THE CRAZY MAN
Sept. 2, 1997
Mrs. Cuttleman wandered
slowly along the aisle between the desks handing back report papers
along with various comments:
"Betsy, just barely
acceptable; Harold, first half is good, the second half is ridiculous;
Sally, nice job; Bill, an inspired bit of lunacy . . . "
Mrs. Cuttleman arrived
at Brian's desk, paused until she forced eye contact with the supremely
bored fourteen year old. The teacher handed Brian his paper, holding
it out with two fingers like a soiled diaper.
"See me after class."
This being the one and
only comment of its nature, everyone in the freshman high school English
class turned and looked at Brian disdainfully. Someone mumbled, "Loser."
Brian shrugged, rolling his eyes. Nevertheless, it stung.
Brian slouched as he
stood in front of Mrs. Cuttleman's desk after class, looking severely
uninterested, his hands jammed into his pockets, his long, dirty blond
hair hanging in his face. The teacher slowly finished reading something,
then glanced up at Brian.
"Well, Brian, you've
managed to blow every single assignment this semester. If you blow this
next, 10-page, biographical paper off, too, you'll flunk. Got it? So,
you had better do at least a minimally acceptable job or be prepared
to attend summer school. Am I getting through to you?"
Brian sighed painfully,
then nodded and said, "Yeah." To himself he said, "There's no way in
hell I'm spending the summer taking English again, not a fuckin' chance!"
Mrs. Cuttleman turned
away, her point made.
Brian got off the school
bus down at the end of a lonely rural road -- the very last stop: the
end of the line -- nowhereville. Home of the losers.
"How the fuck did I
get here?" asked Brian aloud to no one. Of course, how he got there
was no mystery at all. His dad lost his job with GM, then his cousin,
Sid, got him a job here in Ishpeming, Michigan, in the post office.
That was a year ago. Eternity. The kids in this town were the squarest,
most-unhip group of kids in the whole fucking country. There wasn't
one person in the entire town that Brian gave the tinniest little shit
about. Back in Detroit he had all kinds of friends: Jim and Stan and
Laura and Steve, the whole gang. Here, nada. Nothin'. Dick. Now he was
a loser in Nowhereville.
Brian dug a mashed pack
of Camel filters out of his pocket, lit up a crooked cig and coughed
heartily. Ah, sweet freedom. None of these kids even smoked cigarettes,
for Christ sake! If he pulled out a joint at a party these people would
have a heart attack. If he had a joint. As he wandered along the road
he passed the one other mailbox out here in Nowhereville, "J. Dexter,"
it said in faded chipping paint on the rusty metal mailbox, the red
flag rusted right off, the wooden post lopsided. Wads of old junk mail
hung from the box and sat in decomposing lumps on the ground around
Brian flicked his ash
disdainfully toward the mailbox. "Huh? Who the hell is J. Dexter,
The next day in English
class everyone had piles of books on their desks, and was busily writing
their biographical papers -- everyone except Brian that is. Instead,
he doodled lethargically in the margins of blank paper, staring longingly
out the window.
Brian slowly turned
back inside and found Mrs. Cuttleman staring right at him, shaking her
head. Brian somehow managed to slouch even lower in his seat.
Brian walked down the
far hall near the gym. This was where the glass cases of sports trophies
and photos were. Brian had passed all this junk a hundred times and
could really give a shit less about sports, organized activities of
any kind, and particularly anything with physical contact. Brian's favorite
sport was smoking. He chuckled at the thought, then glanced up into
the glass case and saw an old black and white photo of a handsome football
player named Jake Dexter.
Within Brian's supremely
bored mind a connection was made.
"That couldn't be the
same person that lives across the street, could it?"
Brian kept looking and
there was Jake Dexter's name on several other trophies and plaques --
the guy was obviously some hotshit athlete in 1965, 1966 and 1967. Hmmm?
As Brian got off the
bus and fished around in his pocket for his cigs, his eyes strayed to
the crooked mailbox with "J. Dexter" on it. He lit up and slowly wandered
toward the mailbox and wooded driveway.
Brian could just barely
see the rundown little house, set 20 yards back up a rutted, overgrown
driveway. He could see no further than that when a big nearby dog started
to bark. Brian hastily high-tailed it in the other direction.
At dinner that night
Brian brought it up. "Anyone ever seen J. Dexter from across the road?"
His mother, father,
and three younger sisters all looked back at him blankly.
