Thursday, February 21, 2008

Going Among Mad People

My friend Crazy Lance came over for brunch on Sunday. I made sour cream waffles and bacon and mimosas. I would normally make something a little more elaborate, but a) Crazy Lance specifically asked me not to make anything too fancy, b) I had to pick him up from the Metro station, so I had to make something ahead and/or cook it quickly after we got back, c) I had one of those no-alcohol hangovers that I sometimes get if I eat a full bag of Kettle chips in bed after midnight, and d) I'd gotten up really late and had to spend an hour cleaning the kitchen, so I didn't have time to go out and shop for anything better. That last reason was also why I didn't have any sparkling wine and so had to make the mimosas with a combination of orange juice, vodka, and ginger ale. They were still pretty good, I thought, and Crazy Lance loved them. After my first, though, I switched to a combination of oj and club soda and then straight club soda, because I was feeling a little dehydrated. Also, I think Crazy Lance is a lot more fun when he's mildly inebriated. Anyway, the food was much appreciated, and brunch was a lot of fun, in large part because CL is the perfect brunch guest when I'm feeling unfocused and unwell: he can talk indefinitely and requires only very limited input from me, and most of what he's saying is fascinating. Plus, he has a delicious West Virginia accent and a terrific body, so I can just sit there and listen and lust quietly. Which I did.

"Crazy" is tossed about pretty loosely these days, and -- uncharacteristically -- I don't have a problem with the many, many different connotations it's come to have. Usually when you say that one of your friends is crazy, you mean that he's eccentric, loud, wild, fun, funny, or some combination of the above. Crazy Lance, on the other hand, is insane. He himself will admit this, usually with a sort of semi-cheerful resignation. At the same time, he'll say it's the rest of the world that's really insane (a difficult notion to argue with, I must say). Anyway, when I say that he's crazy, I'm talking not so much about his truly beyond-the-pale opinions on every topic as I am about the fact that a couple of weeks ago he checked himself into a psychiatric institution for eight days to avoid having his insanity overwhelm him. He's on lithium now, and he's currently stable enough to be talking about getting his life back together, but about half the time when I talk to him on the phone, he still sounds like someone's sucked the life out of him.

Which, in a way, has happened. Crazy Lance spent about fifteen years in a three-way relationship with two other guys, Big Lance and James. Crazy Lance and I don't often get around to discussing the broad outlines of our pasts, but as near as I can figure, Big Lance and James were together from about 1970 on. Sometime later, Crazy Lance became involved with Big Lance. Later still, he became involved with both Big Lance and James and moved in with both of them. After more than ten years, he decided that he needed to live separately but still considered himself and James (but not Big Lance) partners. James and Big Lance continued to live together.

About a year ago, Big Lance had a fairly serious stroke, and Crazy Lance moved back in with the two of them to be the caretaker. Big Lance and James lived in a huge house on a huge lot, and Crazy Lance spent all his time there. He did the housekeeping, took Big Lance to his doctor and physical therapy appointments, and nursed him. Crazy Lance told me that it was demanding, round-the-clock work and that over a period of nearly a year, he only got back to his own house twice. But he also said that it was all fine as long as the pot held out. The weed gave him the ability to do all that and feel like he was accomplishing something, and Big Lance was getting better.

But then last summer, things began to fall apart. Crazy Lance was still doing all the work, but he didn't have the weed, so he began to notice just how difficult it all was. And Big Lance's health began to fail. Crazy Lance went through all of his savings, in large part, I believe on things that were, well, crazy. He told me that he sold his 70 ounces of gold so that he could loan the proceeds to someone for something that I couldn't quite understand. He sent all his silver (Yes, he was the sort to keep most of his savings in precious metals. He also supports Ron Paul. You do the math.) to someone in upstate New York so that it could be melted down and made into some sort of tokens that were to be used to allow people in some central Asian country to buy their way into heaven. (I'm not being flip here, but I think I didn't get all of the details right.) And he went through his entire 401(k) plan, mostly, I think, to make his house and car payments.

