Sunday, December 20, 2009

Diary Of A Rag And Bone Man

The Continuing Saga of a Homeless Man and his Dog

by Jack Rafter

"He's not right in the head," Gordon said. About Obama.

We were sitting in the library to escape the cold. I had on dark glasses, doing my blind act so I could get Vincent in. Gordon shook his head as he stared at the newspaper spread in front of him--all about the war in Afghanistan, the President sending in 30,000 troops.

Gordon lives in a boxcar. Spends most of his time in the library. Used to be a stock analyst. Now, he can't help it, his mind craves a bone to chew and wants to furnish theories on everything.

"So you're saying he's crazy," I said.

"Crazy in a special way," Gordon said, tapping his pencil on his forehead. "Very special."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, he looks and sounds normal. He has this beautiful shiny wife and these darling little girls. The whole family shines, I don't know how else to put it. They sparkle. If you could make dolls out of them and mass market them, I guarantee you'd be a billionaire inside a month. It'd be the biggest thing since Ken and Barbie. Maybe bigger. It's Ken and Barbie with kids. And they have lots of nice clothes."

"What's that got to do with his being crazy?" I said.

Gordon held his pencil up and poked the air. "I said crazy in a special way. Specialized craziness. There's nothing you can do about it. You can't fix that. You can't give him anything for it. The people closest to him probably can't see it. Although I'm startin' to wonder if his wife has noticed anything unusual. Maybe she has, but, like most devoted wives, she just covers it good, maybe even hides it from herself.

"But the rest of the world, especially all the ones that voted for him, are startin' to wonder what the hell's goin' on. There's this huge gap between what he says and what he does, and there's almost no place where the two items line up, where they converge. So, everyone's goin' around lookin' dumbfounded, like a bunch of tourists left stranded by their tour guide. They're all scratchin' their heads, sayin' things like, 'What's the matter with this guy? Is he crazy? Doesn't he know he's totally wrecking his credibility?'

"And the answer is yes, he's crazy. And no, he doesn't know he's wrecking his credibility. Or if he does, he doesn't know why. And that's because there's actually two people there. There's BARACK OBAMA!! --The savior of mankind, the incarnation of Jesus Christ. That's the one who gives the speeches. And then, there's this other guy, the one we see the rest of the time, whose name might as well be Joe Blow, Rufus Smith or Dick Cheney. Say, you wouldn't have a spare dollar on you, would you?"

"Are you kidding?" I said.
"I just thought if we pooled our money we might make out better for lunch."
"Maybe so," I said.

During the lull, Vincent got up, stretched, and lay down again. I could feel him panting against my leg. Gordon tapped his pencil some more, biting his lower lip. You could hear the springs and wheels clinking in his mind. "It's the speeches, you see. That's where I first noticed it."

"The speeches?"

"Yeah. There's this drama, this explosion that happens. He's a Shakespearean actor. He goes from being Rufus Smith to BARACK OBAMA!! In his speech, he becomes Captain Ahab. Says he's gonna hunt down the great white whale. No, I don't mean something racist. I just mean he's Ahab! He's goin' after this great shiny thing, maybe the greatest thing you ever heard of. Willing to go to the ends of the earth to get it. And we're right with him, boy. We're the crew of the Pequod, and we want him to succeed, we want him to get this thing, too, whatever it is. Why? Because of his speech--his words are so lofty, they soar, they fly clear up to the mastheads, there's religious fervor in his voice, his eyes shine and gleam--they roll back when he cuts loose. He says great things and he believes them. And that's how he gets you and me to believe them. See what I mean? He lifts us up with his words. He charms us, makes us fall in love with him. It's the same thing actors do--exactly the same damn thing. Laurence Olivier wouldn't let people watch him rehearse. You know why?"

I shook my head.

