Monday, March 4, 2013

On "Crazy," and Living With a Crazy Person

"Crazy" once meant something, but thanks to overuse, it's a blanket term for anything weird, non-traditional, or abnormal.

I admit that I, too, am guilty of stretching "crazy" like a sheet of Saran Wrap I cut too short to fit that uneaten slice of pizza destined for the back of my fridge. It's crazy that I still can't eyeball the correct amount of Saran Wrap. It's crazy that I'm too cheap to tear off a new sheet, so I apply a smaller "patch" sheet that doesn't really stick right. It's crazy how I'll react when I notice the patch peeling off in the fridge. And it's crazy that I'll probably end up throwing out that crazy slice in a day or two anyway.

Crazy, right?

During my freshman year at college, I lived in a dorm containing four-person suites, each suite a pair of two-person rooms separated by a narrow bathroom. The bathroom could be accessed by any of the four people, but you and your roommate were able to lock the door separating your room and the bathroom, if you wished. (In the bathroom there was a stall shower, two sinks, and a toilet in a very small "room" with its own door that could also be locked.).

After my first semester one of my suitemates moved out, and the remaining suitemate was assigned a random roommate. When I showed up in January, a day before the dorms officially reopened, I met the new guy.

It was my first experience with someone crazy.

"Oh, pish-posh," you might be thinking. "He couldn't have been really crazy." Which is an understandable thing to think. Up until that point, I'd thought I'd met crazy people. In fact, I myself had been been called crazy numerous times, and I'll even admit today  several times during my life that sometimes I get a little crazy.

But John was crazy. Like, really crazy.

I didn't realize how crazy, at first. When I stepped into my room, I'd heard some rustling in the bathroom, so I went in there and saw what looked like a somewhat normal, husky fellow with thick-rimmed glasses. I introduced myself.

John told me he was from Queens, and during the previous semester he lived on the other campus (SUNY Buffalo's residential halls are on two large campuses separated by a few miles). I never asked why he left his previous residence.

That initial conversation was brief. He seemed a bit shy, and I was a bit antisocial myself. I assumed by his appearance and social graces that he was an engineering or computer science major

During the following week, after all the other students returned and my roommate Eric and my holdover suitemate Kevin met John, we concluded that John was a bit of a loner and, perhaps, a bit odd. If you had to change your clothes and you didn't like to be seen au naturel by the guy who shares your bunk-bed, you'd tell your roommate to turn around for a few seconds or you'd go into the bathroom and quickly take care of business. (Basic protocol regarding the public bathroom would be to knock before entering.) John would take a large shopping bag into the small toilet area and lock the door.

Then we discovered that when John did feel like having a conversation, he was a close-talker who would nearly pin you against a wall as he discussed odd subjects that happened to fancy him at the time. One of these regarded the practicality of having an atheist become president. This was long before outspoken atheism of Dawkins / Hitchens / Harris was in vogue, so just the nature of the conversation stuck me as a little bizarre, particularly because I hadn't said anything to bring up the subject in the first place.

The gist of the argument, which John (an atheist) shared with me while his face was only a couple of inches from my own, was that people today (that is, in 1990) would be afraid that an atheist would have less concern about human life than someone who believed in God, but wouldn't it actually be the reverse, that someone who didn't believe in the afterlife would be more concerned with improving life on Earth?

I murmured something like, "That's a good point, John," then peeled myself off the wall I was pinned against.

The most curious hobby that John had (as far as I knew, and as far as I wanted to know) was what I'd call "extreme journaling." One day, when John went on his daily trip to the supermarket across the street, John called me into his room and showed me a composition book on John's desk. In this book were journal entries for this particular morning that went like this:
7:03am: Woke up.
7:05am: Got out of bed.
7:08am: Took a shower.
7:19am: Got dressed.
7:28am: Went to supermarket.
And so on. Not exactly "Dear Diary" material. I thumbed through the rest of the journal, as well as the several other composition books filled with such minute details and thought that John was a, well, thorough kind of guy.

Then Kevin pointed out that in his journals John would note something mysteriously called "XYZ." There would be an entry that read "Start XYZ" followed by an entry that read "Finish XYZ." Unfortunately, I can't remember how much time passed between the start and finish of XYZ (or how many times a day he participated in XYZ), but at the time Kevin and I figured he was using a euphemism for jacking off.

[Just to make sure that XYZ wasn't some slang term that I'd never heard of, I Googled "XYZ" and "masturbation" and it didn't turn up anything conclusive, other than stuff like this:

...which I'll never be able to unsee. Thank you, search engine optimization.

This post is long enough, so I'll try to list a few other tidbits that made John stand out among the less-crazy:
  1. One day, when John wasn't home, two female students showed up at our suite to return a gold bracelet that John had given to one of them. Oh, and he was borderline-stalking the girl, and sending her weird notes that called her his "Nubian princess." After this incident I made a mental note: "John not only believes that God doesn't exist, but he also is in favor of interracial dating. Interesting!"
  2. When it came time to register for the following semester, he showed me a large stack of registration forms. Back then, you registered for class by filling out "bubbles" on what Wikipedia calls an "optical answer sheet" with a #2 pencil. He showed me a stack of some 70 or so sheets that he filled out, assuming that it would increase his chances of enrolling in some of the more coveted classes. He was unaware (and I wasn't going to tell him) that if you turned in more than one sheet, the most recent sheet would cancel out the previous one.
  3. I woke up from a nap one afternoon because I heard him yelling motherFUCKER...motherFUCKER...motherFUCKER on the other side of the wall. About a week later I heard him having some other kind of breakdown, crying and laughing at the same time, making a sound like NOOO-HO-HO-HOOOOOOO!
I wish there were more to this story, including a part where men in white outfits chased John around with large butterfly nets to the tune of "Yakety Sax" (aka the theme to The Benny Hill Show). After that single semester, John went elsewhere. I don't know if he went to yet another dorm, or transferred, or returned to his home planet. He was replaced by a friend of Kevin's named Skip, who turned out to be a really cool guy who exhibited comparatively predictable behavior.

Until the night he climbed into bed with me.

1 comment:

  1. You are such a great storyteller! I extra-love the CAP interstitials :-D