By the time the beginning of 2008 rolled around, Crazy Lance was broke, behind on his house payments, and despondent. I'm not exactly clear on the timing, but I believe that he got out of the psychiatric institution just a few days before Big Lance died. In the aftermath, Crazy Lance and James fought, physical violence erupted, and James told Crazy Lance to leave. Apparently, he drove Crazy Lance back to his own house and then left with the car, which is why I picked Crazy Lance up from the Metro station on Sunday.

After we'd eaten, Lance began to exercise. I knew from talking with him about it that exercising puts him in a good mood, and that what he most likes to do is to strap heavy weights onto his wrists and ankles and then move through and hold various dance-like or yoga-like positions. I was watching him do it for a while, trying to decide whether it would be rude to ask if I could take some pictures when he stopped and said, "So do you know any photographers?" I told him that I'd just been working up to asking him if I could take some, so I fetched my digital camera and began shooting. I got about a hundred pictures, and you see some of them here. Crazy Lance loves having his picture taken and admits to being something of an exhibitionist, so he soon went from clothed to underwear. And not much later, he said, "Well, since my cock is peeking out and since I love to show off, I'm just going to remove these, if you don't mind." I told him I would never mind, and we kept going. I think the best pictures came at the end, when he was just talking. When he was going through his positions, he was very conscious of trying to hold the position, whether I was using flash or not, and that made a lot of the pictures seem a bit forced. Which was odd because the whole thing was so much fun to watch, and not just because I lust after Crazy Lance. In fact, I found that as the session went on, I found him much less sexually -- but much more personally -- interesting. I think that's a good thing because (who am I kidding?) I would still love to jump his bones. But I know that likely won't happen and that it certainly shouldn't happen. Shagging a crazy person is doubtless hot, but it's major bad karma. And Crazy Lance himself told me very recently that he'd seriously considered asking me to do unspeakable things to him but that he'd decided against it because of his propensity towards addictive behavior.

Anyway, none of that is the point, though it is useful background. Also useful background is the fact that Crazy Lance told me that if I showed these pictures to people, I needed to let them know that he really is able to get much more extension in many of his positions. And he is. And now you know. And yet one more thing to know: Crazy Lance has never had any sort of training in dance or yoga or tai chi or whatever. He says that his form of exercise (which, again, is mesmerizing, even when he's fully clothed) is due entirely to pot. He no longer smokes pot, though. After he'd mentioned it a couple of times, I remembered that I've been wondering how I could get some, so I asked him whether he had a source, and he told me that he had to sever ties with his old weed dealer because he no longer approves of "pot booty calls." At first I thought that he meant that his dealer would have sex with him and give him a discount, but not so. He meant that he thought that his dealer was an interesting person and wanted to hang out with him and that he had told his dealer that if they couldn't be friends, he was no longer interested in giving him his custom. Crazy Lance said that the dealer wasn't at all enthusiastic about a friendship, so their interaction came to an end. Personally, I don't see being friends with your pot dealer as a particularly good or safe idea. And I don't see why a pot dealer would find it a good or safe idea to have a crazy person as a close friend. But of course, Crazy Lance and I don't see things the same way.

Which is mostly what I find so very attractive about him. I understand that his mental illness (which he's trying to get treated) makes his life very difficult and has cost him just about everything. And, truly, if I could find a way to spare him that pain, I'd give a fair amount to do so. (He seems to think that inviting him places is already doing more than a fair amount, but I always feel like I get the good end of that deal.) But when he's not incapacitated or severely depressed, he has a gift of vision that I'll never have. Most people I know, including myself, think that I'm very clever. But I have no special insight. Crazy Lance sees the world through a different lens, and what he sees and reports is sometimes terrible but usually wondrous. I covet his vision. He writes poetry that's wonderfully inventive, and he moves in a way that bespeaks a genius of physical grace. I can't help but think that if he had found a way to keep his demons in check and had had some sort of appropriate mentor, he'd be writing poetry or dancing now, maybe while teaching at a really fun college somewhere.

