand up comedian. He has performed in 22 countries on four continents. When not on stage, he drinks Irish whiskey on the rocks and listens to rock and roll much too loud. One day he hopes to finish his book, host a travel show, and continue to trick the world into paying him to do the things he loves to do. Slade is also an Editor for The Nervous Breakdown's Arts and Culture section. He keeps a very expensive storage unit in Houston, TX.

166 responses to “The Record Player”

  1. Dana says:

    Oh my God, Slade! This was great. And not only because I too am a magnet for the insane. I’ve often wondered what characteristic calls them to me, or me to them as the case may be. Do they see the empathy in my eyes or do they just recognize me as one of their own?

    I will be returning to the image of the guy licking his lighter for many moons. Disturbing and hilarious.

    Bravo!

    • Slade Ham says:

      I wonder, Dana, if our attraction to insanity is simply because we are now tuned in to see see it. It’s like buying a certain type of car and then seeing them everywhere. Not that we’re crazy per se… Hahaha.

      And I’m happy to share the lighter image. It was quite unique.

  2. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    “There but for the grace of God go I.” Granted, the last time I used that line, it was in reference to a chimp in a Swedish zoo who was not only throwing rocks at patrons, he was caught comparing stones for good heft and shape and then stockpiling them. An arms cache for getting rid of those goddamned nosy shaved monkeys that keep staring at me – um, him. But this piece brings it to the fore. We’ve all got a minor touch of the crazy and a full-blown case is probably nearer than we all imagine. Nicely done and good choice for interesting conversation-makers.

    And, hey, uh… you didn’t happen to notice any of the locations in Big Chief’s notebook, did you? Because it might be good karma for me to dig any up if they’re nearby and, um, mail them to him. Before 2012. Yeah.

    • Slade Ham says:

      It’s funny how many times Big Chief has popped into my head. I probably knew the guy for 20 minutes. I really do wish I’d gotten a peek inside that notebook. I’m sure he buried something,/i> somewhere.

      Sounds like that Swedish chimp has a game plan. Crazy is relative, and if we’re honest, we are probably all just one really good push away from the brink..

      • Andrew Nonadetti says:

        Amen, brother. And kudos to you for the food exchange. I agree – sharing tales is a service provided and a full belly is worthy compensation.

        • Slade Ham says:

          It’s really been years since I’ve done it. When I was doing it most frequently, I couldn’t have been more than 20 years old. The five bucks for a combo meal seemed like a lot of money for a part-time DJ/waiter, but I’m really glad I did it. Looking back on it now, the deal seems very lopsided in my favor.

          We all won I suppose.

  3. Lorna says:

    Yes! This is beautiful…although I’ve read half of it. Work comes first. But, yay!!!! to the homeless man story. I can’t wait to finish it when I get home! 😀

  4. jmblaine says:

    Magnet for insanity.
    From now on
    I call you
    brother.

    And me too.
    I always think,

    a few daft turns
    & that’s you my boy.
    So be kind.

    & listen. Always listen.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Such simple advice. Indeed.

      A few daft turns…

      Yes. So close it seems. It could have – perhaps should have? – been me many times. Sometimes, actually, I’m not so sure it isn’t.

  5. Amanda says:

    “Lead is good.”

    Enough said.

    • Slade Ham says:

      It really does explain a lot, no?

      • Amanda says:

        Mmmm hmmm.

        If only “lessons” were laid out that simply for children. None of these silly public service announcements or lectures about playing safe, not licking paint or eating glue, staying off drugs, etc.

        Just straight-up material, for instance a poster depicting that dude in a photograph with the caption “lead is good” like a banner across the bottom. Would you do what he did to land himself in that condition? No way, man.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Exactly. No more eggs being fried… just these guys and a good voice over.

          I think if we brought people like The Record Player in to speak on Career Day, kids would want better jobs.

          “This is what happens if do whippets with my friends instead of algebra homework? Hell no.”

  6. Heather Green-Bateman says:

    I remembered this one from the Myspace Blog days. One of my favorites!

    • Slade Ham says:

      Hahaha, you’re of maybe three people that remembers MySpace. This is actually a reworking of that original concept. I had forgotten about it, and another long time reader, Lorna, brought it back up. I’m glad she did.

      I’m also glad you found your way over here. Now you just need a Gravitar.

  7. Ofelia says:

    There’s a spark of insanity in all of us, some just happen to douse the spark with kerosene. Or it was doused on them by someone else. Society, family, government. So many suspects to choose from.

    The way I would take these experiences, personally, would be to learn what paths were taken by them to get them where they are. To see if maybe, just maybe, I was headed there myself. Find the parallels. The stories are fascinating of course, but the lessons are priceless. We’re constantly riding the fence between sane and cracked anyway. Maybe just for fun, we jump to the other side.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I wonder sometimes if you really can predict end results like this. I mean, is there really one contributing factor, one decision, that pushes a person to this place? It has to be cumulative, right? More so, if it is, then it is hardly something predictable or avoidable.

      I think the line is pretty fuzzy, but that comes back to the relativism thing. That guy would never think of himself as crazy. That’s just the label I stuck on him. To others, I’m sure we’re nuts.

  8. Judy Prince says:

    “Did you know you can’t solder something to a mouse? Won’t work. Not even with 18 gauge rosin flux. It just runs. The mouse I mean, not the solder.” Egad, good thing dear Rodent hasn’t read this yet. I’m deleting it! Can’t be done, I see.

    Still wondering, like you, why the soccer moms didn’t just flip a bag of chips at Redbeard instead of tucking into their purses for cash. Most places I’ve lived the last thing you do is open up your purse in front of a stranger. Since I was robbed at knifepoint several years ago, I keep a wallet in my pocket, never carry a purse.

    In downtown Taipei, Taiwan, I saw a woman talking loudly to herself, stopping and starting, crossing the street and hesitating, and she kept it up for the few minutes my friend and I were waiting at the signal light in a taxi. My friend, a native Taiwanese, explained that the woman was known by many, and her situation was dire. In Taiwan, she said, when there’s a divorce the child(ren) always lived with their fathers, never with their mothers. This woman had been divorced and couldn’t cope with being separated from her children. There were very few divorces in Taiwan.

    Crazy by any other name would be sane and probably helpful.

    Good job, Slade. Opens much room for thought.

    Here’s a one-liner from a fellow poet: “Edgar Allen Poe is now sold as both action figure and bobble-head desk doll.” (Jeff Hecker, Norfolk VA)

    • Slade Ham says:

      Poor Rodent…

      I, too, was always confused by the grocery shoppers’ behavior. Money seems to be the universal way to say “get the fuck away from me”. And it works…

      That is a horribly sad story about the Taiwanese woman. I cannot imagine having any kind of inner turmoil manifest itself like that. in many, crazy does come from somewhere I suppose. And it probably looks like a bobble-head doll.

