It’s a brand-new year. Gyms have been gearing up for the onslaught of out-of-shape, overweight people who are committed to shaping up this year. Bars are ordering less inventory to accommodate the missing patrons who have vowed to drink less or stop drinking altogether. Churches are cleaning up after the Christmas season to greet those who promised themselves that they would attend regularly. Chefs are concocting even more healthful meals for those who have vowed to avoid anything that tastes good. Everyone wants to discuss their resolutions or their avoidance of resolutions, and since I’m like everyone else, I’m going to talk about … crazy people. I considered talking about resolutions, but what is there to say? You either keep yours or you don’t. The subject is old by February, but crazy people are entertaining all year long.
Within the first week of this new year, I ran into two crazy people. That’s a pretty high number of lunatics in one week. If this keeps up throughout the year, I will have met 104 nutcases by the end of 2011.
By crazy people, I don’t mean certifiably crazy people. I mean the kind of people who look normal from the outside but have short circuits sparking dangerously in their brains. Eventually, smoke will be visible emanating from their eyes or ears, but right now, they can fool you into thinking they’re rational human beings if you pass them quickly on the street … and if they’re not talking. Talking gives them away. So do their eyeballs. My sister told me that if you think someone is “off,” look at his or her eyes. If you can see the white part of the eye all the way around the iris, then that person is definitely crazy. She was taught this in art class, so it must be true.
My first foray into Nut Town happened at my friend Linda’s wake. My friend died young, leaving her husband and three young children. Everyone at the wake was visibly sad, myself included, I imagine. I stopped to say hello to my friend’s father-in-law. He had just lost his wife a few months before, and he was devastated by this new loss.
He was standing with his daughter-in-law. Without thinking, I said, “You must be Linda’s moth—, I mean sister-in-law.” Of course I didn’t think she was Linda’s mother. I knew Linda’s mother. But the damage was done. And it turned out to be irreparable damage. When my son was a baby, I was occasionally mistaken for his grandmother (mostly by older Indian men, oddly enough), so I know that feeling of being kicked in the stomach. I tried to make up for my mistake, but I only made the situation worse.
Later, during the wake, I sought the woman out, apologized, and told her that I misspoke and of course she didn’t look old enough to be Linda’s mother. She gave me the evil eye and walked away. I turned to speak to my friend’s real mother and the sister-in-law ran up to us and said, “She thought that I was you.” The real mother was speechless. I offered my condolences and moved on, but the sister-in-law kept reappearing to announce to whomever I was talking to that I had mistaken her for my friend’s mother. There was no way I could fix this, so I left.
A few days later, I found myself with a few spare hours in the early afternoon, so I thought I would treat myself to a late breakfast at a local diner. I ordered my meal and took out a book to read. The sun streamed through the window, and the after-lunch crowd was small and quiet. I opened my book and enjoyed my solitude.
Then I heard a loud voice talking. I looked around and saw the diner’s owner talking to someone in a booth. I couldn’t see the person in the booth, but I assumed that there was someone in there. Whoever it was never uttered a word. But the owner uttered enough words for both of them (assuming there was another person).
“Maria said that I should write a book because of all the pearls, or gold, that come out of my mouth,” he began. “For example, I told her that a person you don’t trust can’t steal from you, but you gotta look out for the person you can trust.” The person in the booth must have offered some kind of encouragement, because the owner continued. “If you don’t trust someone, let’s say you think a certain person is a thief. You’re not gonna leave your wallet on the table with that person when you get up to go to the bathroom, are you? No, you’re not. But, let’s say you trust somebody. Then you are going to leave your wallet on the table when you go to the bathroom. So, the person you trust is the person you shouldn’t trust, because you just left your wallet with him, so he can steal from you. Am I right?” The booth person must have nodded in agreement, because the owner went on.
“Of course I’m right. And Maria is right. I do have gold coming out of my mouth, or pearls. I should write a book. Which makes sense, because I’m Greek. Like Plato and Socrates. They were Greek. So, of course, since I’m Greek, I’m a thinker, like them. Okay, maybe they were wise men and I’m a wiseguy, but I still have pearls, or gold. I should write a book.” The owner walked away, pleased with himself.
I had lost my place in my book during his soliloquy and my meal, which had been delivered during this time, had gotten cold. I had really been looking forward to eating and reading and this nutjob had ruined my meal. I went back to my breakfast and book anyway, determined to salvage what was left of my time alone. Then the voice started up again.
“I just talked to Maria,” the owner said to the booth. “She agreed that the person you can’t trust is the person you do trust. Like if you don’t trust a person, you won’t leave your wallet on the table with him when you go to the bathroom. But, if you do trust someone, …” I signaled my waiter, paid the check and was out of there. There was no way I was going to listen to him repeat his pearls, or gold.
On my way out, I was tempted to sneak a peek into the booth with the silent customer, but I resisted for fear that there just might be a mute person in there, which would still make the owner nuts, but would also make me rude.
If the rest of my year continues to be anything like the first week, I’ll be spending most of it leaving places in a hurry.
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