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

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Weird, Freaks, And The Demented–Real Diversity And The Spice Of Life

Bearded ladies, babies with two heads, midgets, conjoined goats; armless, legless dwarfs, deformed giants, and cats with fish gills are worth triple the price of admission.  The freak show is fires, crashes, horrible deformities and disease, misfortune, and God’s irony all rolled up into one.   Life without it would be intolerable.

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Every city has its own toned-down version of the weird and unexplainable – its hermits, its morbidly obese; its dumb, clueless, and ugly; and its flashers.  They are nothing, however, compared to those imaginary deformed, those ordinary neighbors transformed by gossip, innuendo, rumor, and one unfortunate miscue into fantastical freaks.

Emma Sandstrom’s suicide which had only been rumored had become a ghoulish affair where she had hanged herself with lamp cord in the basement or turned a mottled reddish blue from asphyxiation in her gas range or cut her wrists in the bathtub which she had filled with bubbles and lavender scent or eaten rat poison, and consumed with thirst was found head first in the toilet bowl.

The ‘truth’ never came out.   None of the suspicions had any real merit or foundation.  She could have died peacefully in her bed or felled by a stroke; but the rumors of suicide persisted because of her eccentric behavior.  No one in New Brighton ever dressed in funereal veils and Victorian shoes when shopping downtown or drove like she did  around the block three times before pulling the car into the driveway. 

Her bedroom lights were often on at 3am, shouts and cries could be heard after dinner coming from the basement well, and no one ever came to visit. Put all together her untimely death at age 45 could only add up to suicide, a combination of a deranged mind, a wayward husband, and a ne’er-do-well son. The obituary in the New Brighton Examiner provided no clues.

Emma Sandstrom, beloved wife of Herbert R. Sandstrom, Chief Accountant and Deputy Financial Officer of New Brighton Savings and Loan, mother of Bertrand S. Sandstrom, and daughter of Mrs. and Mrs. Per Carlson of Bayonne, New Jersey, died yesterday peaceful at home. Flowers and condolences may be sent to Pederson Funeral Home in New Brighton.

Poor Mr. Barnes, Headmaster of the Lefferts School where most of the well-to-do children of the West End attended, was rumored to have a dog’s jaw.  The story was that he had been badly wounded in the war by a mortar shell that had torn off the lower half of his face; and quick-thinking field medical officers had fitted him with the jaw of a German Shepherd guard dog which miraculously was not rejected by the immune system of the Headmaster.

Nonsense of course, but no one in New Brighton who attended school functions or met the Headmaster at social functions in Farmington and West Hartford could ever look at him without thinking of his dog’s jaw.   Had anyone looked at his ancestral photographs, they would have seen that  the under-slung, weak jaw had persisted through over five generations.

The residents of New Brighton, no different from those in any other town,  imagined the most unlikely paramours.  There was no way that the local haberdasher could possibly have fallen for the X-Ray technician at the clinic, but the many innocent but tell-tale signs were too much to ignore.  Too much idle time together, too many shared rides, standing too close in the elevator – it all had to mean something.

A guest at any dinner party on Lincoln Street would have heard the most improbable stories of doctors gone bad, lawyers covering up malfeasance, questionable sexuality, terminal disease, unreliable war record, and premature dismissal from service. 
None of this would have been surprising, for life on the straight-and-narrow, especially one of fact, truth, and objectivity would be very tedious indeed.

If we have no freaks and live in quiet, predictable places, we have to invent the impossible.  The people of Lincoln Street did not stop at gossip and conjecture.  As strange as the elopement of Marjorie Pettis was – her paramour was only the milkman; and as much as the literati of New Brighton drew parallels between Gunnar Larson and Lady Chatterley’s gamekeeper, it was a strange liaison indeed – it was nothing compared to even stranger associations.  

It was rumored for years that the Bartlebys had a badly deformed, retarded son that they kept chained in their basement; and the moans, the howls, and the strange spooky shadows that flickered across the lintel and onto the drawn window shade were all the confirmation that the boys of New Brighton needed.

Image result for images movie freaks

Bailey Cross lived in an old Victorian mansion on one of the formerly most elegant streets in New Brighton, long gone to seed as wealthy families left the old, fast decaying rust belt city for the tonier and classier communities of Farmington, Avon, and West Hartford. He had lived there for decades, and for as long as anyone could remember.  The old folks told of a handsome, Tyrone Power lookalike who had moved into the mansion with his young family in the 30s, and lived alone after all of them had died.  Rumors persisted that he had murdered them all; but the police found no trace of any foul play, and when they had been called by a neighbor who heard ghastly cries, sobs, and unearthly shrieks, they found only Bailey, his clothes torn to shreds, his face scored with deep scratches, howling and wandering from room to room.