      • Judy Prince says:

        Slade, you’re dear to say “Poor Rodent”.

        I think you relate to him bcuz of that supermarket-shopping terror you share.

        What an insight: “Money seems to be the universal way to say “get the fuck away from me”. And it works…”

        I find myself rather attracted to folks offering me money. It happens so rarely it’s easy to remember who they are. They’re hapless and not particularly money-loaded people who give in to my Svengali smile. Just check out my gravatar. See?

        Yup, crazy looks like a bobble-head doll, fer sher. Which is how Dylan Moran looks imitating a super-slender USAmerican woman. Hoot!

        • Slade Ham says:

          I forgot about Rodent’s similar disdain for the grocery store. Perhaps I do feel a bit overly-sympathetic to him after all.

          Generally, I’ve found that if you just give someone money, they tend to disappear quickly so that you don’t end up asking them to do something in return. It’s also kind of a thoughless dismissal, and indication that you don’t care enough to figure out what they really need.

          It’s like a begrudgingly-given gift certificate.

  9. Heather Green-Bateman says:

    I do need a gravitar! The gray and white just doesn’t suit me well.
    How do I get a gravitar?!

  10. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    I’ve always been interested in getting the stories of vagrants for the same reason you described so well, “You’re not in danger of having to listen to them prattle on about their misbehaving children or how the neighbor’s dog won’t stop tearing up the flower beds. Their stories are never that mundane.” Selfishly, I always hesitated because I worried about the commitment I was signing up for, that if offered a little bit of my time they’d take a lot. But it sounds like you found the right kind of interaction.

    And I would say we’re probably all fairly close to sitting at the crazy table, but just better at pulling ourselves together, better at the appearance.

    • Slade Ham says:

      If you dress crazy up pretty enough… hahaha.

      I was always very clear when i did it. I didn’t leave any room for misunderstanding. I have shit to do, but if you want a quick bite, we can go. I’m not giving you a ride, and I’m not giving you money. Sometimes it’s hard to not sound like a dick, but it worked. You’d be surprised, some of those guys don’t want to be around you for an extended period of time either.

      I think you should give it a shot, yes? 🙂

      It’s really quite eye opening.

  11. Becky says:

    You know.

    I really am not a magnet for insanity. Or at least not this particular brand of insanity. Aside from middle-class neurotics and the average bevvy of bourgeois depressive complaints that constantly surrounds me, I very rarely encounter flamboyantly crazy people at all, actually. Almost never.

    I am concerned, suddenly, that this means I’m it.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Hahaha, that adage holds very true. It’s an intelligent kind of crazy that you bring to the table though, if that makes it any better 🙂

      • Becky says:

        I hope/think/pray that I’m a “method to the madness” type.

        That’s what I tell myself anyway.

        That acting like a lunatic is all part of a larger world domination plot that not even I understand. It’s THAT ingenious.

        • Slade Ham says:

          I think you may be proving the point here, Becky. It’s possible though. Maybe you (and I put myself in the same category sometimes… okay, most times….) are just so intellectually and personally evolved that it just doesn’t make sense yet. When my body finally catches up to my mind, it will all be clear. Hahaha.

          If were the ones taking over the world, we’re all gonna be in trouble.

        • Becky says:

          Are you calling me crazy?

          I’M NOT FUCKING CRAZY!!!! I’LL LIGHT YOUR CAT ON FIRE, MOTHERFUCKER!!! DON’T THINK I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE UP TO. I’M ON TO YOU, BUDDY.

          Er.

          I mean.

          Will this world domination situation end an epic battle for supreme power? Will it start with an argument over the virtues of Nag Champa? Because I think that’s the only way to go.

        • Becky says:

          Wow…this looks REALLY bad in the “recent comments” queue. lol. 😀

        • Matt says:

          I saw it there while reading Ronlyn’s new post and thought for a moment that you’d seriously lost on someone. I had to click over and see what all the rumpus was about.

        • Becky says:

          See? Driving traffic. Madness + Method = Results.

          I am a genius.

          But come on, Matt. If it was real, it most certainly would not be in all caps. That would be indecorous.

        • Which I would not put past certain individuals who’ve commented hereabouts in the past. I just didn’t see your name for all the caps.

        • Slade Ham says:

          I won’t argue with the results. I definitely picture your actual anger coming across much more subdued. Caps would definitely be unnecessary.

          Some people need the caps though. Like in the real world, some people think saying “nothing” louder makes things better.

        • Becky says:

          It’s true. I’m more the tight-lipped, hissing sort. I think it’s scarier and more effective. Plays to humans’ natural fear of snakes. And angry mothers.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Hence the cat gravis?

        • Becky says:

          The cat theme developed long ago in a TNB far, far away, but kind of. Yeah.

          Had more to do with the fact that I used to be highly predatory, but the two aren’t too different.

        • Slade Ham says:

          I’ll just remain scared of you, regardless of the reason. How’s that?

        • Becky says:

          Kinda sexy, Slade.

          Honestly, it gives me a weird kind of satisfaction to be intimidating, but I assure you, the whole dominatrix facade breaks down pretty quickly in real life.

          Especially since I’m a wisp and a crier and a lover of puppies and would probably lose a fist fight to a fly.

          Er. *puff out chest* AHEM.

          None of this, however, makes it wise to test me.

        • Slade Ham says:

          All of our facades will break down once we get to the commune anyway. Hang on to it as long as you can.

          You hiss and I’ll cringe. Deal?

        • Becky says:

          Well okay. In that case, shut the fuck up, funny guy.

          (Am I doing it right? Too much? Not enough? Too pedestrian, I think.)

        • Slade Ham says:

          Yeah… something was missing there. no cringing happened here at all.

          Hmmmm. Back to the drawing board?

        • Becky says:

          Yeah, man. I don’t know. Pressure’s on. “You’re a bitch? Omigod! Say something bitchy! Right now!”

        • Slade Ham says:

          You have my sincerest apologies for forcing that, hahaha. I have nooo idea what that’s like.

          Be funny, Slade.

          Go.

        • Becky says:

          Okay, that wasn’t funny at all.

          I want a refund.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Maybe we can reach a compromise. I don’t have to be funny and you don’t have to be a hissy bitch?

          I think that’s a win-win for me though…

        • Becky says:

          Well, neither of us HAS to be those things right now.

          But if we weren’t, we’d be so boring and average, even we wouldn’t talk to us. We’d be just like everybody else.

          Fuck. No. Slade.

  12. Matt says:

    I remember reading somewhere–this would have been around 1999 or 2000–that the average panhandler on the Sunset strip makes more in a day than a minimum wage cubicle slave. A few times during the leaner portions of my undergraduate years I considered dawning my ratiest clothes, rolling around in the dirt for a bit, and driving out there to beg for a little pocket change.

