That’s David Hauser,” my friend Paul responded when I asked him about the guy in the corner of the liquor store, speaking to himself. “He’s crazy. An absolute loon. Went crazy about a year ago. People say he got so smart that he just snapped one day.” Paul snapped his fingers. “Like that!” he said.
I frequented The Family Liquor Store for just this reason: I loved anomalies. I knew little-to-nothing of anomalies in the sheltered life I lived before walking into The Family Liquor Store. I knew that some people succeeded where others failed, but those in my dad’s inner circle that hadn’t succeed, were simply a rung lower. I knew nothing of the depths of failure and despair that I was introduced to in my friend’s parents’ liquor store, where he happened to work.
I met a professional hockey player there, that happened to play against Wayne Gretzky (not true); a man of superhuman strength, that I bested in an arm wrestling contest; a man that regularly shot what Paul called an eight ball right into his carotid artery, that died a couple months later; and all of the other men that had purportedly been ruined by women.
You see these guys here,” Paul’s father whispered to me one day at the liquor store, gesturing out to its patrons. “I could introduce you to these men, and have each of them tell you their story, and you’d hear a wide variety of successes and failures, but one thing you’ll hear in almost every case is the story about how a woman put them down. They all fell in love with the wrong woman.”
What’s the wrong woman?” I asked. “What did those women do to these guys?”
“It varies,” he said. “You can’t know. All you can do is know that you don’t know, because you’ll be the one all starry eyed in the moment. Bring them home to meet your dad, your grandma, and all your friends, and listen to what they say.”
In the life that followed, I met a variety of picky guys. Some of the guys I’ve met wouldn’t even look a woman that was below an eight. Others looked for excesses in class, intelligence, strength or weakness, and still others were in a perpetual, perhaps unconscious search for their ma. For me, it’s always been a question of sanity. She may be beautiful, I would say to myself, and she may bring that sassy element I so enjoy, but where does she sit on the fruitloopery index? I had an inordinate attraction to the mama-that-could-bring-the-drama for much of my life, but when those ultimatums of increased involvement arrived, Paul’s father’s whisper would work its way though all my emotions and into my prefrontal cortex. I did not want to end up there in an incarnation of my personal visage of hell, otherwise known as The Family Liquor Store, where it appeared a wide variety of bitter, lost souls entered by the droves, and none escaped.
How does one get so smart that they go crazy?” I asked Paul, staring intently at David Hauser.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Apparently he had a fantastic job, making boatloads of money, and he got fired one day, and his wife divorced him when he couldn’t find other work, and he ended up here talking to himself for hours on end, drinking on his brew.”
That made a little more sense to me. It was a woman. Paul’s father was right. I was satisfied with that answer, but Paul –and presumably those that informed Paul– wouldn’t let the “Too smart” theory go in regards to David Hauser’s condition. He/they declared that it was: “The nut of it all.”
Most of the patrons of The Family Liquor Store spoke to themselves. It was, in fact, those that didn’t that stood out. David Hauser, however, had conversations. David Hauser was a good listener in these conversations, an anomaly in a world of anomalies. There were times when David Hauser looked to the speaker that no one else could see, but this glance was reserved for the introductory section of his invisible friend’s conversation. When this purported speaker’s dialogue would progress, David Hauser would begin looking at a diagonal slant, then an outward glance, and finally an inward glance, as if he were contemplating what was being said. There were also times when he and his friend said nothing.
Prior to David Hauser, I assumed people that spoke to themselves did so to fill the void of having no one else to speak to. David Hauser had filled that void, but he and his invisible friend had other voids, what some might call seven second lulls, and there were times when those lulls in their conversation would end with active listening prompts on David’s part. This display suggested that it was the purported speaker that had ended the lull, and David had responded to that. This added element to David Hauser’s conversation only deepened my fascination from afar, until I had to know what this man was saying.
I have to know what he’s saying,” I informed Paul.
I went on to suggest that my curiosity was based on comedic intrigue. This was largely a ruse to cover for the fact that my obsession with David Hauser had gone well beyond comedic intrigue and into a desire to know if a person –as progressed as this person appeared to be– still speaks to themselves to sort though internal difficulties, or if they genuinely believe that they are talking to someone else.
I also told Paul that I had to get closer to David Hauser, because I thought I witnessed him giving active listening prompts, and that I had to know what those prompts were, and that I was getting frustrated trying to read the man’s lips. That part was all true, other than the fact that I implied that it was all under the comedic intrigue umbrella.
I did not tell him that my brief fascination had grown into an obsession over the words that David Hauser selected to politely respond to this purported speaker, or prod it onward, would tell me everything I needed to know about how much David actually believed he was talking to someone else. I didn’t want to tell Paul that I couldn’t focus on anything he said to me, until I found out what words David Hauser was using, because I didn’t know what word would’ve informed me if David Hauser was simply perpetuating the façade of a man talking to himself, or if he genuinely believed there was another person there, but I figured that his mannerisms, his tone, and the context of his active listening replies would inform my decision.
