"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, November 3, 2014

Creeps–The Dark Side Of Diversity

I belong to a high-end gym in Northwest Washington.  On weekend mornings the discussion in the locker room is often about Supreme Court cases and debates on the Hill – not idle chatter but commentary by the lawyers who have been the Administration’s advocates or those who have championed civil rights, corporate privilege, and free speech. On Friday mornings the talk among the thirty-something middle managers is all about the Eastern Shore, the house in the Shenandoahs, or the revival of Les Miz on Broadway.  

I have met a MSNBC senior editor, the former Newhouse White House correspondent, Bill Clinton’s chief NSA Advisor, various Congressional aides, a number of Republican socialites for whom looking good is essential, and a few Spring Valley matrons, heiresses of industrial fortunes, who have been caught up in the fitness-for-life movement.

The gym, however, does not survive on the high octane of blue-bloods, socialites, and political comers.  The modest membership fees (often paid by employers seeking more favorable insurance rates) assure a democratic access.  World Bank and USAID civil servants, hairdressers and insurance agents, real estate brokers and stay-at-home moms are all part of the mix.

In short, the Northwest Washington Sports Club is not an exclusive enclave – a New York Athletic Club or the Yale Club, for example – but only a pump-‘n’-shvitz gym whose exclusivity is guaranteed only by time of day.  The deeply-retired come to swim at 5:30am and bother no one.  The thirty-somethings arrive for a tune up, sauna, and shave at 7:00.  The power-brokers who are in no hurry to rush downtown come at 8; and the rest of us come in and out until 5 when the K Street crowd comes home.

All well and good so far.  Very Washington.  Very upper-middle class.  Very sane, predictable, and expected. However, for one reason or another, a variety of creeps have snuck in – misfits, quasi-psychos and marginal characters from who-knows-where in suburban Maryland.  There is Ghost Dog who girds himself in Inquisition-style harnesses and restraints.  The Man Who Polishes His Balls and after his shower, slaps his towel back and forth around his scrotum and crack like a shoe-shiner in Grand Central.  The Arab who dries his chest hair with a blower. The demented clown who dresses in multi-colored rubber and vinyl who shadow boxes on the treadmills.  Madame Death, the emaciated, stick-thin poster-woman from Auschwitz who rides the bikes as though she is being chased by The Grim Reaper. The stalker who, encouraged by a pleasant word, waits in the wings for the one person who has paid him any attention.

My sports and health club is not diverse in the modern sense. It is overwhelmingly white, upper middle class, and politically middle-of-the road.  Yet there are outliers.  What to do with them?  Ghost Dog struts and prances in his Quasimodo braces, glowers and snarls, and owns the stairs and showers.  Is he there for a reason? A scary reminder of the ‘hood no more than five miles away? To warn us of the perils of Type A obsessive compulsion? Is the Palestinian who dries, combs, and curls his chest hair in the mirror proudly telling us that gayness is here to stay? What about the shadow boxer in a clown suit? Does he symbolize the expression of childhood fantasy?

I have taken to draping a towel over my head to avoid seeing these creeps, and in so doing I have become a creep myself.  In my paranoically evasive ways, I have become as weird as they, acting out my inner creepy obsessions. 

There is no way to keep the creeps out of one’s life, although money helps. The gated communities of McLean and Potomac are certainly homogeneously pure; and their wealthy residents can belong to exclusive clubs and social groupings.  The rest of us, however, are not so fortunate. We have to rub shoulders with the unhinged, the psychotic, and the disturbed.

There is a woman who dresses like Black Maria and who hops over the lines in the sidewalk on K Street on her way back and forth between 17th and 18th Streets.  I used to see her every morning as I came out of the Metro. She is less scary for who she is than for what I might become. Who can say for certain that my well-cobbled conservative soul will not begin to fray and eventually come apart at the seams? 

Much is made these days of diversity; but too much is made of gender, race, and ethnicity.  Blacks, gays, Latinos, and transgender proto-queers are far easier to accept than the unhinged, the demented, and the scarily schizophrenic. I get the gay guys camping it up on Halloween in Judy Garland costumes.  I get the Folsom Street S&M festival.  I get the Bernal Heights dykes in work boots and flannel.  I get the Mexican festivals of Santa Marta de la Cruz and the symbolism of El Dia de los Muertos. But I don’t get the unhinged, los locos, the demented, and the ‘round-the-bend.

