author-photo-lower-res-copyOf Maud Casey’s most recent book, Alice Sebold said, “The Man Who Walked Away cast a spell from which I never wished to wake.”

Indeed, this book is spellbinding. Between the mental patients, the overly-confident doctors who treat them, the women suffering from hysteria, the dazzling acrobat, and the man who simply walks across Europe, this book is like a an eerie, unsettling dream that you cannot shake from your head.

Maud and I shared a fascinating discussion about The Man Who Walked Away, in which Maud brought up “ovary belts,” the difficulty in simply being human, and a “hunger for peace.”

r-OBAMA-BOEHNER-large570

I’ve been pretty worked up about the government shutdown, and more so now since it appears that we’re headed for default. Yesterday I let loose some thunder from the pulpit of my church about Republican lawmakers who had gummed up the works for everyone, yet still managed to pass some legislation, a bill that slashed funding for food stamps, knocking 3.8 million poor people off the rolls, mostly children and their mothers. (Republicans were captured on camera high-fiving one another after they managed to pass their bill.) I know some of these moms and children. I’m pretty sure they’re not going to get a magical visit to Wegmans from John Boehner or Ted Cruz when it comes time to go grocery shopping. I tried to moderate my remarks in church, stopping short of the Old Testament fury of the prophet Isaiah when he railed against “the powers that be” in his day:

Is it that time again already?

Hell yeah, Dre.

Welcome to the 2012 holiday season. Are you ready for it? If you’re anything like the staff of TNB Music, you are most certainly not. But that’s OK, because once again, we’ve got you covered.

It was around 9:30 P.M., and I was waiting for the bus in Hollywood after being momentarily paroled from my job as a so-called telefundraiser. When I applied for the job, I didn’t think I stood a chance of being hired at that company or any other, having been out of the mainstream work force for the majority of my adult life, which I’ve spent eking out a living as an actor and screenwriter. The entertainment business used to be said to be recession-proof, but if that was ever true in the past, it’s true no longer; the minute the economy went to hell four years ago, I received fewer and fewer offers of acting and screenwriting jobs, until finally I received none at all. Even production-assistant jobs were, in my case anyway, scarce, though I did manage to PA for a couple of days on a teenage space musical financed by NASA, as well as on a Disney Channel spot in which Miley Cyrus was interviewed alongside her achy-breaky father to mark the end of Hannah Montana.

 

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 

People think I’m nuts. They think that I am a killer, a badass, and a dangerous woman. They think that I am a boot-stomping, man-chomping rock ’n’ roll sex thug with heavy leather straps on my well-notched bedposts and a line around the block of challengers vying for a ride between my crushing thighs, many of whom won’t survive the encounter.

That’s what I like people to think, anyway. Some actually buy it. My manufactured mythology had begun on stage in San Francisco, and was full-on folklore here in Portland. My band, The Balls, had become a wild success over the past three years, and we packed a downtown club called Dante’s once a week, as well as clubs throughout the west coast from Seattle to San Diego. My sex thuggery is reserved for only one man, however. And though we fuck like we just got out of prison, home life is domestic. I help with the care and feeding of my boyfriend’s young son, cutting off crusts, giving back tickles. I even own an apron.

Despite my disenchanting normality, however, I get to sing for a living, drink free most places, and I get laid regularly. Life is good.

And now it’s Christmas time, so I’m all extra everything with good cheer. December in Portland can be a dreary spectacle. Right around Halloween, a big chilly sog plops its fat ass over the Pacific Northwest and stays parked there until Independence Day. Even in the gray, spitting rain, however, I’m all atwinkle, heading to Hawthorne Boulevard to skip through herds of wet hippies to Christmas shop. And even though I find those pube farmers highly irritating, I am humming “In Excelsis Deo” and in love with the world, so fuck ’em.

Hawthorne is a main thoroughfare in southeast Portland where, on one block, you can buy a latte, Indonesian end tables, pants for your cat, a vinyl corset, or a two-hundred-dollar T-shirt. It’s a great place to find perfect gifts for the loved ones in your life, and I am going to buy the greatest Christmas gift ever.