    The hospital I worked at in New Orleans has a pretty sizable psychiatric ward, and working those shifts was always an entertaining evening–especially when the hardcore schizophrenics came in. They always had some sort of theory as to how they’d wound up there, usually involving some combination of corrupt local politicians, end-of-the-world scenarios and aliens. It was like a Roland Emmerich/Dean Devlin script factory where all the writers had been given massive quantities of speed and LSD.

    • Slade Ham says:

      That’s something I almost wrote into this story and opted not to for the sake of length. Around that same time frame, I did do that. One time, for an hour.

      I made around $60.

      It was a total experiment, and one I could never repeat. Aside from the cash, two people also handed me their lunches. A sandwich or a bag of chips, but their own food. What I had intended to do as a goof left me feeling really amazed by some people’s compassion and really shitty about myself.

      I cannot bring myself to just toss a dollar out the car window anymore though. If that guy’s knocking back $60 an hour, he can do without my single.

      • Matt says:

        The club I worked at in the French Quarter always gave us a shift meal, but most of the time I’d just box it up and take it home with me, thinking I might eat it for lunch the next day. Most of the time I ended up giving it away to the homeless gutterpunk kids I’d encounter on the way home.

        As a personal policy, I never give money to people begging for it, especially if they use the “hungry” approach. I will, however, offer to purchase them something off the value menu at McDonald’s or wherever. And you know what? They always say no.

        I take that back. I saw a guy begging on a streetcorner in my old neighborhood not to long ago. He was holding up a sign that said “Why lie? I need a beer.” I went into a 7-11 and bought him a 22 oz. of Fat Tire. Honesty has its rewards, motherfuckers!

        • Slade Ham says:

          I totally agree. I’ll buy you a beer if you ask me honestly. I do it for my broke friends all the time actually. Why not extend that courtesy to a stranger every now and then.

          I always thought the best way to make money would be to hold a sign up that said “I bet you can’t hit me in the face with that quarter!”

          Then just sit still and let them try from their car windows. You would make a lot of quarters. Especially if you hung out by a fast food drive-thru right after all the bars closed. Drunk rednecks like to try to hurt things.

        • Matt says:

          Yeah, but you’d have to move on before they got wise to you and started sharpening the edges of the quarters. As you say, drunk rednecks like to try to hurt things, and they’re like NASA scientists with a meanstreak when it comes to figuring out new ways to do it.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Hillbilly shurikens. Hahahaha.

          And then they’d have homemade compressed air launchers to fire them from. Maybe a different drive-thru each night after all…

  13. kristen says:

    Hey, great post. Made me think of this excerpt from a book I’m currently reading (http://www.strandbooks.com/app/www/p/profile/?isbn=09780307592439):

    “But I gotta tell you, I just think to look across the room and automatically assume that somebody else is less aware than me, or that somehow their interior life is less rich, and complicated, and acutely perceived than mine, makes me not as good a writer. Because that means I’m going to be performing for a faceless audience, instead of trying to have a conversation with a person.” –David Foster Wallace

    In listening to/valuing the stories of Redbeard and The Record Player and others, you clearly embody this message.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Wow. What a great quote, and one I am thrilled to personify, if even a little. I haven’t read Jest (I’m still in that group), but am suddenly quite intrigued by Lipsky’s book. Hmmm.

      • kristen says:

        I highly recommend it! A stunning glimpse into the man’s mind–the slim part of it he shared/was able to share.

        I’ve dog-eared half the book’s pages already.

        • Slade Ham says:

          I’ve promised myself that the next book I would by would be Banned, but I keep a running list on my desk of the stuff I need to get to eventually. I just wrote this one down. What a wonderful accident that you remembered that quote and passed it along here.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Oh, shit. That is a great quote.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Right? Makes me want to people-watch this evening, with a much more open mind.

        • Courtney says:

          I’ve been stalking the used bookstore for that book for two months. I can’t believe it’s being discussed in a ham post…not sayin’ anything about a ham post. just sayin’, coincidental (I drank my dinner).

        • Slade Ham says:

          I was just gonna ask if you’d read it, being a Jest person, and then i saw this reply… which I clearly missed when you wrote it.

        • Courtney says:

          I missed when I wrote it too. 🙂

          I had to order pale fire from amazon because the used bookstore copy had a suspicious white “stain” in it (Lolita I could understand but Pale Fire? Kinky) and Amazon told me I might like the Wallace book and I went about harassing my bookstore guy until he told me it came out like a month or so ago…so I’m just waiting and stalking. But I will read it. Dammit.

  14. Zara Potts says:

    When Simon and I were in LA last September, we were a bit overcome with all the homeless people. Because the bloody portion sizes in the US are so massive, it seemed only right for us to box up our leftovers and give them away. I felt like I should have given them more, though.

    But our best crazy magnet story was when we were walking down Sunset Blvd, minding our own business, when a guy with wild hair and pushing a shopping cart came hurtling towards us and then shouted at full volume -‘I suck cock and eat raw meat. What do ya’ll do?”

    Well, we laughed.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Baaaahahahahahaha!

      I’m literally cackling in my room right now. “I suck cock and eat raw meat!” That is the perfect title of something, though I don’t know what. Somehow this is becoming reminiscent of this past weekend. Creative homeless people and titles with no body of work beneath them.

      Deep Fried and to the First Knuckle

      That was our gem. Hahaha. I really needed that laugh.

      • Zara Potts says:

        It DOES sound like it should be the title of something doesn’t it??
        It wasn’t even really what he said – it was the sheer volume at which he shouted it at us. We were silent for a second and then both of us just fell apart laughing.
        Too too funny.

        • Slade Ham says:

          What’s funny about the phrase is that i can’t tell if the juxtaposition of the two is odd… or if it’s actually redundant. Hahahahaha.

    • “I suck cock and eat raw meat. What do ya’ll do?”

      I’m in love with this man and I’m secretly envious that I didn’t think of this statement to say to unsuspecting someone first.

      Though, I did come up with a gem a while back while being hit on by a random troglodyte in some seedy location… “You suck your fathers dick with that mouth?”

      • Zara Potts says:

        Ha!
        I’m so proud of you. That’s a great line.
        But as for Suck Cock/Raw Meat guy – I would totally love to use this is everyday life. I just think it may end badly.

      • Slade Ham says:

        Just for the record, you can fall in love with him all you want. He’s obviously on the other team, hahaha. Unless raw meat is a euphemism…

        I sort of want to start a collection of these one liners now. I’m assuming the “father’s dick” line was instantly disarming, no?

