by Jeffrey Murrell

Chapter 1 (part 2 of 3)

Another individual like Mammer Jammer was one I call "Big Red." I call him that because he was big (probably 6'5" and weighing about 275 pounds), and he had hair which was as red as the reddest Irishman's. He also sported a bright red wind breaker all the time which was big enough to provide cover for a three-ring circus. He talked to himself sometimes too, but only once in a while. And when he did, it was usually in an aggressive tone, as if he had been threatening his imaginary audience. Red just sort of rolled down the street at a steady pace. He held his head up high and he always had a very jolly air about him (except when he went off into his threatening mumblings). If ever there was a commoner-king, Big Red was certainly the one. His giant outline is the one you can imagine would appear before you if you ever expect to be visited by Charles Dickens' Ghost of Christmas Present. You would just need to perch a crown on his big round head and throw a decorative, royal-looking robe about his bulk, and voilà! Ghost, Christmas Present, 1 each.

Unlike Mammer, Red was quite young - probably in his early twenties. It may have been that his parents cared for him, or maybe he received some kind of professional care. Whoever it was, he or she also did a good job at keeping him clean and neat, just like in Mammer's case. I can't help admiring whoever it was - Red was a real big boy, and I sure wouldn't want the task of making sure someone like that changes clothes or bathes regularly or anything that he wouldn't feel like doing. Of course, I can well imagine that at least one of his parents could have been as big as he was, and if that were so, it wouldn't be as much trouble than if it were a couple of smaller people trying to maintain a daily regimen for him. But, of course, if they were professionals, they would have all kinds of tricks for working with difficult people, things like rewards-systems and the like. I can imagine that it's not too terribly hard to train someone in Red's condition if you know what you're doing. It seems as if they've regressed into an animal-like state, nearly losing the powers of reason and intelligible language that define us as humans and not just any other kind of animal.

An old friend once told me that you can't tell a schizophrenic "No!" because they don't like to be told that they can't do the things that they want to. I can understand this - I don't like to be told that I can't do the things that I want to do. As far as I can see, all people are like that. So, maybe that means that we are all schizophrenic to a degree. Perhaps that is the natural human state of being. Who can really say for sure? Do animals make sense when they squeal or bark or hiss? Do humans make sense all the time, even when they want to make sense? Just as they don't make sense all the time (especially when they want to make sense), the answer is no. Unlike an animal's simple bark or hiss, our system of communication (which is composed of rational language - the only real proof we have that reflects our higher intelligence and sets us apart from all other forms of life on earth) requires that we all be on the same wavelength of understanding. After all, we all know very good and well that a growling dog is a dog to keep away from. But what about a babbling schizophrenic? Do we stay away, or do we go nearer, perhaps to help or to ask questions? The answer isn't quite as simple as the dog's growling, but for some weird reason, a dog rather than another human would be more readily able to interpret it as being that some do and some don't, some may and some may not. A dog, for instance, would know better than to approach if approaching was not the best choice at the time. A human would tend to want to rely on trying to make sense of the babblings, would probably misread them, and would end up in trouble if there was any trouble to be had from the situation. Those who are strangers on the street may get a punch in the nose if they approach somebody like Big Red. Others, parents or professional caregivers, may receive a big hug from him. The answer is not a verbal one. You have to size up the situation, like a dog would, and be Rousseauist about it, feeling what is and what isn't. You have to communicate with a Big Red on his own level, that being the most basic form of communication and, consequently, the most difficult for us humans who are so used to relying on the logical assembly of symbols to communicate. You can only exchange glances, and look at one another carefully. Then you have to weigh what information that you're able to gather that way, picking out only the surest bits and pieces of it all: if he doesn't shake his fists at you, but he doesn't smile and just ignores you, then you'd better just ignore him!

I did have a chance encounter with Big Red, though. I was walking up St. Andrew Street from my apartment to catch the streetcar on St. Charles Avenue. I was just walking along slowly (knowing that, if I hurried, the streetcar would be leaving anyway, just as I arrived), and thinking. I looked up to make sure I wasn't headed on a collision course with a telephone pole or anything, and saw that I was indeed headed right in the direction of Big Red, a fate much worse than running stupidly into a pole! I was already so near that I thought that a sudden dash for the opposite side of the street might trigger some sort of chase-reflex in him, so I just continued on warily in the same direction. I was scared - yes, indeedy. We finally came upon one another. I lifted my eyes just enough to view the great red mass ahead of me: he was looking very normal, not speaking to himself or gazing around crazily. Suddenly, just as we passed each other, his face exploded in a big blushing smile. "How ARE you!?" he roared, as if I was somebody he hadn't seen in years. I put my eyes right back on the sidewalk and hustled forth as quickly as I could without triggering the reflex which I was so afraid would come out in him. He didn't pursue me like a bear after his feeble game, but I was just as shaken.