“The Greatest Gift of All”: I hear my little fourth-grade voice trilling in my memory bank. It was in a school Christmas play and was the first solo I ever took on stage. It was also one of the few times my mom saw me sing in front of a real audience.

“The greatest giiift of aaall . . . it can come from aaany wheeere!” I sang the heck out of it, if memory serves.

My mom had started beading and was taking it very seriously. She was selling pieces on eBay—seriously—so I’m headed to a store called Beads Forever to get her some killer imported beads, maybe some semiprecious stones. I have a vision of getting her a badass assortment and putting them in a cool, funky box. It’s the first Christmas gift I will buy for her in maybe ten years, and it will be perfect.

“Per-fect!” I sing in a fake opera voice.

I see the store ahead through my swishing windshield wipers and, “Fuckyouuu!!” I sing in triumph, to no one, as there is a perfect parking space directly in front of the store. “ Rock-star fucking parking!” I pull up, swoosh my wet car into the spot, throw it into park and my phone rings. The little lit-up window reads “BDLarge.”

“Dad? Hey, Dad.”

“Hi, sweetie.” His voice sounds heavy.

“What’s wrong?”

He sighed. Someone must’ve died. My grandmother. Neeny. God, at Christmas we lose Neeny Cat? 

“Dad?” 

“Your mom died last night.”

What?

“Who?” His mom. Neeny. Ninety-four, lost her mind when her husband of sixty-odd years passed.

“Your ma.”

“Who?” More sighing. Why the fuck is he sighing so much? Should I get out of the car? 

“Your ma. Your mom died last night. They don’t know what happened yet sweetie, but . . .”

I’m literally looking into the store where I’m going to get her Christmas gift. Should I still? My hand is on the door, my car is parked . . . rock-star parking and the best gift ever. No. I say no to this. My dad says something about having to call my brothers and will I be okay? He’ll call me back right away. Love you. Bye.

Love you. Bye. 

It’s dark and raining but people can still see into the car, and I must look crazy. I grab the steering wheel with both hands and suddenly I’m sobbing, screaming at the gauges. What the fuck to do?

Where do I go, home? I can’t see. I can’t drive. I call my boyfriend at work. “Hi. Can you come get me? My mom is dead and I’m on Hawthorne.”

She’s gone. 

My first thought. She is gone. Not my first thought. No. Fucking no. I’m thrashing around inside my body. What the fuck do I do? What am I thinking? No. I peel my mind away like a child turning its face from a tablespoon of cough syrup. No. My first thought.

My first? Thank God. Thank God she’s gone. “Thank God she’s gone.”

 

Excerpted from CRAZY ENOUGH: A Memoir by Storm Large. Copyright 2012 by Storm Large. Published by Free Press.

 

To devote your life to art you have to be a little loopy, so it stands to reason that most entertainers are half insane. That’s your soul up there onstage or on the big screen, and it takes a lot of balls and maybe just a touch of madness to even try to pull it off.

Of course I make no claim to the actual mental states of the following performers. But if allowed to indulge my latent arm chair psychologist, here are a smattering of musicians who toe that narrow line between ingenuity and insanity.

Since psychiatry has proven itself to be anything but a science, the entire concept of mental anguish must be reexamined. Might the elements of “mental illness” more properly be called personality traits as well as reflections of the societies in which those traits occur? Might those elements even be called talents of a sort?

Psychiatry’s masterwork of pseudo-science, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), once included homosexuality amongst its “scientific” diagnoses. Psychiatry thus reflects the “values” of the United States far more than concerning itself with patients, much less looking past and through society’s existing prejudices.

Even those behind psychiatry’s Shroud of Turin question its validity. Of late, there has been talk of attributing DSM diagnoses by degrees rather than mere labels. Thus, a person would “have” a “mental illness” on a scale, not just “have” it. In such a case, the flatliners who dominate the population would once again establish the “typical American’s” plot-pointed life as “sanity.”

