a hot first day of summer leads to the re-evaluation of the insane.

I should not complain about the heat. I love summer, and I would rather be warm than cold. I should not complain about the heat because I am fortunate enough to spend my 8-hour work day on the comfortably air-conditioned 26th floor. I did not spend the afternoon weed-whacking, or delivering food, or checking people out of a mini-mart that keeps its doors and windows open rather than closed, because of the fruit stands outside which create a pleasant flow of space from the sidewalk to the register.

I took a brief reprieve from my chilled cubicle today to walk to the post office. On my short, five-block walk I passed a man (twice actually, once on my way out and a second time on my way back, but that is really neither here nor there).  He had no shirt and wore dirt-brown pants. I use the word dirt, because it was most likely dirt that made them look that way. He was extremely tall and tan with wild white-gray hair that circled his head like a glowing halo, the kind you see in old Catholic illustrations of the Virgin Mary. His limbs were long and lean, and his pants were held up by a belt too small, so that a section of his waist line kind of bunched up below the belt. I’m not sure what he wore on his feet, because I was distracted by what he was carrying in one hand. It was a small doll that he held close to his stomach. She was made completely of fabric and had round, black, bead eyes and black curly hair. She smiled out at the world, clutched by the long grimy fingers of a man who had lost himself.

He was screaming nonsense with an angry passion in his eyes. Really upset, you know? And she just stared. Her expression unchanged, of course, because she was a doll, and it made me wonder exactly when this tall, skinny, tan man crossed that delicate line that separates the sane from the insane (it also made me wonder where he got the doll, if he slept with it at night, how long he had been carrying it….) Exactly when do we classify someone as crazy? I began to look around me, and was astonished at the amount of not-crazy people there were! Why aren’t there more crazy people in this world? How does everyone have it so danged together??

That man could easily have been working in an office yesterday. But the work and life and routine and heat was too much for him, so instead of getting ready for the day as usual, he woke up and took off all of his clothes (then remembered he might get arrested for indecent exposure, so he grabbed pants and his wife’s belt on his way out the front door, telling himself, “Yes, pants. Good.”) Inspired by his outdoor cat who cools herself by bathing in the dirt, he decided to do the same. “Dirt, cool. Good.” Covered in filth from head to toe he still hadn’t found any relief from the blistering sun. Frustration turned to anger, anger to fury, and fury pushed him right past that limit of acceptable behavior (the dirt bath happened where no one could see, so crazy wasn’t the term used to describe him yet. Instead, the regular passerby would classify him as “homeless,” which tends to evoke feelings of compassion and sympathy, whereas “crazy” lends itself to fear and intimidation.) Insanity starts to sink in though, creeping through the blood in his veins, pulsing through his temples and the red, crooked vessels of his eyeballs. Explanation from this point out is unnecessary. The man is now unhinged, his actions beyond his control, and suddenly he finds himself barefoot and dirty trudging through Midtown East with a chip on his shoulder borne of the monotony that preceded today.

Why isn’t the check-out girl at the hot, fruit-fly infested market insane? Or the man that sells cigarettes and weeklies (he stands in a 6-by-4 box all day, for Pete’s sake). Or those guys who wash windows on buildings 50 stories high? Where do we find the strength to be normal? Or, I should be asking, what’s so wrong with being a little loopy? I wonder what that guy would’ve done had someone given him a hug, or offered him a shirt ….

It’s too hot not to: Embrace Crazy.


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