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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Potter Phelps The Lunatic – And What To Do About The Deranged Among Us?

Potter Phelps was unbalanced even as a small child. He used to pull wings off of fireflies, stick them to his chest, and run around the yard naked yelling, “I can fly! I can fly!”.

His parents had no idea what to do with him, and his father repeatedly accused his wife for sleeping with the milkman who was as crazy as a loon, wore his uniform backwards and licked his lips like a lizard whenever he collected for the week. “Potter is no son of mine, that’s for sure”, his father said.

Most men go crazy at the thought of marital infidelity, and some are driven berserk by the thought.  Think of the poor Captain in Strindberg’s The Father who ends up in an insane asylum.  “You have provided the rooster’s contribution”, his wife says to him, “and now you are of no use to anyone.”

The Father

Yet Potter Phelps was such an ugly and unholy creation, that his father looked for any excuse to disclaim paternity.  The genetic material that went into Potter’s DNA simply could not have come from any Phelps gene pool.

“But he’s our son”, his wife pleaded. “Don’t you love him?”

“No”, replied her husband. “There are limits, after all.”

The child psychologist consulted at the request of school administrators tried to reassure the Phelps family that their son was simply going through a growing phase. “A rather creative one”, she went on. “Looked at from an artist’s point of view, the firefly necklace represents a unique and distinctive imagination and sense of creative license.”

“Nonsense”, thought Potter’s father, remembering the twitching of the helpless insects as his son dismembered them slowly, wing by wing until their light pulsations became frenetic.  Before he stuck them to his chest, he put them on the kitchen table and watched their St. Vitus’ dance with glee. “Look at them squirm!”, shouted little Potter; and after their luminescence faded, the boy put them back on the table, and just before their lights went out, he squished them under his thumb. “Happy trails”, said the little boy who loved old Roy Rogers movies.

St. Vitus' dance

“What is it with animals?”, his father asked.

One day he found Potter in the garage electrocuting frogs. He had taken his Lionel train transformer – the extra powerful one he had given the boy for Christmas to pull long lines of loaded toy freight cars up hills – and hooked the wires to the bullfrogs he had fished out of the pond behind the firehouse.  “Die”, Potter shouted. “Die”, he yelled as he turned up the juice and watched the frog’s legs jump and contract.

“This is a good sign, actually”, said the child psychologist. “Potter is dealing with issues of life, death, and mortality far beyond his years.”

Potter’s erratic behavior extended far beyond the torture of animals. He shat in the neighbor’s bushes, let the air out of the new Buick Roadmaster Atty. Jacobs proudly parked in his driveway, and cut the clotheslines of every house from one end of Lincoln Street to the other. Of course everyone in the West End knew exactly who did it; and many of them went to the Harold Phelps to complain.  Unlike most fathers, he did not automatically defend his son, but said, “Nasty little bugger. We have no idea what to do with him.”

Father Brophy admitted to his fellow priests at St. Maurice Church that he was concerned about the boy ‘for spiritual reasons’.  Potter seemed to have none of the moral inhibitors usually found in a child of his age, and if nothing was done to right him, his soul would fall increasingly far from God. “He’s still young”, said the priest, “barely at the age of reason; but he shows no signs of moral rectitude. I hate to bring up Nietzsche, but the boy already seems beyond good and evil.”


As time went on, all of these fears turned out to be unfounded. Potter was simply crazy. Wires got crossed somewhere, bits and pieces of DNA ended up where they shouldn’t be, his endocrine system pumped out the wrong emotional lubricants, and Potter couldn’t make heads nor tails of the world around him. He was befuddled and perplexed, had no sense of propriety, compassion, trust, or obligation. Blowing snot on the boys room mirror because “it looked cool under fluorescent lighting” was equal in value to him as kissing his mother goodnight. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, Potter reached adulthood during a time of relaxed and tolerant views of the mentally ill.  Patients like Potter who should have been locked up in the an institution were allowed to roam free on the streets. “They belong under the big tent, just like any other American”, said one of the progressive advocates for the homeless, “and if they have their peculiarities, so do we all.”

