OK, so I started this thing for the primary reason of passing along some helpful information to my boys as they grow up. Over time I hope to give them good advice on a myriad of issues like: family, spouses, motivation, career, and maybe even fatherhood. But today, my focus is on a very specific, and hopefully helpful subject. "How to spot a crazy person."
It can happen anywhere. You could be stopped at the gas station, standing in line at the grocery store, or even dealing with family. But eventually you are going to run into a person who possesses a certain tick that will give you pause and cause you to think "Oh, I'm dealing with a crazy person." The key is not realizing this after six months of dating, or right after that new roommate moves in their last piece of furniture. Like a medical issue, early detection is the best medicine. Here is an example where I maybe missed out on a few early signals.
Amanda and I moved to Slidell, LA in July of 2004. As a young married couple, we were very fortunate to land in the neighborhood that we live in now. At that time, our subdivision was a small garden home neighborhood consisting mostly of elderly couples who chose homes that would require less maintenance in their later years. Sprinkled in were a few families. Mostly working people who commute to NOLA, raising their kids in a good school district. Our landlord is a wonderful woman named Mary. She was a recently re-married widow who is a grandmother, and would be vacating the house to move in with her new husband. She lowered the price on her house because she felt we were a nice, young couple she could trust. We were THRILLED. Amanda was 8 months pregnant with Jackson, and we quickly went to work painting a nursery and preparing for the incoming child.
As we were moving in, Mary excitedly introduced us to our neighbor across the street, Mark. He was, seemingly, a really nice man who worked for the Air Force. He was cordial, and quick to point out that we would fit right in due to the fact that Amanda drove a Honda Accord. He gleefully pointed to his pride and joy, and Honda Civic and the Honda CRV that his wife drove. Hmm, that's a little odd to be so excited about a brand of vehicle, but whatever, he seemed nice enough. So we moved in and life quickly jumped in to the fast lane as I started working at Marine Safety Office NOLA and Jackson was born. For you parents out there you know that those first few weeks/months of a child's life are a blur. You miss a lot of other stuff going on because you are a special combination of terrified and sleep deprived.
However, with all this I still noticed one thing.....his yard. It was a small, small yard similar to mine, that only would take about 30 minutes to cut and trim. The thing was, his yard was BEAUTIFUL. Now, I'm not saying well landscaped. There were actually very few flowers to speak of, but the grass was amazing. It was a very uniform 2.5 inches high, at all times. No seriously, at ALL TIMES. Once I noticed this, my spidey senses tingled and I started to pay attention a little more. This nut was mowing his yard, with his shiny Honda mower no less, usually about three times a week, sometimes more.
At this point I think some perspective is necessary. I love the movie "The Fifth Element." It's a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi movie from the 90's staring Bruce Willis. However, the real genius of the movie is the evil character played by Gary Oldman. He's a combination of smart/psycho that really makes the movie fun. At one point, he has a great monologue explaining why he is willing to create so much chaos. He pushes a glass off of a table and a few robotic machines fly in, out of no where, and cleans the mess up. He explains that work is created by chaos, and he plans to be there to profit off the chaos he creates.
Anyhow, watching Mark mow his lawn was like watching a symphony of psychosis centered around a menial task. First, he would move his precious Honda Civic from his driveway to hundreds of feet away, around the corner of our street. Then he would jog purposefully back to his house, not a minute to waste. As the garage door lifted, one could see that he had spent lots of money on various organizational boxes to makes sure his garage was tidy. Not just tidy, hospital clean is probably a better description. He would then spend the next two hours mowing a patch of grass no bigger than a racquetball court. He did not use a blower. Instead, he would first use a regular sized broom to sweep up the grass clippings in to a few manageable piles, then use a hand broom to carefully ensure that no part of his driveway was fouled by a spare blade or two. Ok, this was beginning to seem odd.