  15. Joe Daly says:

    “The devil is in the details” has never been more true. From the deer head lighter, to the spiral notebook of the gold hoarder, this was really evocative. I knew I was in for a colorful ride when you referenced the “18 gauge rosin flux” in the man’s ramblings.

    >>Like the vagrants in my past before him, he somehow ended up with a name like a Batman villain.<<

    Two things happened when I read this:

    1) Laughed out loud; and

    2) Pictured what kind of minions he’d have. Remember the villainous minions on Batman? Not only were they assigned absurd lines and impotent fighting moves, but they always had over-the-top costumes that overstated the identity of their villain. Maybe The Record Player’s minions would all have t-shirts with 45 RPM discs?

    Great read- funny and heartfelt.

    • Slade Ham says:

      He literally knew everything there was to know about solder. It kinda scared me.

      I really do tend to put people into these little comic book worlds. It’s kind of like The Maxx (Sam Keith’s work of brilliance). Not exactly like it, but sort of I suppose. I tend to create this world around the people I see and make all of it much, much more interesting. It’s people watching to the second power.

      They would definitely wear those shirts, and he would be the head of the criminal organization, The Black Circle.

      • Joe Daly says:

        Maybe the level of detail that guy knew about soldering was so deep, that it was proof positive of insanity? Maybe a solder savant?

        OK, I just have to get this off my chest:

        Randy Quaid as “The Record Player”

        I picture a combination of his Cousin Eddie character from “Vacation” and the whack job attorney he played in “Caddyshack 2”

        ***DISCLAIMER***
        My reference of “Caddyshack 2” is in no way a formal endorsement of that movie and I in no way suggest that anyone buy, rent, view, or otherwise expose themselves to that film.

        • Slade Ham says:

          If Christopher Nolan happens to stumble upon this thread… look no further! It’s no Johnny-Depp-as-the-Riddler, but still…

        • Joe Daly says:

          I’d just like to see Randy Prance around with a turntable under his arm, escaping out the window while his minions get treated to a good ol’ fashioned kicking.

          As an aside, one night when my buddy and I were coming in from the bars, we stopped off at McDonald’s (obviously we’re back in my carnivorous days in this flashback). We stepped past a girl sitting in front of the restaurant, with a cup out for change. My buddy bought her a huge meal and on the way out, handed it to her and said, “In case you’re hungry, I hope this helps.”

          She looked sadly at the bag and said, “No thanks- I’m just looking for money.” It was really disheartening for all involved. Not to be a downer, but your piece reminded me that somehow the help we think people need might be pretty far from what they want.

        • Slade Ham says:

          That really is sad. I’ve seen it happen myself. It’s one of the reasons that I absolutely refuse to give money to anyone. I’ll feed you if you need it, but fuck that whole “money” thing.

          I’m just looking for money, too.

  16. Slade,

    This was great. I often talk to homeless people and I always have to wonder if they’re far better off than I. Like, maybe they know something I don’t and I’m missing out. Or, though I try to be an individual, maybe I’m still part of the herd.

    Yet another one of life’s conundrums.

    A great read as always.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I do wonder, too, though. Maybe we’re the crazy ones after all. They don’t have to make that uphill trudge everyday to pay bills and worry about the state of the world. Eat, sleep, drink. It sounds kinda sane to me.

      Btw, as I was writing this, I couldn’t help but think of the Denver guy with his house on his hip and the coke tab armband 🙂

      • That guy was brilliant. One of the many high-points of that day.

        That was a great fucking day. Thanks for that.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Thanks, back at ya. This could easily have been a midget piece. I really don’t think I’ve laughed as hard as I did this past weekend in a while.

          It’s a fusion thing.

        • Con-Fusion.

          While we’re on fusion, feel free to add all the words I forgot to include throughout the comments. Maybe I should go find the 8 minute joke guy…

        • Slade Ham says:

          Nah, that’s just your brain working faster than your body. I’ll edit them soon and make this interaction look strange and pointless.

          Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to eat some Southwestern weinerschnitzel covered in unagi sauce.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Yes, the Venezuelan Ninja Roll, from Puerta Vallarta.

        • I thought it was from Uzbekistan.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Kyrgyzstan actually, or some other country with no fucking vowels.

          Have you tried the Texianacolobraska Samurai Roll yet? It’s corn and jalapenos, cooked a mile above sea level, and then they shove it inside a turkey and deep fry it.

          And then they put the Samurai at the end of the name because this is after all, a sushi place.

        • Don’t forget the frou-frou umbrella and the Shania Twain impersonator. Both deep fried as well. Or is that deeply fried?

        • Slade Ham says:

          “Deeply fried” sounds sexual.

        • http://www.porkrind.com/porn.htm

          That’s all I have to say about that.

        • Slade Ham says:

          I don’t even want to know how you stumbled upon that.

          At all.

          On a related note however, I got drunk a year or so ago and bought http://www.pigranch.com because I had this alcohol induced idea that I could sell it to someone that did Fat Porn. This is also why i am not allowed around a credit card when I’ve been drinking.

          i wish I was kidding. If you go there now, it links directly to my site.

        • Oh good lord. You are a forward thinker. I have to say, that really is brilliant. As for not being allowed around credit cards when inebriated, I can totally relate.

          I’m a cash only girl myself.

          That sounded wrong.

        • Slade Ham says:

          If I were such a forward thinker, it wouldn’t still be forwarded to my site. I should have thought myself all the way to a buyer.

          Anyone wanna buy PigRanch.com?

          Hahahaha. Yeah. No.

  17. Lorna says:

    I knew this was going to be a good for me read.

    The men in family (my Brothers and Dad) have all, at some point, gone off the grid. I can remember being about 8 years and my Dad tellling me that someday he was going to be a hermit and run off to the hills and live in a cave and screw society because they are all crazy. Ha, I thought he was crazy…. and maybe he is, just a little or possibly he is smarter than all of us drones who abide by the rules of society. Long story short, the first time you posted the myspace version of this story, my Dad was indeed homeless. I remember thinking after I read your original version, “I hope there some guy out there like Slade in San Diego who takes my Dad out lunch and listens to him”. I just wanted that for my Dad. Someone to care enough to sit and talk to him. Something I am completely incapable of doing to this day.

    Then there are my brothers, whom I love dearly, one of which who happens to be schizophenic, but stable when he takes his medication. He is set up in a roommate/group home situation in San Diego. But at one point he went missing for a couple of weeks. Upon his return he told my Mom that he had gone to live on the streets to see what it was like.

    And then my eldest Brother, well, half of time I don’t even know how to contact him. He doesn’t have a phone, or an address and years have sometimes passed without even hearing from him. The last time I saw him, a couple of years ago, I barely recongnized him. He walks with a hobble, rides a bike for transporation, does odd jobs at a junkyard salvage yard for his room and board and very little money. I’m quite sure he hasn’t filed a tax return since his early twenties. He’ll be fifty this year. I don’t think he’s crazy, I think he simply doesn’t care to play along with society rules.