We tolerate, accept, and celebrate gays.  They are funny, ironic, creative, and campy.   We accept Latinos, Khmer, and Mung because of their food, music, and colorful traditional dress. Blacks have raised athletic excellence to a new level, and have always influenced music, fashion, and style.

Yet the disturbed and the mentally deranged make us uneasy.  We have to turn away.  Perhaps it is because that such derangement comes in small and cartoon-style doses.  Ghost Dog On A Treadmill is ironic, funny, and dissociative.  The Man Who Polishes His Balls until they are red and raw could be in a side show at Barnum & Bailey’s.  Madame Death is as scary as The Headless Horseman or a someone from Tales of The Crypt.  

In other words, these creeps are not completely nuts. They only suggest how our fraying conservative personalities erode and mutate.  How many of us have obsessive routines that, at a moment’s notice, could go bad. Flossing ten times a day. Checking the stove obsessively. Hopping over storm sewers with a trace of anxiety. 

We have decided our gender and sexual orientation.  We are confident about our race and ethnicity. We know where we come from and where we are going. It is only the niggling disruptions in routine which give us pause.  We cannot ignore the wrinkles in the bedcovers, the stains on the linoleum, the disorienting rattle of the subway escalators which are intimations of insanity.

The women who wipe down the stationery bikes, the treadmills, the ellipticals and each and every one of the weight machines have begun to take the trip around the bend. At home they bleach their dishcloths, disinfect the kitchen floor, and change the sheets every other day.  They are so disoriented by the competing claims of global warming, insidious socialism that they subscribe to political fringe groups. They are so convinced that either nuclear holocaust or global warming will destroy the planet that they have begun to build underground shelters.

In other words, they have gone over the edge with little provocation.  The certified schizophrenics are not the only loonies on the streets.  The millions of anxious, self-doubting, and uncertain Americans, are at large with their loose-ended if not totally untied beliefs.

The twitchy, uneasy woman on the treadmill is not just keeping in shape.  She is outrunning The Grim Reaper.

Society, then, is made up of individuals at various points on the mental scale.  Ghost Dog teeters on the edge.  Madame Death’s compulsive miles on the treadmill are understandable but her boards are coming loose. The hair-drying Arab is close to working out issues of his sexual orientation. None of my co-patrons at the gym have totally crossed the line. Mrs. X from Arlington who comes to have Adrian, the black trainer, straddle her, is not about to leave her husband and three young children; but she is thinking about it.  Michael, the pornography addict and stalker has not yet taken the leap into flashing and child abuse.

The real challenge of ‘diversity’ is to accept the dislocated, the shaky wickets, and the mentally unsure.  It is relatively easy to accept the Latino Department of Education Under Secretary who comes out as a woman; but hard to accept the crazies who believe their minds are under radio-control or who cannot drink water because they are convinced that fluoridation is a Russian means of controlling American minds.

We don’t welcome the deranged into The Big Tent, nor celebrate their diversity. We are afraid of them because we have a sneaking suspicion that we are very much like them.

Every grouping is a microcosm of the larger world.  The Third Presbyterian Church of Bethesda represents all the nation’s faithful but secular progressives who believe that God’s work can indeed by done by the committed.  The Fourth AME Zion Church of Anacostia is defined by its devotion to Jesus Christ and its outrage at persistent racism. Listeners to Fox News, NPR, or Al Jazeera form political caucuses and cabals.

None let in the crazy.  We all have defective wiring and frazzled synapses.  No brain chemistry can ever retain its balance and potency, and even the greatest among us begin to see Napoleon from time to time.  We don’t want to admit it.  Diversity breaks down here.

I now cover my head in a towel to avoid seeing Ghost Dog.  I hide the hair-dryer so that I will not have to watch the Arab dry his chest hair.  I go back to my locker and look the other way when The Man Who Polishes His Balls starts whacking away.  In other words, I have become as wacko and unhinged as everybody else.  We are supposedly sane, but go crazy over time.

I am not advocating ‘Host a Street Person’. Jesus was lucky when he invited all comers to the marriage feast at Cana.  I want to keep my distance from all creeps not so much because I could become them, but because I have a deep-seated, primordial fear of the crazy.

So, diversity is good as far as it goes; but no matter how progressive one might be, Ghost Dog is creepy, pure and simple.

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