Are some people seeking the strange and eccentric? Are you? Am I?
Johnny was in his late thirties, I imagined. He was about 5’9” and overweight but not too much. The most interesting thing about him was that the boss, Big John, had no use for him. Didn’t like him at all. Not that Johnny ever did anything to make Big John dislike him so, it was just that Johnny liked to complain. About everything. Other drivers in traffic was his specialty.
I, the 17 year-old kid, was warned by Boss Big John that Johnny was a little odd. The Boss was not odd but nowadays would be considered dangerous for his masculinity. He was about 6’6” and mostly muscle. A perfect specimen of what is now called “toxic masculinity.” Then it was called “one tough bastard you better not mess with.” Johnny wasn’t about to mess with Big John. Neither was he going to kowtow to him. Big John didn’t like that.
All this was at a popular furniture store that sold large pieces of furniture and appliances. Johnny, and I after being assigned to Johnny, were the guys who delivered to your door whatever you bought. The year was 1963. It was the last year that it didn’t snow even once all winter in Denver. 1963 was also the last year those buttons on red-light poles, saying “Push to Cross”, were actually attached to anything.
If I didn’t go out on the truck with Johnny to help him rustle large furniture into people’s homes, often up a flight of stairs, I’d have had no job, and Big John would have planted his enormous foot in my behind on the way out the door. So there I went with Johnny who complains about everything. What was I to suppose he’d have to say about me? Nothing good, I figured.
I was soon to witness an example of Johnny’s complaints. As a funeral procession approached in the opposite lane of traffic Johnny exclaimed, “Well, here comes another motorist. Probably the guy who cut me off last week.”
I didn’t know what to think. It was a funeral. Somebody died. A little respect for the dead, OK? Johnny didn’t have much respect for the things most other people regard. He was out of step. With nearly everybody. Not that he took death lightly. I’m sure he would have mourned the loss of family or friends. He was sorry for other people’s losses. He knew how it must hurt. But so long as the bereaved were never forced to watch or hear of it, Johnny saw no reason not to use a funeral procession to air his grievance against other drivers who drove their vehicles with a seeming lack of concern for the safety of others.
The next time we spotted a funeral procession Johnny remembered some slight he’d received from another driver days or weeks ago and again proclaimed it was likely the reckless driver who cut him off a while back. Then something unexpected occurred. I started laughing uncontrollably. When I saw Johnny trying to stifle a laugh as well I had a revelation. Johnny wasn’t really complaining. He was using his strange and eccentric personality to alleviate the stress of driving in heavy traffic and having to be always on defense.
Once I learned that working with Johnny was going to be interesting and fun I remembered that I knew a lot of people who were strange and eccentric. Why was that? Was I strangely drawn to such people? Was I seeking the strange and eccentric? Was I strange and eccentric myself?
I don’t think I yet knew the words but I knew then I was an iconoclastic person with an irreverent attitude toward life. I was skeptical of most claims made by other people who to me, seemed to not know what they were talking about.
Later, sometime in the 1970s, the idea that human habits and behavior were going to cause a new ice age became prominent in such places as TIME Magazine. Were they just pulling their readers’ legs? No, they were serious. They believed the BS they were pedaling. From that moment on I decided that TIME Magazine was a joke little worthy of being read by anyone with a brain.
I soon found out this made me strange and eccentric in the eyes of many people. Something weird came over me. I realized I didn’t care what others thought of my stance. I knew one thing. I knew the earth was about 4.5 billion years old. I knew from my High School science class that earth’s climate has changed from warm to cold and back to warm many times. I knew another thing. The editors, writers and readers of TIME magazine not only thought they could predict the future climate of planet earth, they actually believed human beings could, if only they would change their habits and behavior, stop it. Control it. Oh, my.
I had more than doubts. I believed TIME was nuts. If that made me strange and eccentric, I was happy and proud of it. It made the editors, writers, and readers of TIME lunatic crazy, in my view.
Later when TIME and its followers decided the real danger was global warming instead of global cooling, I wondered how they could say anything with a straight face. They weren’t done. When there was no warming over several years they switched again — to “climate change” this time. That made me proud to be strange and eccentric.
I was happy to find this little vignette in People Magazine (Isn’t that rag owned by TIME?) written by Dianna Waggoner on November 10, 1986:
Eccentrics are the most diverse people in the world and among the hardest to define. In general they are loners and nonconformists who are curious, creative, obsessive. They don’t give a hoot what other people think about them. They see the rest of the world as rather mundane and out of step with them. They will put up with ordinary life, but they don’t like mass culture—that is, believing what everyone else believes. They are also highly intelligent. The average IQ of those we studied was 115 to 120. [That’s high?]
I wish I knew where Johny is today. If he’s still breathing he’s in his nineties. I think he’d like what Ms. Waggoner wrote about us. Oh, for sure, he’d find something to complain about.
— Featured image by Eric Maisel