    And hey, let’s be honest, in these trouble times…..it doesn’t take much to become a person on the streets. So if it happens to me, at least I’ve got some realatives with experience who can show me the ropes.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I have no doubt that your dad crossed paths with someone like that. It’s easy to talk openly to someone you’ll never see again.

      There may be some underlying sanity to all the male members of your family after all. It’s possible that they are doing exactly what they want to be doing. I know you don’t have any way of knowing for sure, but try envisioning them as being happy in their circumstances. They very well might be.

      And yes, worse case scenario… you’ll have people ion the inside.

      Glad you dug this version of this as well.

      • Lorna says:

        Well, it’s just a good thing my dad waited to do the hermit thing unit I was a grown woman. It was little to scary to think of going visit my dad in his cave on the weekends. I seriously remember trying to figure out how I was going to explain that to the other kids. Haha, I guess the judgment starts at a hopelessly young age.

  18. Natalia says:

    -I really like Judy’s and Ofelia’s comment.(of course)
    -I think everybody is crazy to some degree: some in a good way and others in really, really bad ways. I say to the good crazies, embrace your inner crazy.
    -I did that once exchange food for stories with a group of my MALE classmates, and I was blown away by some of the homeless people we spoke to. How they got into their position, what they do in general and why. One guy was extremely intelligent, but on the streets bc he was sick and did not want to be a burden to his kids. It was definitely an humbling experience I will never forget.
    -As far as you being a divining rod for insanity, I think you are just a divining rod, the insane as you see it may be just more interesting to watch and therefore why you pay closer attention:)
    -Besides Crazy makes for some good stories…

    • Slade Ham says:

      It is true that the soccer mom types do just honestly bore me. Maybe I do only see society’s fringe now because it’s all that captivates me anymore.

      Good for you for going out and gaining some insight. It’s amazing what you learn. There are a LOT of intelligent ones out there, and some of them on purpose.

  19. Erika Rae says:

    I love crazy people. I mean, I’m wary of them, but I love them. Not so much Sylvia Plath crazy, more Richard Simmons crazy. Just last night a crazy dude came up to me and a friend in downtown Denver asking if we knew where Los Angeles, California was. We sort of sent him on his way. Too obviously fake crazy.

    I had no idea that you couldn’t solder something to a mouse. I am aware, however, that you can freeze a mouse in liquid nitrogen, and then shatter it like a wine glass. This is not a nice thing to do for either mouse or for the person responsible for cleaning the room in which said mouse was shattered, however. You have no idea how many hidden crevices there are around the floorboards.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Yeah, it’s almost impossible to fake it well.

      Now… about this mouse, Erika. Like a wine glass? I am clearly going to the wrong parties. I want some liquid nitro now. Bad. There is a backyard full of squirrels…

  20. Michelle says:

    I need crazy in my life. I really despise the story of how great little Suzy is doing and Billy can say “Mama” and at times I do feel like I am being selfish. I would rather hear about how one of the voices in your head got tired of being ignored and found an air horn. Or that one of the other voices was humming today while you were working on the truck. The best one I heard was that one of the voices fell asleep and was snoring. That’s my idea of normal.

    I find those stories a lot more fascinating than the everyday grind.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Far more fascinating, for sure.

      All those voices would get so annoying. I would have to have a store meeting and get them all on the same page. My silence is too important to me…

  21. Irene Zion says:

    Slade,

    You think you can fool me?
    I know the world as we know it ended in 2002.
    I have been living in my bomb shelter ever since, which is stocked for several years more worth of rations.
    I have internet, but I understand that I am just talking to myself here, I am not stupid.
    This is the internet of my mind, and you, as me, are trying to make me leave the safety of my shelter.
    I enjoy talking to you and those like you, even though I understand that my mind is making you all up.
    I only wish I had talked a dentist into coming down here with me.
    I have such a toothache.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Irene. my friend… If you are simply imagining all of us, then you are the most prolific writer alive.

      Actually, in this scenario, you;re the only person alive. When I read your comment I actually had an image of you huddled in a bunker fpr the last eight years, the last person alive on a barren planet.

      With a toothache.

      I won;t try to lure you out again. Can I buy you a burger?

      • Irene Zion says:

        Yes, please.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Let’s imagine the Platonic Ideal of a Hamburger.
          Lettuce and sauteed onions, avocado, and a home-made bun.
          I’d like it hot, please.
          Everything is room temperature down here.
          Now I am imagining that I have a doorbell….

        • Slade Ham says:

          I happen to be a cheese-and-ketchup-only kind of guy. But since you’re imagining all of this, you know that already…

  22. Troy says:

    I used to help the homeless a lot back when I was married to a crazy ex, guess I just never wanted to go home. I ran into a lot of interesting people, even though some of them may act a little on the crazy side, when you take the time to talk to them, they’re really not as crazy as what i had to go home to, LOL.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Funny, I never continued this trend after I started dating my own psycho. I did build a treehouse though. The lengths we will go to to not talk to someone…

      You have my empathy.

  23. Simon Smithson says:

    Damn it! I’ve always loved the idea of getting peoeple’s stories from them. Well-played, Slade. You’ve beaten me to the punch once more.

    I think the great part of it is that these kind of experiences pull you in different directions and extend your boundaries a little bit. Life’s that little bit more colourful when a guy licking a lighter is a few tables down.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I live for other people’s stories. I’ve long thought about a book based on the conversations, though I’ve forgotten many of them. I would have to revisit the idea and crawl back into the belly of the beast. Thinking about it, perhaps I should.

      Plus, it’s way easier than coming up with stuff on my own, hahaha.

  24. Dan says:

    My buddy works at a court ordered mental health clinic. The guy that believes he’s an Archangel is my favorite one he talks about.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I had forgotten about this until you made that comment, but there was a guy several years ago (I wrote something about him then on my website at the time that had quotes from him) that believed not only that he was the Archangel Michael, but that the singers from several 90’s rock bands were the leaders of the twelve tribes.

      One of my friends was one of those supposed “leaders”. I ended up in several weird conversations with the guy on a message board – because he was nuts and highly disruptive in a online community of otherwise very friendly people – , which led to him attacking my personal site with insinuations that I was of the Devil and somehow stopping “God’s work”.

      “Michael” quoted scripture and ancient texts, and substituted the names of the band members in when the need arose. I forget who all was on the list, but this guy claimed, through correspondence, to have influenced Eddie Vedder on several songs and to have brought Billy Corgan into his fold.

      I’ll have to go back and find that blog. I heard the guy killed himself a year or two ago, but you never know…

      It was some craaaazy shit.