Brian kept going, waving
his fork for emphasis, "Across the street, with the crooked mailbox
and the junk mail all over the place."
"He's a crazy man,"
offered Trish, his 11-year old sister.
"Have you seen him?"
"No," said Trish, "but
I've heard . . ."
"Well . . ." Trish continued,
"he collects garbage at night. In an old red pickup truck."
Brian's dad pointed
his finger. "I've seen that pickup truck late at night when I'm coming
home from work. The guy that drives it is some sort of long-haired hippy
"He was wounded in the
war," added Brian's mother.
"Which war?" asked Brian's
His mother shrugged.
"I'm not sure. Vietnam, I suppose. I think he's too young to've fought
in World War Two."
Information began to
boil up to the surface of Brian's bored brain that he didn't even know
he knew. "It must be Vietnam, if he was in high school in 1965, 66,
and 67. World War Two ended in 1945." Brian looked around, unsure of
whose voice had just said these things. His whole family was surprised,
too. Brian asked his mother, "How did you know he was wounded?"
"Harriet told me. She
grew up here."
"Harriet Stover," snorted
dad. "I'm sure she started the story with,'I'm not one to talk,' then
told you everything she'd ever heard in her whole life."
Mom waved her hand.
"All right, enough. Just lay off Harriet, she's my friend."
"Fine," said dad, "then
let's pick on Brian instead." Dad pulled a school progress report out
of his shirt pocket and tossed it in front of Brian. "Wanna explain
All eyes were on Brian.
"Uh, I'm having trouble in English."
Dad nodded, "You're
telling me. If you fail the next assignment then you flunk, right?"
"Uh . . . Yeah."
"Then I'd say you'd
better not fail your next assignment, otherwise, whatever the school
does to you will look like nothin' when I'm done. You readin' me loud
and clear, mister?"
Brian stared down at
the floor. "Yeah. I'm readin you."
Standing in the school
library, Brian stared blankly at the shelves of biographies, unable
to focus on a single title. Then, like magic, he found himself at another
shelf entirely, the shelf of old school yearbooks. Brian pulled out
the 1965 volume, sat down and leafed through it. All the photgraphs
were in black and white, many people wore thick black eyeglass frames,
crew cuts, tall hairdos on the girls with waves and flips, all pretty
silly-looking, he thought. His eyes then stopped on the freshman photo
of Jake Dexter -- no question about it, a handsome guy. And there he
was in 1966 and 1967. As a senior he was captain of both the football
and baseball teams, as well captain of the debate team, a member of
the science club, and a member of the model railroad and computer club.
"And now he collects
garbage at night and doesn't take in his mail," thought Brian, "and
everyone thinks he's a crazy man. That must've been a bad wound he got
in Vietnam. In the head, I bet."
The bus pulled past
Brian revealing the lopsided mailbox. Brian lit a bent cig, walking
slowly toward the mailbox. This time he not only got to the mailbox,
but several steps past it before big dogs began barking. Brian froze.
Two big German shepards came running up the rutted driveway directly
at Brian. Heopened his mouth, but no sound came out. He couldn't move.
He had become a pillar of salt; an inanimate object. Both dogs jumped
up on Brian and licked him heartily. Finally able to swallow, Brian
reached out his shaking hands petting both dogs.
"Nice doggies," he croaked.
A tall woman wearing
worn blue jeans, untied army boots, and carrying a deer rifle came striding
"Can I help you?" she
asked, the rifle aimed down at the ground.
Brian coughed, he hadn't
expected that Jake Dexter might have a wife. "I, uh, I'm your neighbor."
He pointed to his right.
Well," said Brian, "I
was wondering if Mr. Jake Dexter was home?"
"Mr. Jake Dexter?" she
repeated, sounding amused.
"That's who lives here,
"Yep. He sure does.
Come on." She turned and walked quickly back toward the house, the two
dogs right behind her. Brian looked around, then helplessly followed
along, circumstances suddenly taking control.
As Brian neared the
small, run-down house, he also entered a never-neverland of junk: ten
lawnmowers in various states of disrepair, eight motorcycles all missing
parts, a row of vacuum cleaners, maybe 20 bicycles, big rusty machine
parts, furniture, tools, a multitude of car tires, on and on. It almost
made Brian's head spin -- an amusement park of refuse.
The woman turned to
him as she stepped up on the porch. "If you ever need a bicycle or a
vacuum cleaner or anything else, let me know, OK? You can't beat the
"How much for a ten-speed
bicycle?" asked Brian eagerly.