Yet no one who suffers emotional distress would applaud the benefits of that distress. To do so would be to refute its existence and betray oneself as an imposter. Far more likely is it that many flatliners never mention their irregular heartbeats. Could it be a Second Renaissance lies beneath the ever-recycling digital ruins and its constant skies of acid rain?

Consider anxiety. Those with anxious traits are often highly-attuned. To call them “sensitive” is, in this society, an insult. “Sensitive” implies weakness, an inability to “man up.” Instead, the anxious should be viewed as a tuning fork against which society reveals itself — rather than the “patient” — as out of tune. That no one else recognizes society’s discordant sounds only proves the anxious to be society’s musicians. Countless permutations of that metaphor support themselves.

The same may be said about every other “diagnosis.” Schizophrenia might be viewed as a William S. Burroughs’ cutup of “reality” as presented, emphasis on “presented” because, of course, most of our environment has nothing natural about it and is, in fact, a presentation in every sense.

Some conditions do respond to medication. Usually, the reasons remain unknown. In turn, the medication may solve one “problem” while creating many more. Those who take most antidepressants may no longer feel depressed about nothing, but they feel depressed about their diminished sexuality, especially males whenever they try to… express their end of sexuality’s conclusion.

Returning to anxiety, medication does relieve its incapacitating aspect, but the medications that accomplish the effect also accomplish something else, that being the worst addiction known to humankind. This class of drugs, benzodiazepines, includes Xanax, Valium, Ativan, etc., the whole lot of tranquilizers, excepting the rarely-prescribed barbiturates. In some cases, antidepressants may relieve anxiety. However, they do so for reasons as unknown as the reasons antidepressants diminish depression. Likewise, they alleviate anxiety but create symptoms that mirror anxiety, such as trembling hands, odd emotional states, etc.

Rather than diagnoses, all of these traits show themselves to be products of society, products of the product society uses to diagnose those personality traits, and the products society sells to treat the products of the product society uses to diagnose those personality traits. That’s to say, they’re products of an environment completely divorced from nature.

All of this enshrouds some rather simplistic facts about a complicated subject. To martyr those suffering in the way biographers now “diagnose” every author, musician and artist “of the ages” as “bipolar” reduces suffering by labeling it, making suffering a product of their products, that being books and, eventually, films based on those books. Those who write memoirs about their “mental illnesses” bend over backwards for sainthood and reveal themselves willing to do endure any humiliation in exchange for profit.

On the other hand, failing to notice the strange talents hidden within the emotionally inflamed creates an even greater injustice. These strange talents do not prove the existence of artistic talent, as many would like to believe, but they do reveal an artistic temperament. No one can suffer emotionally but for recognition of something and, more likely, many things, and their recognitions go unnoticed by the general public. Why does no one listen to them? Who do “doctors” listen only to themselves when they recognize nothing beyond the power of their prescription pads? Is it because they realize their absolute lack of talent, strange or otherwise?

Most of those suffering in the ways described cycle through life in various stages of function and dysfunction, and most have periods of absolute dysfunction. To calls these periods “nervous breakdowns” would be far more accurate than to split the hairs of the suffering with psychiatry’s blunt axe. They must be tended to as they once were, in humane sanitariums surrounded by the true environment. Such sanitariums could — with no joke intended — be established on useless golf courses around the nation.

With that, some proposals:

1) Psychiatry should be abolished. It simply lacks the will, or even desire to have the will, to fulfill its dream of being medicine. Psychiatrists should be stripped of their meaningless licenses and sent on their way to more suitable careers, like accounting.

2) The “mentally ill” should be educated to understand their conditions as also encompassing strange talents, until they begin to believe the fact that their recognitions are true even when masked by the wildest hallucinations.

3) Medications should be dispensed by doctors who have achieved certification in dispensing those medications. They should know, and prove that knowledge by required yearly testing, that they understand prescribing medications and the facts of addictions that may occur to any such medication they dispense.As it stands, psychiatrists receive eight hours of addiction “education.”