There are many other stories, like his wife not leaving the house when he wasn't there, so much so that she would chat with the neighbor through the screen door, or the fact that when he carved a pumpkin for his 9 year old daughter his back porch looked like a scene out of Dexter while the girl sat in a chair 15 feet away, not allowed to help. There's also the time that he hurt his ankle and was unable to wash his Civic 2-3 times a week as usual. I decided I would wash Amanda's Accord one Saturday afternoon, and a few minutes in, I noticed him watching me through his screen door. After a few more minutes, the creep limped out, orthopedic boot and all, to the end of his driveway, set up a folding chair, and said nothing as he watched me wash Amanda's car. But the one story really sealed the deal for me, was the Saints game.
I love the Saints, always have. But to this point, I had never been to a game in person. One day Mark rang our doorbell and offered me a free ticket to watch the Saints vs. the Broncos. I thought, well he's a bit eccentric, but I'm willing to give it a shot. I agreed, and then he proceeded to give me the instructions. This was the first of four iterations of said instructions prior to game day. I was to meet him outside at 9:45 on Sunday morning so that we would have plenty of time to pick up our other passenger, who lived in our neighborhood, and be on our way. So, Sunday morning rolls around and I'm ready to go by about 9:30. Just then, nature calls. I figure I've got a few minutes to take care of business and meet him outside. I should've carried one of those atomic clocks to the restroom. At 9:45.01 , he begins blowing his horn. Not once, not twice, but incessantly.
As I make my way out the door and to his car, which is now in the middle of the street, he has the window rolled down and is urging me along verbally (come on, come on, come on). It's 9:47. As I get in the car, he's freaking MANIC. The Civic, which was about 3 or 4 years old at this point, still has the plastic covering on the floormats. Not the paper ones you get from the car wash, the plastic ones you get from the dealership. I get in, he floors it. We pick up our other passenger and are on our way. Two of my friends were going to follow us to the game so we could park next to each other. No such luck. By the time we hit the exit ramp we are doing 90 mph on a Sunday morning. As I try to strike up pleasant conversation with this idiot, he does nothing but brag about how impressed I'm going to be by his special parking spot. Literally, 35 minutes of parking centric conversation. I'm staring in the side mirror trying to find my friends, as Mark negotiates traffic with the grace of a formula one driver high on crystal meth.
To completely paint the picture, our backseat passenger is a guy named Todd who is wearing a Saints t-shirt tucked in to blue shorts with blue dress socks and Jesus sandles. He never says a word. The entire day. Instead, he focused on his am/fm headphones, which are the audio equivalent of the Zach phone, as he listens intently to the pre-game show on 870 am. So, we lose my friends in traffic, like a cop and robber movie, and make our way to the stadium. Mark swings in to a lot, parks, and gives me a sly smile. Behind this smile he must've been imagining the awe in which I sat, as the master of all things parking lot related had clearly revealed himself to me.
He then fast walks. Men don't fast walk. Mark does. He looks like he's about to dislocate a hip as he walk/sprints toward the Superdome with me and Urkel in tow. We get to the game, and then the coup de gras occurs. On the first play of the game, Denver's running back breaks an 80 yard TD run. To which, Mark only had one logical response. He stands up and repeatedly SCREAMS "HERE WE GO AGAIN" over and over for about three minutes as he slowly removes his Saints jersey, like the saddest strip tease you could imagine, turns it inside out, and puts it back on. I felt sad for him. This was his non-verbal "screw you" to the Saints, who, after all of his manic preparation and masterful parking, had ruined his day with one simple breakdown in the secondary. My mouth was agape. After all I'd seen on this day, this man sat before me whimpering and sputtering non-nonsensically about Tom Benson and the coach for the remainder of the three hour game, until returning to his brilliant parking space, broken and defeated.
Mark was crazy. It wasn't his fault. Maybe it was chemical. Maybe it was a crazy parent, but neither mattered. I walked back in to my home that afternoon and quietly proclaimed to my wife that no matter what happened in the future, I would NEVER again join company with the psycho next door. Sure, I could've done a better job at spotting the signs earlier, but I was just relieved to have finally seen the tiger's stripes.
But one thing still bothered me. Where in the world did Todd find that ridiculous pair of headphones?