"Twenty bucks for a
good one; ten bucks for a broken one."
Brian nodded, that was
a good deal.
The woman opened the
door for him, ushering him inside. Brian paused for a brief moment,
considering that he might be entering the house of a mass-murderer,
then shrugged and went inside. The woman followed after.
Inside the house was
very much like the outside the house, only darker. There were rows upon
rows of cool junk: twenty-five electric guitars, stereo turntables,
amplifiers, and speakers, cameras of every shape and size. Amazing!
The woman went into
the kitchen, setting aside the deer rifle.
"Want something to drink?"
"You like wine?"
"Uh . . . Sure," said
Brian, thinking to himself, "maybe I'm starting to look old for fourteen."
"I make it myself,"
said the woman. She pulled the cork out of a wine bottle with no label,
filled two jelly jars with red wine and handed one to Brian.
Brian took a sip and
to his uninitiated palette it seemed rather dry, but certainly not bad.
"It's good," he said.
The woman took a tiny
little sip, swished it around in her mouth, then frowned. "Too much
oak, I think. What do you think?"
Brian took another sip,
a smaller one this time, swished it around in his mouth, swallowed,
then nodded. "Maybe a little."
The woman nodded, too,
seriously noting his comment. Brian was surprised that the opinion of
a 14-year old should mean anything to an adult, particularly about wine.
Brian took a hearty
slug of his wine and could feel a buzz beginning to warm the ends of
his extremities. Cool. "So, uh, so you expect Mr. Dexter soon?"
The woman smiled. "I'm
Mr. Dexter." She put out her large hand. "Jake Dexter, nice to meet
Brian's mouth dropped
open in shock. "But you're a woman." Slowly, Brian's hand came forward
and the woman shook it firmly.
"Not technically," said
Brian took his hand
back, suddenly not knowing what to do with it, like it was covered with
grease. "What does that mean?"
"Technically, I'm still
Brian's 14-year old
mind could not comprehend the possibilities of what any of this might
mean. "Are you a homosexual?"
"No," said Dexter, shaking
his head. "I'm not."
"Are you a transvestite?"
Jake smiled. "I'm not
wearing women's clothes, am I?"
"Are you crazy?" asked
Brian, suddenly kind of frightened.
Jake shook his head
in surprise, smiling. "You really don't know?" Brian shook his head.
Jake sighed. "Huh. I thought everyone knew." Jake got up, walked over
to a pile of stereo receivers and retrieved a red fruitcake tin with
Santa Claus on it. "You smoke pot?"
Brian was astounded.
The question he'd been dying to hear for almost a year. "Yeah, I do."
"Cool," said Jake, sitting
back down, opening the tin and revealing a big bag of weed. "I grow
it myself." Jake began rolling a joint.
"Thought everybody knew
what?" prompted Brian.
Jake rolled a big fatty
and torched it up. He took a monster hit and passed it to Brian.
"Well . . . " he blew
out his hit and made smoke-rings. "I got my balls and most of dick shot
off in Vietnam. May 7th, 1968 in a firefight outside Da Nang. I'd been
in-country eleven fuckin' months. 28 days and a wake-up and I was outta
there. Well, I got outta the shit 28 days early, but missing some vital
parts." Jake took a big gulp of wine.
Brian took several savory
hits in a row. This combined with the wine made him loose enough to
ask, "So, like, how do you pee?"
Jake chuckled sadly,
"They rebuilt my dick with skin they took from my thigh. I can pee,
but that's it."
"Then you turned into
"Basically. When I stopped
taking the hormone pills is when it really happened. You know, testosterone,
which your balls produce." Jake slugged back his glass of wine, got
up and went for another. "You want some more?"
Brian threw back his
glass as well, handing the empty to Jake. "Actually, that's pretty darn
"Thanks." Jake took
the glasses to the kitchen and filled them both. Jake handed Brian his
glass back, then sat down and crossed his leg in a distinctly feminine
way. "Anything else you wanna know?"
"Well . . ." Brian considered
the question. "Will you sell me some weed?"
"No," Jake stated flatly.
"Oh. Sorry. I didn't
mean anything, man, I mean . . . I don't know what I mean."
Jake handed Brian the
fruitcake tin. "You can have some, though. Take as much as you want.
But don't tell anyone I gave it to you or I'll get in trouble."
Brian couldn't believe
it. "You're kiddin'! I can take as much as I want?"