4) Medications known to cause addiction should be removed from any policing or government surveillance whatsoever. Those subject to mental anguish should not be criminalized for trying to relieve that anguish, including and even especially when relieving the added anguish of addiction to a prescribed medication.

5) All those suffering from the acute perceptions so well described in Rumblefish should ultimately determine their own treatment, including beginning or continuing use of addictive prescribed substances, even when addiction has established itself, for the suffering caused by eliminating that addiction will likely lead to more dangerous and illegal addiction.

Flatliners already receive society’s benefits. Those who benefit society without society knowing it — those with strange talents — deserve just as many benefits.

 

When I first started working in China, my students laughed at my name. A day or two later, as I talked with my manager, I was told that my name had been a bit of a problem in the hiring process. “Our last teacher was called David,” he told me. “The Chinese didn’t want us to hire another one.”

I thought this more than a little strange. If my name had been “David Hitler” or “Kim Jong-David”, then it might have been a little more understandable… But even so, I couldn’t imagine why my name – surely one of the least imaginative a parent could bestow upon a child – had been jinxed by whoever came before me.

Then the stories came out, albeit slowly. My co-workers – a friendly and talkative bunch with whom I can discuss just about anything – were very reluctant to acknowledge the existence of “Crazy David”, as he was known.

I learned a few things about him that began to explain why he was so intensely disliked:

The latest Target ads show a woman (comedian Maria Bamford, whom I will refer to simply as ‘the crazy Target lady’, as I’ve seen her called in some comments on YouTube) ‘gearing up’ for the approaching Black Friday sales. There are several commercials portraying ‘the crazy Target lady’, most often dressed in red and exhibiting physical strength which she’ll no doubt need to trample on other people while running maniacally through the aisles of Target, maybe for an XBOX Kinect™ for her husband, a Fisher Price Imaginext Bigfoot the Monster™ for her son, or maybe Disney Princess and Me Dolls™ for her daughter. These commercials seem ‘cute’ and ‘funny’, but the subtext is clear: We, the consumers, are insane—and that’s what corporate America is counting on.

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.”


The best discoveries are made by accident.

I was in the Knox County Courthouse, researching an obscure mystery writer (Delano Ames 1906-1987) who shared my hometown. I was taking a break from surfing through the Ames family documents and perusing their births, marriages and deaths when I noticed a wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with cream colored volumes. What, I wondered, could contain so much information? Land deeds? Criminal cases? Government overthrows?

Baby Talk

By Joe Daly

Humor

I ran into her at a fundraiser a couple months after the date.  The date had ended with an assurance that a phone call would be forthcoming.  This promise remained unfulfilled.

It was a black tie fundraiser on the night before Easter and the cavernous ballroom was still only half full.  The price that I paid for arriving on time was that I was by myself.  Well, not including the stuffed bunny I held under my arm.  And thank God for him.

The friends I was meeting had opted for a very liberal interpretation of timeliness, and so I found myself in my rarely-used tux, pretending as if I were on my way to or from a boisterous group of friends.  I wore the face that said that I had just caught someone’s eye and repeatedly wove figure eights throughout the room, occasionally cutting across the dance floor as if I needed a shortcut to reach my non-existent destination.

I ran into her on the dance floor, our paths intersecting smack dab in the middle.  By the plural number of empty glasses in her hands, I deduced that she was 1) with at least one other person; and 2) on her way to the bar.

The encounter was so abrupt that I did not recognize her at first, and her blank stare indicated that she too was unsure of my identity.  Then her eyes squinted ever so slightly as she made a valiant, though unsuccessful attempt at masking her disdain.

Being both a guy and a people pleaser, I acted as if I expected her to be as pleased to see me as I was pretending to be pleased to see her.

“Hey there!” I said with an optimism entirely unjustified by the circumstances.

(furtively looking away, as if for an exit) “Oh, uh, hey.”

“What’s happening?”

(Ever so slightly annoyed) “Um…  just getting a drink.”

“Oh.  Yeah.  Cool.  So um, how’s everything?”