  25. Alison Aucoin says:

    I went to grad school and then worked in a very gritty area of New Orleans. When we were all displaced after Hurricane Katrina I couldn’t help but worry about ‘Grandma,’ the morbidly obese lady who lived on a mattress next to the library and called out with a toothless bellow “Come give Grandma a kiss.” Or ‘Football Playing Guy,’ the man who played football, ALONE, on the neutral ground of a large intersection. Queenie (apparently her actual name), the scantily-clad senior citizen who stole the money that you just put in the slot of your parking place and then cursed out the owner of the parking lot as you returned to your car to discover your parking ticket. And my personal favorite, ‘Christopher Walken Guy.’ What ever would he do without access to the copious amounts of Thorazine he obviously ingested everyday?

    The homeless and seriously mentally ill definitely have a heavy burden to bear but they certainly linger in our subconscious so much more than the soccer mom behind us in line at Starbuck’s.

    • Slade Ham says:

      “Cristopher Walken Guy”

      Hahahaha. New Orleans has more than its share of memorable weirdos for sure. I’ve never lived there, but I have spent more time there than most people – enough to respect its beautifully eccentric nature anyway. Do these people always end up with names like this I wonder? It seems I’m not the only one that names them as such.

      I’m going to go wash the visual of Grandma begging for a kiss out of my eyes now. Uggggh.

  26. Andrea says:

    During high school and during freshman year of college I hung out at a 24 hour coffee shop all the time, and I met some of the weirdest people there. I think coffee shops in particular are breeding grounds for “crazies”.

    I’m pretty nuts, but I don’t think I’ve graduated to the level of:

    Boris, who was possibly ex kgb, who once told me that he couldn’t wait until I had children so he could give me a music box… I never found out what this was code for. He also operated an anti-terrorism website, the utility of which was never determined for certain.

    Jesse, the young lawyer who refused to talk to me when I was 15, because it might ruin his professional reputation, who when I turned 17 decided to ask me if I wanted to be his mistress ( but just for the purposes of cuddling, which to me seemed almost worse).

    And the list goes on. SO yeah, crazy is relative. Your crazies sound like more fun than mine. I think being a young girl encountering nut balls is a different kind of experience. It always makes for a funny story, though, and that’s what made me enjoy reading this.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Andrea. Boris intrigues me. It’s possible that he really did just want to give you a music box. There was probably microfilm hidden somewhere inside. Boris reminds me of the piece N.L. Belardes wrote a month or so ago. I’d put up a link, but it always stops me. Search for his name. The piece was called “The Secret CIA Life of Alex Raffio”. It’s a good read.

      I think you ran across crazy in its sickest incarnation with Jesse. I don’t give “potential pedophile” the same liberties I give homeless Indians. What a creepy guy.

      Still, coffee shops always breed these people. They’re like waypoints where we all converge, the sane and insane alike.

  27. Jim says:

    ‘I was sitting outside at my favorite coffee shop; one of the last times I would do so before I moved away from the sleepy streets of Beaumont for good. The man sat across the patio from me at a cluttered table in a puddle of sunlight and his own eccentricity. I have long since come to terms with the fact that I am a divining rod for insanity. I can spot it in a crowd, and in some instances I am even magnetic. It doesn’t wait for me to find it, but instead fights its way to the front. I’ve seen a lot of crazy people.

    This guys though, this guy was a rare gem. A trucker’s cap covered his balding head, which on its own would not have been unusual. He was also wearing a fanny pack and a tube top, however, and had eight mountaineering clips attached to his belt with nothing on them.

    And he was carrying a record player.

    It wasn’t my first encounter with this man either. He was the non-athletic type, and I somehow imagined that he lived as a stowaway in his mother’s basement, occasionally trying on her clothes when she went to work and exploring the inner workings of his turntable. The first time we met, he cornered me on that very same patio and proceeded to discuss with me the different types of solder. It was more of a monologue on his part than an actual conversation.

    “We used to use lead based solder back when I was on the inside. Lead. Lead is good. Now everything’s lead-free and useless. It’s better they say, but it’s not the same thing. It all depends on what you want to join. Sometimes I just put things together to see if they’ll stick. Did you know you can’t solder something to a mouse? Won’t work. Not even with 18 gauge rosin flux. It just runs. The mouse I mean, not the solder. Ask me anything about solder, and I can tell you.”

    I’ve learned since then to simply keep my earphones jammed deep in my ears whether I’m listening to music or not. It buys me the freedom to observe without participating. That day I watched, intrigued, as the man alternated between tasks, sometimes rolling cigarettes, sometimes strategically arranging the napkins on his table, and sometimes taking a moment to run his tongue along a lighter shaped like a deer’s head.

    The latter was deeply disturbing.

    Years ago I used to make a habit of randomly picking up homeless people and taking them for fast food. I’ve always been fascinated with other people’s stories. I’m a collector, and the vagrant population has more than most. You won’t get an earful of inner-office drivel from them. You’re not in danger of having to listen to them prattle on about their misbehaving children or how the neighbor’s dog won’t stop tearing up the flower beds. Their stories are never that mundane.

    It was never unselfish. I in no way ever felt like I was doing some great service to these men. At best – even if they were in fact starving to death – I was only buying them one more day, and it was unlikely that they were going to figure things out in those twenty-four hours. Still, a Sonic burger in exchange for the chronicles of another human being always seemed like an acceptable trade to me.

    More than anything, I grew curious as to whether or not these people were truly unstable and wild or if some of it was just an act. One I remember particularly clearly was named Big Chief. Over tater tots he regaled me with tales of having removed himself from the grid on purpose. Crow’s feet and thick lines cut their way through his face as he talked, making him look like a living Fredrick Remington sculpture and his Native American roots came through audibly as well, his voice possessing the broken, yet soothing, cadence of his people.

    “They are watching,” he said. He glanced repeatedly in the sideview mirror as he talked. “If they knew where I was I would be dead, and you too most likely. If I can be on a different car every night, they cannot catch me.”

    “You hop trains?” I asked.

    “It is better that way. In 2002 the world will end, and only the ones of us with places to hide in the jungles will be safe. I have gold buried across the country, so when the economy falls, I will be ready.”

    “Gold?” I was a bit incredulous.

    “And jewels.” He pointed to his pocket, where I saw the metal spiral of a small pad of paper sticking out. “It is all in here. When I worked for the Secret Service I saved every check they gave me. I was there when they shot Reagan. Every dollar I made went to buying precious stones and metals and only I know where it is all hidden.”

    The world didn’t end in 2002, however, and I never saw Big Chief again. I imagine him sometimes though, hiding in the forest on the outskirts of some sleepy town as night falls, burying nuggets of gold and marking their locations in his tattered notebook.