Nonsense again of course. When San Francisco opened the doors of St. Margaret’s, the public mental institution in Potrero Hill which had been there since 1870, the homeless populations swelled.  For a city renowned for its tolerance of and patience with derelicts this was still quite an event.  Up until ‘liberation’, as progressives called the release of former patients onto the streets, St. Margaret’s had still housed the city’s mentally vagrant, but was slated for demolition thanks to the pressure of urban land developers who saw a fortune beneath the old decaying brick institution. Now after mass release there were 500 new deranged itinerants in every neighborhood from the Mission to Russian Hill, and despite their antics and intimidation of passers-by, the city was unwilling to act.  Every time a more conservative council member spoke up about the increasing epidemic of crazies on the streets of the city, he was yelled down. “San Francisco is no longer the City by the Bay, but the city of Bums by the Bay. Let’s get rid of them.”

Image result for images golden gate bridge fog

That last comment made the national news. ‘Genocide, ethnic cleansing, Hitler-esque Final Solution’ were only some of the terms used to characterize Councilman Barnum by the liberal Left.  However, he had struck a nerve and a chord with his constituents who re-elected him by a wide margin. “An old broom sweeps clean” his campaign posters declared, an only slightly veiled reference to cleaning up the streets of both litter and the homeless.

Potter Phelps had made his way across country from Connecticut to California, often picked up by police, but because he was never aggressive or dangerous, they let him go. “I’m a raccoon”, he said to the sheriff of Holmes County, Iowa, when he stopped Potter rooting around a trashcan in an alley in a quiet residential neighborhood. “I am foraging.”

In San Francisco, he found a ready-made community.  There were men even crazier than he was.  One new friend said that he had been teleported from Alpha Centauri to preach the gospel of Zor-Um, the Centaurian Messiah.  Every morning he walked to Union Square and preached as eloquently and passionately as the Christian missionaries who had set up their mobile church by the fountains and who were very displeased at the intrusion.  They were less concerned about Potter’s friend’s message from another world than the competition with the Gospel.  The man’s inflamed rhetoric, a combination of the best science fiction and Biblical injunction, was compelling listening, and he drew quite a crowd at lunchtime.

Image result for images alpha centauri

The point of all this is that there are lunatics wandering loose all over America; and if the initial reports about the ‘seriously depressed’ Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot who mass murdered 150 people by calmly flying his Airbus into the Swiss Alps, are true, Germany has a problem too. So does India, although it is hard to distinguish between a wandering sadhu and a mentally deranged beggar.

Image result for andreas lubitz images

Many progressive critics say that by and large, the non-institutionalized mentally ill are of no danger to society.  They live in their own demented street communities, rant on about this or that, but generally keep regular hours and do no harm.

On the contrary, claimed Councilman Barnum. Every one of these ‘free-range lunatics’ has the potential of ‘stepping over the edge’.  In one of his more moderate and temperate remarks he correctly observed, “Mental illness has a tipping point.  We need to protect our city from these ticking time bombs.”

He laid out a plan to deter school shootings, going postal, and suicide-murders. “Lock ‘em back up”, he said. “Release all formerly confidential patient records of the mentally unstable to local and federal authorities, track serious mental illness as a public health infectious disease, and police the streets with cattle prods.”  Except for the last provocative and intemperate remark, Barnum’s plan was eminently reasonable.  He was barking up the wrong tree, however, for liberal San Francisco would never even consider his plan, and both citizens and local officials called him a racist neo-Nazi.  His constituents, tired of being badgered, importuned, and messed with by the demented homeless, were for all of his proposals.  It was a perfect fit. The city’s extreme and outspoken liberalism riled up Barnum’s constituents even more, and they returned him to office again and again by wide margins.

The voters of more and more cities, fatigued by progressive hammering about race, gender, ethnicity and tales of victimhood, have begun to organize ‘Barnum Committees’ and have become as revolutionary as the social reformers of the early 20th Century. “We are the future and the past”, they were fond of saying. “Bums must go”.

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