“Good.  Um, how’s everything with you?”  The inflection she chose for the last word, along with the look on her face indicated that both her patience and the conversation were about to reach a rather colorful end.

“Good, good.  Well, um… yeah, having a good time tonight?”  Dammit.  I remember thinking I had asked one question too many.

“I gotta run.  My friends are back at the table.”

“Great seeing you.”  I started to back off.

“Bye.”

Phew.  Thank God for that fucking bunny.


***

I was pretty new to online dating and still a little gun shy on the whole process.   My last coffee date had been with a woman who resembled the pictures in her online profile much in the same way that Flavor Flav might be said to resemble John McCain.  After that experience, I prepared to cancel my subscription, but then I received an email that made me reconsider.

The author of the email looked and sounded refreshingly down to earth and her profile was almost too good to be true.  She was a couple years older than I and if her pictures were accurate, stunningly put together for someone her age.  Hell, she was stunningly put together for someone of any age.  In the unlikely event that someone might examine her profile and remain unconvinced of her hotness, she chose the screen name of “HARDBODY_(her name).”  To be sure, she was a woman of tremendous literal capacity.

Through some introductory emails, we discovered that we shared some sizable plots of common ground.  We had lived in some of the same cities, worked in similar professions at one time or another, and had moved to San Diego at approximately the same time.  The kicker was when realized that we both shared an oxymoronic passion for both fitness and appallingly poor nutrition.  We were both running freaks and pizza fiends.

We decided to meet.  So convinced was I that we would hit it off, I suggested we make our first date a night on the town.  I had learned the hard way that in the world of internet dating, first dates should involve little more than coffee, drinks, or something quick, early, and public to mitigate any unexpected unpleasantness.  In hindsight, a deeper examination of our dimensions of compatibility was most certainly warranted for breaking this tradition, but at the time, an evening date made sense.

I suggested a funky little spot in scenic La Jolla.  It was central to both of us and if things went well, we could have some appetizers or dinner and then hit one of the neighborhood clubs or cafes afterward.  She arrived right on time, tastefully dressed and looking every bit the looker in her profile photos.

Phew!

Now, I don’t think I’m any more or less shallow than most men or women- looks are certainly important, but a relationship based on looks has the shelf life of a honeydew melon.  I’ll take a pretty face and a great personality over an intolerable hardbody any day of the week.  My relief at seeing my date wasn’t because she was attractive, but rather because she did not look like she had just emerged from Middle Earth.

We chatted easily and for about ten minutes the date was shaping up to be pleasant, normal, and quite fun.  Then my bubble burst.

Apparently she was gassy.

We were talking about our respective health clubs when she offered that one of the things she particularly enjoyed about her club was that it was spacious enough so that when she needed to fart, she could escape to a corner and release her gaseous payload without alerting other members.  She boasted that  while diminutive in stature, she could most assuredly “clear out a room” if and when she decided to break wind.  She speculated that this ability was likely due to the prodigious amount of dairy in her diet.

I’ve seen the book and I know the deal- “Everybody Poops.”  Maybe it’s just the old fashioned guy in me but my enthusiasm for farting discussions waned at around age twelve.

I looked at her and nodded empathetically as she recounted some of the highlights of her “Top Ten Gym Farts,” but it was as if I could see a giant red flag unfurled behind her, blowing in the wind she was undoubtedly releasing at that very moment.

What shook me was not that she experienced gassy moments, just like all other mammals;  rather, what shocked me was that out of all her first date selling points, the one she would choose to showcase was the supernatural pungency of her backdoor breeze.

We finished the appetizers and as we began to pursue non-digestive topics like work, music, and travel, I started to find myself minimizing the significance of our earlier topic.  She was energetic and had a playful sense of humor.  And she did have a great smile.

We decided to go to a piano bar.

I suggested that we take my car, and as we walked towards my parking spot, she slid her arm into mine.  She made an unintelligible purring sound, and rather than ask her to repeat what was surely a playful endearment, I smiled.  I opened the passenger side and she bounded in with unchecked perkiness.  I hopped into the driver’s seat and we headed to the bar.  That’s when it all went sideways.