    When I was eighteen I worked at a grocery store. A homeless man named Redbeard frequently hovered outside one of the entrances, begging quarters from soccer moms as they wheeled carts full of food to their SUV’s. It was a brilliant ploy, accosting these people with assertions of hunger when they couldn’t possibly argue that they had nothing to give. I never understood why these customers were so quick to go to their purses rather than hand the man a bag of chips or some lunchmeat from their carts.

    We called him Redbeard not just because of his matted red beard, but also because of the invisible parrot that sat on his shoulder and gave him advice. There was a pizza place next door to the store and one day I invited Redbeard to join me on my break. Over lunch the imaginary bird miraculously disappeared and a much saner man emerged.

    I grabbed another slice of pizza. “You don’t really believe there’s a parrot on your shoulder, do you?” I asked.

    “Of course not,” he replied with a gleam in his eye. “But I do kinda look like a pirate, don’t I?” It was true. He did.

    “Honestly?” he continued. “They won’t give you anything if they think you can help yourself.”

    There was some obvious logic to his argument considering that he was sucking down slices of pepperoni on my dime. That encounter though has forced me to take a longer look at the crazy people I come across, which is what I found myself doing on that coffee shop patio with the man I knew only as The Record Player.

    Like the vagrants in my past before him, he somehow ended up with a name like a Batman villain. They should have had their own line of action figures. Legitimately crazy or not, I could envision a metropolis filled with them; a world where Redbeard and Big Chief knocked off banks while The Record Player scrawled cryptic riddles on construction paper and left them behind to confuse the cops, as they all idled away into the night in the back of a boxcar. If they were ever captured, their insanity pleas would be airtight.

    My own past is not exactly devoid of crazy moments, and I can’t help but wonder if I, too, have been labeled the same way by much saner people somewhere in the past. Crazy is such a relative term anyway. What right did I really have to sit there and judge this man? Maybe he continued to cross my path for a reason.

    Perhaps it was even Life’s way of keeping me humble. “Don’t get cocky, Slade. Regardless of what you think about yourself, you’re still two tables away from a guy licking a lighter.” ‘

    Funny, funny stuff.

  28. Jordan Ancel says:

    When I was still living in New York City, I saw the progressive decline of a homeless guy who lived in my neighborhood over several years.

    I recall the first time I saw him, he was dressed smartly and had a nice leather suitcase on rollers. He sat outside a 7-Eleven asking for change, but because he looked a little too dapper, no one gave him any handouts, even me. With each failed attempt, he would curse at whomever neglected him.

    As the years went by, he became more gaunt, more tattered-looking, more humble, and more insane. And the more insane he became, the more handouts he received.

    I actually used to buy him a meal from 7-Eleven almost every day on my way back from work, but we never talked, only because he was so ravenous that the moment I handed him the food, he tore into it like a starved, rabid dog.

    I eventually stopped seeing him around the neighborhood and I was really sad. I feared something awful had happened.

    I often wondered what lead him to his life on the street, because the first day I saw him, he was dressed better than me. I would think, “How does someone like him get to that point?” And, “Could that ever happen top me?”

    “Regardless of what you think about yourself, you’re still two tables away from a guy licking a lighter.”

    True, indeed.

    Excellent piece, Slade.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Thanks, Jordan. I’m off to read your new one as soon as I finish replying to all of these.

      You have to wonder if you got to see the actual descent into madness as it happened. Perhaps that first day was really his first on the street. Pride prevents us from looking down and out sometimes. As it became more permanent, he shrugged off the facade and let himself go.

      That guy probably counted on you in the afternoon more than you know.

      You’ll never know what happened to him I suppose, which makes his fate yours to imagine. I’d like to think someone saw through his crazy bullshit and offered him a job.

  29. I love that you humoured him. I think we’d get along… Some people have the decency to turn and run when confronted with weirdos, but it seems you and I can’t help digging a little further…

    • Slade Ham says:

      I think we would as well, and I have no doubt that we’ll get a chance to test that theory one day. I agree that it is far too easy to run from these people. Some are scary, to be sure, but others have these glorious tales hiding right below the surface. I like to get to that part.

  30. Irene Zion says:

    Everyone has a story, David.
    Some more than others.
    I think his knowledge of soldering was fascinating.
    I agree that mice would be difficult to solder things to, wiggly little things that they are.
    Slade’s crazy-magnet is a handy thing for a writer or a comedian.

  31. Irene Zion says:

    So David,
    What do you think Slade Ham’s original name was?
    I’m thinking he was named Slag Porker at birth.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Slag Porker sounds like a British rocker. Well, so does Slade I suppose.

      Believe it or not Irene, this is my given name. Middle and last, anyway.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Slap Happy?
        Slabbering Hamhocks?

        • Slade Ham says:

          Slap Happy sounds like a clown from the ’20s. And Slabbering Hamhocks sounds like, hmmm, well… You have been in your bunker too long.

          I should change my name to Slabbering Hamhocks though… It does have a ring to it.

        • Irene Zion says:

          I am partial to Slabbering Hamhocks, myself.
          I can see it on the ads for your shows!

          SLABBERING HAMHOCKS , LIVE TONIGHT!

          It has a certain ring to it.
          Plus, you’d get WAY more letters because people would want to write to a person with such a wonderful name.

        • Slade Ham says:

          I have to find a way to get this on a marquee now.

          And if I got two letters, it would be more than I am getting now.

  32. Tawni says:

    The city in which I used to live had a large collection of homeless characters, complete with superhero-esque nicknames given to them by their fellow citizens. My favorite was The Snailherder. The Snailherder used to come in to the convenience store where I worked and ask for five plastic bags placed inside of a sixth. Every day. We had to touch the bags as little as possible. He was completely OCD, wore gloves, and we often watched him spend ten minutes trying to open the door to the store in the most germ-free manner. We kept the money the state gave him to survive in an envelope under the register and he would come in and grab whatever he needed from the store, letting us subtract it from his tab. My boss was a nice man and offered to do this for him. Corporate had no idea and would not have allowed it.

    There was a man named Psychic Ben, who would stand and tell me about how he could talk to the aliens through earrings. Apparently, only people with the earrings that have the silver ball on a ring can communicate with the aliens this way. Psychic Ben always got in trouble for frying eggs on the bare surface of the microwave. We caught him standing by the microwave, eating them out of it with a plastic fork on many occasions. One time, an employee opened the door to the bathroom to find Psychic Ben standing next to the sink with his pants down, his genitals covered with foamy soap. We asked him to please lock the door next time.

    Caveman Joe was my least favorite. He chugged straight vodka from the liquor store next door, then would come in and try to make coffee because he never believed it was fresh. People would walk in and see this crazy-bearded, filthy guy, often with shit in his pants and puke on his shirt, rummaging around in our coffee filters and holding a pot of water. We had to call the police a few times because he could get violent when drunk.