Be careful,” Paul said. Those two words slipped out, as if he had had them said to him when he considered investigating further. He then focused his attention on me and said “Be careful” again.
I was perfectly willing to accept these words of caution on the face of what they implied, at first, but my curiosity got the best of me. “Why?” I asked.
“I don’t know, what if he says something so intellectual that it gets trapped in your brain and you go insane trying to figure it out?”
“Could that happen?”
“How does a guy go insane by being too smart?”
It’s entirely possible that Paul was messing with me here, and that I was so obsessed with this that I didn’t see it, but it’s entirely possible that he believed it. We were both avid fans of the horror genre after all, and we were both irrational teenagers that still believed in various superstitions, black magic, curses, elements of dark art, and the supernatural. We were both as trapped in the basic, teenage version of the hows and whys of the way the world worked, as we were the in the long list of why nots regarding the possibilities of how it could work under an altogether different premise.
Long story short, his questions did set me back, and I did try to avoid the subject of David Hauser for a spell. I was not what one would call an intellectual young man. I was insatiably curious and relatively observant, but as for attempting to tackle highbrow intellectual theory, or highbrow literature, I was definitely ill-equipped. Ill-equipped, naïve, and vulnerable to the idea that a thought, like a corruptible woman bent on destroying, could leave a person incapacitated to a point that they frequent a low-rent liquor store for the rest of their days and speak to non-existent people.
I thought of the idea of an intellectual peak during that brief moment. I knew I hadn’t even come close to my intellectual peak at that point in my life, but I wondered if there was a peak, and if a person could know it when they’ve arrived there? Is there a maximum capacity that a person should be careful not to extend themselves beyond? And if they do, do they risk an injury similar to those athletes risking physical injury to accomplish that which lies beyond the actual limits of their ability? I thought of a pole vaulter here, sticking a pole in the ground, attempting a jump he should have reconsidered and the resultant injuries that could follow.
When I recovered from those irrational fears, I went over to David Hauser. The level he spoke at, before I arrived at the windowsill he sat on, lowered as I progressed. I was still somewhat distant, ostensibly looking out at something beyond the window near him. I neared even closer, and his volume dropped even more. Was it a coincidence that his volume dropped in direct relation to my proximity, or was he purposely lowering his voice so as to avoid being heard?
Whatever the case was, I couldn’t hear him, and I was slightly relieved. I felt encouraged by the fact that I had dared to near him without fear and slightly relieved that no overwhelming theories had been implanted in my brain, like an alien putting a finger on a human head and introducing thoughts to that brain that are so far beyond its capacity that the victim starts shaking –like what happened to that kid in The Shining, shaking and drooling with horrific thoughts dancing in his head– until the victim wakes up in a strait jacket repeating those thoughts over and over, and the only thing that can provide him some relief is his nurse releasing the cerebral pressure with unhealthy doses of chlorpromazine.
I would later learn that David Hauser had achieved a doctorate in some subject, from some northeastern Ivy League school, and that fact placed him so far above those trapped in this incarnation of hell, AKA The Family Liquor Store, that I figured they needed some way to deal with his story.
We all loved this story of how a once prominent man, of such unimaginable abilities, fell to such a level of despair and failure, “Like that!” and everyone snapped their fingers to punctuate their description. Bubbling beneath the surface fascination we had with David Hauser were unspoken fears, confusion, and concern that if it could happen to this guy, who’s to say it can’t happen to anyone one of us? In place of traveling through a complex maze of theories, and research findings, to find the truth, was an answer. No one knew who came up with this answer first, and no one questioned if those that repeated it knew what they were talking about. We just knew we had an answer, and that comforted us.
The fact was, no one knew what actually happened to David Hauser, because he wouldn’t say. And we can only guess that he wouldn’t say, because he didn’t know. The man that had spent the first half of his life answering the most difficult questions anyone could throw at him, had presumably reached a block regarding the one simple answer that could prove beneficial to his continued existence. His solution, apparently, was to try and talk it out with a certain, special no one for answers.
This led me to believe that the reason his volume dropped as I neared, may have been based on the pain and embarrassment of having such a complex mind –built on answering the greatest complexities for which the human mind is capable– devolve to searching for that one simple answer that he feared an eavesdropping teenager might find for him.
I had that answer, we all did, but our answer probably didn’t come anywhere close to solving the actualities of how a man could fall so far. Rather was it a comfortable alternative developed by us, for us, to try to resolve the complexities of such a complex question that could’ve driven us insane if we tried to figure it out, and it trapped itself in our brain.