So, what did he communicate to me that day? Friendliness was there on the surface, but I would have been damned before I would have given him some big old bear hug or anything like that!

Now, the old friend of mine who told me about how schizophrenics don't like to be told no (a medical professional by trade), also brought to my attention the fact that, being in a state of mental impairment like schizophrenia, one almost has free license to do whatever one might like to do - illegal, immoral, or what have you. That makes a lot of sense to me. Just think of all the things that you could get away with for being mentally deranged! You could truly get away with murder (being not guilty by reason of insanity, etc.). Remember the weird teacher who gave you that F in the course you needed to graduate so long ago? How about that landlord who had the perfect apartment, but wouldn't let you have your dog or cat? Or, remember the big, snot-nosed creep in the ninth grade who made your life hell at school? How nice it would be for some to go and find them, stab them twenty or thirty times, shoot them once or twice, cut all their extraneous parts off, wrap them up in plastic bags, and carry them down to the street curb with the rest of the trash. Oops! Sorry - I'm schizo'! Of course, you would have to have been in and out of a few institutions for your condition first before you would ever get away with something like all that. But imagine what just a simple, clinical diagnosis could allow you to get away with. Of course, it would have to be on file somewhere in a shrink's office, but in Red's case, he could have slugged a few nuns in the stomach, he could have made as many obscene phone calls to as many government officials as he wanted to, and he could have reached right over to feel up the breasts of any attractive woman who might have found herself unlucky enough to have been seated next to or near him in any given fast-food place, movie theater or city bus. "Well, you know, he's a sick boy . . . ." They should all feel fortunate if Big Red didn't do such things - this would be what he had to give, if anything.

Just as a schizophrenic could do and probably get away with some of those things, he or she most probably wouldn't be able to appreciate doing them. He or she would be in a world of confusion where real things and occurrences hold little or no value. And, in the same respects, I suppose the schizophrenic is protected from a lot of things that aren't so fun or capricious, as well. Would a diagnosed schizophrenic need to have been worried about getting shipped off to the war in the Persian Gulf with Iraq? Nope. They'd never send a schizophrenic into war. They ship a lot of them back afterwards, but they'd never ship one over to begin with. Peace-time is a different thing, though. When I was in the army, I think I had a few mentally deranged people working with me at times. Of course, it could have been that they were perfectly normal and it was I who was disturbed. But even if they did send young men in Big Red's condition to war, that hell would probably be no worse than the hell they had to be living in before, filling the civilian status of "street schizo." To quote everybody's favorite line out of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, "The horror, the horror . . . ."

I often wonder about what things create disturbances in the human condition, like schizophrenia. I've been taught that drug abuse can trigger paranoid schizophrenia. Physical abuse seems to be one of the causes of the mysterious abnormality of having multiple personalities. Abuse seems to be a common factor with such conditions. It seems almost as if nature has set us teetering on a fine line of existence, the slightest deviation creating an imbalance that can send anyone over the edge. For those who are masters of balance, the trip over the line seems so much more unlikely. So, how is it that some seem so easily toppled, while others seem to remain fast? Can it be a human thing (as opposed to a nature or God thing)? Everything seems so perfectly in tune and balanced, except for human nature. I can understand perfectly why Mammer would go over the edge in this country. As I've explained, she most probably suffered umpteen-gillion kinds of prejudice and social rejection merely because of her phenotype and/or personal history. But how about Big Red? He was a little fat, but other than that, he had practically everything going for him - he was a white male in America. He might have come from a middle-class background and, if he wasn't schizophrenic, he would seem to have been the type that one could see taking part in school and/or social activities. Who knows? Who knows what happened to him to push him over the side of that line? Could it have been a lack of intimacy? As humans, we sometimes may seem forced to have sexual needs simply by virtue of our physical state of being - some institutions don't seem to understand that, such as the Catholic Church. So, I wonder if it could have been a religious thing for Red, or maybe a combination of such things? Whatever it was - sex, religion, society, drugs, etc. - it messed him up good! (Or maybe he was just born like that, but I doubt it.)

To be sure, life on this planet can be very, very miserable for everybody at times. This human thing that I mentioned just serves to compound the misery when it occurs. If you're not white, you're the wrong color in so many cases. If you're a woman, you're either too fat or your breasts aren't big enough. If you're a man, you're too thin or your penis isn't big enough. If you're a shapely woman with big breasts or a muscular man with a big penis, then you don't have enough money. If you do, then something else is wrong with your life. No wonder perfectly good men and women go off to become priests and nuns, recluses and eccentrics. There are excellent things to enjoy in life as well. They sort of buffer the misery. When one doesn't get one's fair share of these buffers, I suppose that that could make a body quite irritable or bitter or insane. Or, if one gets some and not others, one indulges more in those that may be had in order to make up the difference, and that destroys the balance that we must maintain to get through life okay. With so much pressure to achieve so much, at least in the Western World, no wonder so many people are so fat, so poor, so sick or so confused!

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