And no, she did not fart.  Hell, by then I would have been almost disappointed if she didn’t fart around me.  No, what happened was nothing short of unnerving.

We were approaching an intersection and I began to ask her a question, when all of a sudden, I heard a squeaky, high-pitched sound, accompanied by clapping:

“Woobie!  Woobie!  Woobie!”

With acute horror and astonishment, I realized that this sound had come from INSIDE THE CAR.

Then it happened again:

“Woobie!  Woobie!  We go to pee-yan-no baaahhh!”

I slammed on the brakes and turned in horror to my date, who was smiling and bouncing in the passenger seat.

I don’t think I managed any sort of response before she pointed at the car radio and exclaimed:

“Woobie!  Woobie!  Wisten!  Dey pway ow-ah song!!”

She had begun to speak in baby talk.  Apparently “Woobie” was an interjection of intense excitement (as if one had just farted), and the other information she wanted to share was that the radio was apparently playing “our song.”

Because the car had stopped moving, she seized the opportunity to move to her knees in her seat and pushed her face straight into mine.  I dared not move.  Her eyes were wide, blue and crazy.  You could not have slid a piece of paper between our noses, and with unblinking eyes she then said:

“Gooo…  geee… Poo poo.”

I remember each syllable vividly.  By the way, it is instructive to note that this woman was a high-ranking corporate attorney.

So there I was, staring into the eyes of a crazy person, trapped in my own car, restrained by a seatbelt and being accosted by a gassy woman-baby at a busy La Jolla intersection on a Friday night.  Suddenly my last coffee date didn’t seem so bad.

I felt the color drain from my face as tsunamis of fear began pounding my nervous system.  I  managed to drive a bit further before it dawned on me that bringing a crazy woman-baby to an upscale piano bar might be a challenge beyond my emotional fitness.  Desperate and losing hope, the solution came to me in a flash.

“AAAA-CHOO!” I blurted.

“BWESS YOU!” she clapped and replied.

She bought it.

I closed my eyes and lifted my nose, as if trying to fight back a sneeze, and then exhaled, “AAAA-CHOOOO!” even more forcefully than before.

“Aww!  Sneezy sneezy!”

“Crap,” I said as if concerned, “Hey, did you say you had a cat?” (I vividly remembered her mentioning a cat).

“Um… yeah…  Why?”  The adult had returned.

“Crap.  AAAA-CHOO!”

“Oh no!  What’s the mattuh?” she asked, dipping slightly into baby voice, but still an adult.

“I’m allergic to cats.  You must have cat dander on your clothes.  Aw, dammit…” I feigned deep disappointment.

“I DO have cat all over my clothes!  He always sleeps on this coat.”

(Bingo!)

“That must be it, then.  That coat is really bringing up my allergies.”

I began rubbing my eyes in the hope that they would begin to water.  I fake sneezed again, and scratched my face.

“Take coat off?”  Baby was back.

“No, no… once I get going, that’s it.  I’m going to be like this for awhile until I get some fresh air.  Awww, I’m sooo sorry!”

“Wit’s ok…  Me unduhstand…” baby offered unconvincingly.

I drove her back to her car, alternately sneezing, scratching and apologizing while she switched back and forth between baby and adult dialogue.  The night ended with a goodbye peck on the cheek and lots of sneezes and scratches from me.  I promised I’d call her back.  She promised to brush her clothes the next time.

The date was over.

Phew.


***

I stuck with online dating for a few months after that, but my heart was no longer in it.  Like a pitcher who takes a fastball off the nose, I could never fully commit to the game after that.

I feel somewhat bad for the immature way I responded to the situation.  There are undoubtedly better ways of ending a date than faking a violent allergic reaction.  Maybe my buddy’s wife was right when she said that I was forty years old and still single because I’m selfish and unrealistic.  And maybe the night might have turned out great if I gave it a little more time.  But thankfully I’ll never know how close I might have came that night to having to change a diaper.