    Convenience stores are excellent for people watching.

    I hope Big Chief is okay.

    I really enjoyed reading this, Slade. You paint a great picture with your words.

    • Slade Ham says:

      So where did he get the name “Snailherder”? I think that’s awesome that your boss was cool enough to take care of him like that. People get too caught up in protocol and bullshit corporate “rules” to make exceptions when they’re actually justified.

      I also love how the reaction to Ben was to recommend locking the door. Nothing was said like, “Hey man. Stop washing your balls in the sink.” Hahahaha.

      I bet your store was like Clerks.

      And thanks, Tawni.

      • Tawni says:

        Coolest boss I ever had. Looked like Jerry Garcia. Smoked pot every day. Totally mellow and easygoing. (But once chased a customer out of the store, yelling at him, for being mean to me.) Always worked my clerk schedule around band practices and shows with no complaint. That’s why I worked there for five years. It was surprisingly hard to find “low-responsibility” jobs/bosses that allowed me to pursue music.

        The Snailherder wore really thick glasses and was nearly blind, so he walked very slowly everywhere he went. He often held up traffic, because he would wander into the street and take forever to get out of the way. I think that’s why he was called Snailherder. He told us that other homeless people would take advantage of his poor vision and steal from him, which was partly why he let us keep his money. I also think he didn’t want to touch it, or the germy hands he would have to place it into when he bought things. When we handed him the “five plastic bags placed into a sixth” that he requested daily, he would take the bag from us like we wore Ebolavirus gloves. He was in the 25-35 age range, pretty young, and there were rumors that he had been a college professor at KU (this was in Lawrence, Kansas) and just mentally snapped one day, but no proof. I went back for a visit, after living in L.A. for a few years, and was happy to still see him wandering around the city.

        Don’t be too impressed. My co-worker did run from the back of the store screaming “Oh god! My eyes! My eyes! Cut them out!” after walking in on Ben and his soapy balls in the bathroom. He told me what he’d seen, visibly repulsed. Ben wandered out from the back a few minutes later, and it was then my co-worker told him to lock the door next time. They were both embarrassed. I thought it was hilarious, of course. (:

        • Slade Ham says:

          Anyone that looks like Jerry Garcia has to be cool. It’s one of those universal laws, like gravity.

          I have such great images of these people you’ve described, especially now of the Snailherder, wandering aimlessly as cars swerve around him.

          This should be a movie, or at least a short, with all of the people that have popped up in the comments here.

  33. When I was a kid my mother collected crazies. It got so bad that by a certain age — we knew enough to hide when she jangled the car keys and called out for one of us to accompany her on her errands.

    We knew “errands” was code for giving our neighbor, Miss Martha, who lived behind her perfectly normal house in a geodesic dome without electricity or running water, a ride to the health food store. Miss Martha sometimes brought her cat Jimmy Carter with her on a red, white and blue leash and thought my father was Victor Kiam, the Remington Razor guy from TV, no matter how many times we told her differently. Miss Martha had a son named Break who was a Vietnam Vet and helped her build the dome. We thought he was going to live in it but he slept in a tent next to the dome. Break spent his days going door to door around the neighborhood collecting aluminum pop tops and asking if he could check our neighbors’ yards for landmines.

    As you might have guessed ours was the only yard he was allowed to inspect.

    Ahhh … childhood.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I honestly do not believe that there is ever another reason to have to “create” characters for our work. Miss Martha and Break deserve to be immortalized in a story. He checked your yard for landmines. That is awesome.

      While I am overly-compassionate to crazy people, I cannot invite them into my personal world. I’m sure your mother was a huge, important part of Miss Martha’s life though. I’m sure it was remembered.

      I bet you win all the “well, when I was a kid” contests…

  34. Brandy says:

    I have known quite a few…

    Leslie- musical idiot savant. He could list off any musician, lyrics…from the 20s onward. He ate out of the garbage, recycled cans for coffee money and occasionally handed one of the baristas a bag of weed. He was a Vietnam vet and was permanently crippled by a bad acid trip.

    Cricket- Do you remember the cockroach character in An American Tail? He made chirping sounds and quizzed us with Jeopardy questions. He was hit by lightning.

    Crazy Jim- Conspiracy theorist extraordinaire. He does calisthenics by his car (parked outside the bookstore). We’re fairly certain he goes commando. He keeps a notebook. That worries me.

    Milton- He comes in the store, follows me around and asks for toilet paper.

    The number of homeless in Hawaii is astounding. Of course most people there are doing it intentionally. I mean, you’re living on a beach in MAUI. Who cares if there’s no roof? They’ve spent 20 years conning the tourists and baking in the sand. I really thought at one point that I had picked the wrong career choice. 🙂

    • Judy Prince says:

      Amazing group of characters you describe, Brandi. But, as you say, it’s MAUI—-the thought of going to work in an office or even in any building would be soul-destroying there. I remember quitting a job in Chicago when summer came bcuz (aside from loathing the job) I couldn’t stand the notion of wearing Office Clothes instead of tank tops, shorts and flipflops, not to mention being in that high rise office building from 8 til 5. Yes, I had to get a job and did—-as it got close to September.

      What career choice did you make?

  35. Brandy says:

    Judy- Some of those characters are here in Florida and some were in Hawaii. I worked in an art gallery right on the battery overlooking the ocean. It seemed like a good compromise. Of course I was allowed to wear a bathing suit and flip flops to work. Hah!

  36. Dag, Slade. I’m not trying to sound like a broken record (since I had a similar experience as Erika with an elderly person in the field of martial arts) but the other day I was just making a similar comment to Judy as this on one of my posts (“Birds of One Feather”).

    Back when I was in college, I used to go down to The Corner. There were always a half dozen homeless people on the streets. Every now and again, I’d strike up a conversation with one of them and in turn buy them a bagel sandwich and potato salad at Bodo’s Bagels for their time.

    The most interesting fellow I ever met was a homeless guy probably in his late 50s/early 60s who claimed to have written a book on calculus. We talked for quite a while but I never had the heart to tell him I was an English major and that I had departed with math for good the previous summer. He just kept listing all these mathematical terms which I knew nothing about. Thing is, I believed he wrote this book. I still do. I’m dumb as a rock when it comes to math and he may as well have been speaking a foreign language with the terms but he definitely came off like he knew what he was talking about.

    And you’re right, some of these guys have the most interesting stories. I’ve always said, and I’ll sound like a broken record again in saying this, a goal of mine is to cross the country on rail one day interviewing people of this nature.

  37. Courtney says:

    projects. pun intended.

  38. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Late in reading this since you posted, but I love it. “You’re still only two tables away from a guy licking a lighter” — well said.

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