He's not, of course. He's getting ready to sell his house and apply for disability and probably move far away (this makes me sad), and he's talking about things like giving female soldiers in Iraq special diaphragms with razor sharp, hinged phalanges so that if they get raped, when the male soldier goes to pull out, he'll leave his penis behind. (I should note here that Crazy Lance is horribly misogynistic, probably because of his relationship with his mother. Fortunately, he seems devoid of other prejudices, which is fairly remarkable given his dirt poor West Virginia upbringing and all his talk of world government and black helicopters. You'd half expect him to say that everything is the fault of the Jews, but racism is blessedly absent from his psychological makeup.) He has a lot of other ideas about how to win the war, but most of them are even crazier. He once marched seven times around one of the VA hospitals and was disappointed when the walls failed to come a-tumbling down.

I hope it comes across that I like Crazy Lance a lot. He's beautiful and he's charming and he's very sweet. And he's a walking illustration of the nexus between creativity and madness. It's a great pleasure and blessing to be in his company and to see his point of view. And it's very painful to watch him struggle. I hope that he finds some way to be safe without losing his unique outlook and his childlike ability to appreciate things and his belief in his own ability to change the world. Right now, he's thinking about getting some schooling in hotel and restaurant management, (He used to have a six-figure government job doing some sort of financial analysis, I believe.) and it pains me to think of him managing a hotel somewhere unless he can go dance and write poetry in his off hours. When he's down, he talks about how maybe someday he'll have a life again. When he's up, he tells me stories about celebrating his birthday with his partners and having "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" written in lines of cocaine on a mirror. I am sometimes jealous of his experiences and his way of experiencing, though I more often have a very there-but-for-the-grace-of-god reaction to the same things.

Still, while there's much about Crazy Lance that invokes my protective instincts, there's something about him that defies pity. Take a look at this last picture of him:

Do you see the scarring on his chest? I'd been staring at it for the better part of an hour before there was a lull in the conversation that allowed me to ask about it.

A few years back, Crazy Lance was very upset about either don't ask, don't tell or some other aspect of gays in the military. He was convinced that the opposition to gays in the military came from the perception of gay men as weak, and he was determined to do something about it. He was also convinced that he had the power to do something about it and that if he could demonstrate how strong a gay man could be, the opposition of the military hierarchy would crumble. So he came up with a design to indicate strength and interconnectedness, and he bent copper tubing into the shape of the design. And he heated the whole thing red with an acetylene torch and then he pressed it to his chest.

When he recounts this story, he's not proud, but he's certainly not ashamed either. His main reaction is one of regret because he didn't realize that the design was flat while his chest was three dimensional. And regret because the pain was so intense that he could only hold the tubing against his chest for a moment. Because of those two factors, he didn't get the transfer that he wanted, and he thinks that's why we still don't have gays in the military.

What do you say to something like that? It's insane, but it's somehow strong. He was looking a little downcast, so I said, "Maybe you should take credit for what you did do rather than fret about what you didn't do." (That part was essentially the same thing that I'd said when he was upset that his forty-seven-year-old, untrained body couldn't do a perfect split. Yet.) And then I added, "But you're not Jesus, and you can't help anyone else by injuring yourself, so let's not do something like that again, okay?"

I'm not sure he was convinced.


D-Man said...

On of the most beautifully talented artists I've ever known one day started staring into the sun and telling everyone he was god. He could draw pictures that, even under the closest inspection, you couldn't tell from photographs.

"And he's a walking illustration of the nexus between creativity and madness."


franck said...


John said...

Also: really lovely home. Yes, I was looking at design details instead of the naked guy. How sad is that?

DavisMcDavis said...

That was a sweet story and nice pictures. Thanks for sharing! Crazy Lance is lucky to have you as a friend.

Lewis said...

All of this happened in your living room? Man, I live in a boring world.

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Like John, I am looking at the wedding photo, the portraits of children, the boxes on the chair, the multi-colored candy/candle thing. The dissonance in home-shots like these is always fascinating.