Jake smiled. "Within
reason, on the condition you keep your mouth shut." Jake went to the
kitchen and returned with a baggy. "Here."
Brian wanted to take
a half ounce, but instead took about an eighth of an ounce -- a handful.
"Can I have a couple of papers, too?"
"Sure. Go ahead."
"Thanks." Brian took
three rolling papers, put them in the baggy with the weed and shoved
the bag in his pocket. Brian stood up, wobbling slightly. "Well, I guess
I better go."
"Yeah. Sure. OK."
"It was nice meeting
"It was nice meeting
you, too. What's your name?"
"Well, Brian. Nobody
has ever bothered to wander back here before in all the years I've lived
here. If you feel like wandering back here again, go ahead and do it,
Brian stepped toward
the door, then turned and put out his hand. "Thank you, Jake. I think
Jake smiled. "I hope
you do. And if you or anyone you know needs a bike or a guitar or a
vacuum or whatever, just let me know."
Brian grinned. "OK.
Brian stepped out the
front door. The two German shepards came up and snuffled him playfully.
Jake said, "That's Max
and that's Vinny. They're vicious killers."
Brian petted them both,
then started up the rutted driveway with the dogs following along.
As Brian negotiated
the muddy ruts, wonderfully buzzed from the wine and pot, he said to
himself in awe, "Oh, man! And I think I've got troubles. Jesus! I don't
know what troubles are." He instinctively reached down and grabbed his
balls. Yep, still there, thank God.
When Brian reached the
end of the driveway and the road, a choice presented itself: turn left
and go home, possibly running into his mother or his father, either
of whom might detect he was zoned and give him a world of shit, or turn
right, heading into town and play some video games.
As Brian boogied up
the road toward town, feeling as good as he'd felt in a whole year,
he thought about Jake Dexter. He thought specifically,"this guy will
make a great biographical report paper. Nobody in that whole dumb class'll
have a paper as good. How could they?" Then another part of Brian's
brain that he generally ignored kicked into use, "'68, Da Nang, in-country,
28 days and a wake-up, part of his thigh." Research. Then yet another
part of his brain came into use. "But he said I had to keep my mouth
It was a half mile into
town, then a half mile back and he had to be home for dinner in about
an hour. He'd walk off the buzz and nobody would know nothin'. He felt
the bag of weed in his pocket and grinned. Cool.
"Aw, fuck him. What's
the difference? He's just some crazy nut living in a pile of junk."
As Brian decimated a
gaggle of alien spaceships, he thought, "Well, shit, he'll never know
about it. What does he care if I write a school paper about him?"
That night, following
a nap after dinner, Brian sat at the desk in he and his sister's room.
He had a pencil poised over a piece of blank paper. "68, Na Dang . .
. outland or something, and they used part of his thigh to rebuild his
dick. Shit!" The facts were fading fast, he could feel it, just like
sand leaking out of a bag. 'Course, he could easily just go back there
and ask Jake, he'd probably tell him all this shit again. Hell, he only
lived across the street. And he had homegrown pot, and homemade wine,
and guitars, and stereos, and everything else under the sun, including
kitchen sinks, no doubt. And he didn't seem to notice that Brian was
fourteen. Nor did he seem to think that Brian was a loser.
Poor fuck. Hiding there,
driving around at night collecting junk, doesn't know if he's a man
or a woman.
Brian put the pencil
in his mouth and began flicking it with his finger, rattling his teeth.
"After everyone's asleep
I can sneak out and smoke a joint. Cool." He felt the bag in his pocket,
grinning deviously. Then another cool thought shot through his head.
"Maybe Jake's up and I'll burn one with him?"
Mrs. Cuttleman entered
the classroom, set her purse and some books on the desk, then seated
herself. Today was the day the reports were due. A serious air sat over
"I've decided that we
will read our reports aloud."
A general moan arose
amongst the masses.
Mrs. Cuttleman smiled.
"It's not as bad as all that. I mean, not if you did your work, that
is. That having been openly stated, let's go right to the heart of the
issue." She pointed directly at Brian. "Brian, stand and read your report,
Brian reluctantly stood,
all eyes are trained on him, the expectation rather high that he'd blow
the whole deal. Brian retrieved several crumpled-up pieces of paper
from his pocket -- the same pocket where his bag of weed was -- unfolded
the paper, coughed, then began to read:
"Thomas Edison. Thomas
Edison was born in Milan, Ohio in 1847, but he spent most of his early
life right here in Michigan, in Port Huron . . ."
Sept. 1, 1997