Image result for images spooky victorian houses

His family never was found, invisible as ghosts, and Bailey, already as mad as a hatter because of his vixenous wife – a true harridan if there ever was one (stories of her upbringing in a watery, boggy corner of the West of Ireland and her run through husbands in both Ireland and New England emasculating each and every one were well-known) – went completely insane when she and her equally evil children set off for parts unknown.  He could be seen every evening, peering from a dormer window, dressed in a nightshirt and holding a candle as identically Old London as any character in Dickens.  No one saw him come or go, the front door was never opened, and food was delivered down the old, unused coal chute.

Now all this of course took place in the politically incorrect Fifties – an era of picket fences, lawn parties, frilly dresses, Holy Communion, and Sunday morning tee times – when conformity was so universal, and social norms so well-respected that the ugly, deformed, and retarded were even more of an oddity than they would ordinarily be.  Had New Brighton been some nasty holler in West Virginia where folks were inbred, stubborn, and poor, they might have paid no attention to Bailey Cross, Emma Sandstrom, or Mr. Barnes, the Headmaster.  Missing teeth, mongoloid looks, and vacant stares would have been taken as normal, the Lord’s way, and the hand of fate.

Image result for images cute cottages with roses and picket fences

So because we all seem to need distortion – some kind of twisted ugliness or grossly in human behavior – the residents of the well-to-do West End of New Brighton sought it out; and if they couldn’t find it, invented it.  A well-known social Freudian saw this as an inevitable expression of the id which, for so long and so consistently held in check by middle class propriety, could only eke out ways of expression; but laymen only had to look to the works of Sherwood Anderson and Winesburg, Ohio or Flannery O’Connor’s short stories to understand that freaks have not disappeared, but have been cancelled, put into appropriate, careful categories and welcomed into the mainstream.  Only thanks to progressive efforts to open the doors of insane asylums in the name of respect and individual choice, are freaks still wandering the streets.  They are not called such, of course, not even marked as deranged, mad, or insane; but ‘in temporary states of mental disequilibrium.

Black Maria was a late middle-aged woman who traced and retraced her steps along Main Street in perfect rectangles, making tight, perfect, military turns at the corners, disappearing only imperceptibly down an alley or rough side street to pick up food left for her by restaurateurs who pitied her.  Or Beanie Man who had attached himself to wires and gadgets all dangling from a propeller on a multi-colored beanie.  They had recently been inmates at Newington Psychiatric Hospital, released by the progressive governor’s order, given a knapsack with a change of clothes, bottled water, and high-energy protein bars.

Image result for images ugly midgets

Other than these extreme cases of demented madness, the less disturbed are welcomed as new members of an inclusive community which rejects no one, assumes absolute equality of worth, sensibility, and merit – a grab bag of New Brighton’s worst, although no one would ever admit it or even suggest that such a thing as outliers exist.  Slums do not exist nor does social dysfunctionality. it is only because of the error-prone perceptions of the privileged that such retrograde epithets still exist.

We are told never to comment on weirdness, strangeness, or difference.  Our neighbors whether grossly obese and waddling in rolls of fat, palsied and ungainly, as tall as a tree or as short as a fire plug, smelly, farting, or pimpled are simply our neighbors.

Of course such public opprobrium only forces the sentiments behind closed doors; and people have a jolly old time making fun of everyone under the sun over poker games and boilermakers.  Of course audiences at Grossingers howled with laughter at the jokes of the Borscht Belt comedians who had no brakes on their humor and took advantage of every difference, every oddity, ever weirdness to make people laugh.  No longer.  Comedy, such as it is has become routine, predicable, gross, crude, and totally humorless.

No matter how much censorship, cancellation, or intimidation is effected by the progressive Left, human nature will remain unchanged.  Perhaps the one most fundamental, essential, and ineluctable part of that nature is suspicion of The Other, a natural, self-protective, defensive mechanism that has stood since the Paleolithic.  Driving suspicions underground, suppressing the concept of oddity, and attempting to create an artificial goody-goody world will never succeed.  We are an ugly, warty, weird and deformed race with some bright spots, so the sooner we accommodate that truth, the better.

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