"'Cause he didn't want anyone to see him fumble. Because then all they'd see was this little guy, this mere mortal named Larry. No, first, he had to get it right, you see, had to get to where he believed it himself. Then, when the curtain went up and the lights hit him in the face, he could take off. He could fly in the air. And he became. . .Laurence Olivier. Sir Laurence! And it's the same thing with Obama."

"So you're saying he's like Olivier. . .or Ahab?"

"I'm saying he's whatever in the hell he wants to be when he's makin' a damn speech, 'cause he actually believes it. He says he's goin' after that elusive whale, then that's what he's gonna do. Shoot, in that moment, he probably thinks he can steer the bloody boat all by himself. And throw the harpoon right into the whale's gizzard. Problem is, once the speech is over, once the applause dies down, the lights fade out, and the cheering hysterical mob goes home, he just becomes plain old Rufus again. This little guy in a suit. And you can bet there ain't gonna be no whale huntin' goin' on after that. Man, I'm thirsty. You thirsty? Wish I had a little somethin' to drink."

At that moment, Oscar, another refugee from the trainyard, passed our table clutching a National Geographic. He leaned close on the pass and mumbled, "Better look like you're readin' Braille, Jack. Yonder comes the librarian."

* * *

Well, we went out and scrounged something to eat. When we got back, Gordon was still going on about Obama's alleged craziness. He shoved a book over to me: The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst. That's Gordon, for you, always reading weird things.

I glanced at the book. It seems that back in 1968, the Sunday Times of London sponsored a single-handed round-the-world yacht race. First prize--L5,000. Naturally, the best sailors in the world entered it. And then there was this unknown, this outsider, a failed businessman from Bridgwater, Somerset, named Donald Crowhurst.

"He was heavily in debt," said Gordon, "and he was after the prize money. Somehow, he thought he could win this thing."

"So what happened?" I said, "And what's this got to do with your theory about Obama?"

"All right," said Gordon, "Just bear with me. Okay, here's this guy, Crowhurst--well, first off, he's married, got a pretty wife, nice children, guy's a real charmer. He's smart, been to school, he reads, he knows all the sailor's jargon. He doesn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out, but he manages to get a financial backer to pay for the boat. Everybody takes him for a pro, but he's not really much more than a weekend sailor. What he is--he's delusional. He's acting out the part of an adventurer. He probably pictures himself sailing home to cheering crowds, knighted by the Queen, like Chichester. He's charmed everybody, including himself. But the story mushrooms. Even before he sets sail, it's a big story. People all over England are rooting for him. He's the underdog and they all want him to succeed."

"Then, he takes off. And right away, he runs into problems. His boat's not as good as he thought it was. He's not making good time. He knows if he drops out of the race he'll have to pay off his backer--the full price of the boat. That would mean selling his house, everything he owns. He'll be ruined. So he makes one of those fateful decisions. He decides to abandon the race. But he doesn't tell anyone. Instead, he more or less stays in one place, sailing around in circles off the coast of Brazil. At the same time, he begins altering his logs, reporting false positions to make it look like he's still in the running. In fact, he makes his reports sound so good that, for awhile, toward the end, he's being cheered worldwide as the likely winner of the race."

And that causes a whole new set of problems. Now Crowhurst realizes that if he actually comes in first, his logbooks are sure to be scrutinized by experienced sailors. And he'll be exposed to the world as a fraud. . . .

In June, '69, Crowhurst's boat was found adrift and abandoned in the Sargasso Sea.

Found in the boat were two sets of logs. One contained the poetic ravings of someone who had become completely unhinged.

Gordon picked up the book, opened it to the first page and handed it back. At the top of the page was this inscription:


"Paranoid grandiosity tends to be well organized, relatively stable and persistent. The complexity of delusional conviction varies from rather simple beliefs in one's alleged talent, attractiveness or inspiration to highly complex, systematized beliefs that one is a great prophet, author, poet, inventor or scientist. The latter extreme belongs to classical paranoia."
Prof. Norman Cameron, Yale
(Ency. Brit.)


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