I used to try to qualitfy myself as good crazy, a justification really, a search for solid ground during my confused early twenties. One night over martinis I dropped this line, in the middle of some ridiculous anecdote, probably meant to showcase bravado or character, to my friend Joe, to which he responded, "crazy is measured by degree, not kind." I've held this bit of insight rather high in my life's philosophies, as it helps to avoid rationalizing the ugly over taking direct responsibility. Still, there remains the question of crazy; slippery and evasive, obvious and profound, both epheremal and perpetual, and as individual and unique as our own DNA.
This is a true story.
Late in the 1940's Ned Stevenson, called 'Fat', worked for the Florence Lumber Company in Florence, Alabama, alongside Nobis Wiley, called 'Bear', and a man named Claude. They worked in the lumber yard, making deliveries, sorting orders and the like. One day, Bear, a big man, started to lose it. Whatever went on in Bear's head and manifested itself in outward expression, no one knows, but it was clear enough things weren't right and the men deferred to their boss, Mr. Uhland Redd, for direction.
The idea of mental illness had years to go before an inkling of understanding and compassion would play on the lives of the afflicted. Later, Bear would be diagnosed paranoid-catatonic schizophrenic, but on that day, he just seemed to be out there, and enough so that Uhland Redd thought he needed to ride down to Tuscaloosa. A ride to Tuscaloosa had nothing to do with football back then; it meant you lost your marbles; it meant you were going to Bryce - Alabama State Hospital for the Insane.
Uhland elected Fat and Claude to make the trip, gave them a car, a flashlight and a gun, and off they went, Claude in the driver seat, Fat riding shotgun and Bear sitting, restlessly, I imagine, in the back. Bear had a twin brother, Otis, who was short and stocky and had a high, squeeky voice. On Sunday mornings Otis would stand in front of the courthouse with a tamborine and a bible and preach the holy gospel of Jesus Christ, which has nothing to do with this story but to add a little color, another degree.
At some point on the trip Bear grew agitated and Fat offered to let him hold the flashlight, hoping it would calm him down. The details of the 120 mile trip are lost. At what point and why did they pull over, what negotiations went down, we can't know. But that evening Mr. Redd received a phone call from Bryce Hospital wanting to know which one was crazy. They'd arrived with Claude and Fat in the back seat. Bear was driving, and had posession of both the flashlight and the gun.