Kaffirjimtao

By Andrew Johnson

Memoir

My best friend and I met a man on the cross-Channel ferry from England to France during a summer of blissful ignorance in the late 1990s. We christened him ‘Kaffir Jim’, mainly because neither of us could remember his name after an embarrassingly short period of time.

Like ‘Dave’, ‘John’ and ‘Joe’, ‘Jim’ was generic enough to be amusing, and ‘kaffir’ served as a convenient synechdoche for his identity as a fairly right-wing white South African; a representative of a people who, from Louis Botha to Joss Ackland’s villain in Lethal Weapon II, have had a chronic PR problem at least since the turn of the last century.

Although neither of us knew it at the time, there is a line in H. Rider Haggard’s British Empire classic, King Solomon’s Mines that refers to “a Kaffir hunter called Jim” – a designation which could refer—extending overly-generous benefit of the doubt—to a Bântu-speaking South African, but is much more likely to be a racist epithet. It is more likely still vituperative Imperialist slander against a ‘white man over-friendly with the natives’. It is exactly the type of language one can imagine coming out of the mouth of the most stereotypically reactionary white South African boor.

Whether it is solely down to effective British Boer War propaganda or other aggravating historical factors, your average white South African is viewed as not far off a mildly attenuated Obersturmbahnführer, desperately clinging to a tragically intransigent set of race-bound beliefs.

Sitting at the back of a fairly-crowded bus with his shirt off, braying convulsively like a defecating horse, as though in the advanced stages of some transcendental drug experience, Kaffir Jim chose to share with us his revelation that the world was becoming inexorably homosexual.

This wasn’t the usual spiel about oestrogen leaching into the water supply; this was a terse hypothesis of gonzo evolutionism, refreshingly free of science and reason. How far we’d get with a near-zero birthrate and K.D. Lang (sic) in the White House wasn’t expanded upon, just that more and more people were becoming gay as nature’s naturally selective measure of automatic population control. Kaffir Jim foresaw a dystopian future world ruled by lesbians, and he wasn’t happy about it.

Like most other people one tends to meet at the back of buses on the Lonely Planet trail—a pathway that at the time was merely strung around the third world like a loose garland of adolescent spittle gobs, but that now eclipses the establishment of the ancient Silk Road in the depth of the imprint it has stamped out across the globe—Kaffir Jim wore the creepy, thousand-yard stare of the serial traveller.

Just like the “political kitsch” in the “fantasy of the Grand March” that sustains Milan Kundera’s Franz throughout The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the gestalt of travelling is perpetual and continual movement. There is rarely much of talk of where you’re at, just where you’re going or where you’ve been. As soon as momentum slows to a speed that might threaten the ‘-ing’s on your verbs, the horrifying prospect of reflective thinking looms.

Hiding behind their conveniently intrepid-sounding gerund, in perpetual flight from their lives, the serial traveller seems out-of-time: “separated by an immense space from [their] past and by an immense ignorance from [their] future”

-Joseph Conrad, Amy Foster, 1901

There’s a haunting scene in the film Barton Fink in which John Goodman’s character returns to the spartan room in the flophouse he is living in as the building burns down around him—slowly turning his key in the lock and closing the door behind him, oblivious to the sweat soaking through his clothes from the heat of the flames. I always think of Kaffir Jim whenever I see this.

We met Kaffir Jim in those innocent days before social networking, and at least six months before either my friend or myself had a working email address, so, although we have no way of contacting him to find whether he believes his doomladen projections have come to pass or not, I picture Kaffir Jim still out there somewhere; as oblivious as Mad Man Muntz, half-naked; projecting the disintegration of his psyche out on to the highways and byways of the world.

It wasn’t until 11 years and one too many bouts of travelling later; sat at the back of a crowded bus with my shirt off; desperately fleeing an incomprehensible city, babbling nonsense at anyone who would listen, that I realised what had happened.

IMAGES: Screengrabs from youtube.com