A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

“In a general way, then, madness is not linked to the world and its subterranean forms, but rather to man, his weaknesses and illusions … There is no madness but which is in every man, since it is man who constitutes madness in the attachment he bears for himself and the illusions he entertains … In this delusive attachment to himself, man generates his madness like a mirage.” Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization.

“That’s David Hauser,” my friend Paul responded when I asked him about a man sitting 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.

albert-meme-generator-the-thing-about-smart-people-is-they-sound-crazy-to-dumb-people-cc1514I frequented The Family Liquor Store for just this reason: I loved the anomaly. I knew little-to-nothing of anomalies in the sheltered life I lived prior to walking into The Family Liquor Store. I knew that some people succeeded and others failed, but those in my dad’s inner circle that hadn’t succeeded, were a rung lower on the socioeconomic chain. I knew nothing of the depths of failure and despair that I would encounter in my friend’s parents’ liquor store, where he happened to work.

Even while immersed in this world of despair, I encountered pride, coping mechanisms, and outright lies. John informed me that he once played against Wayne Gretzky in a minor league hockey match, Jay informed me of the time he screamed “Go to Hell JFK!” to the man’s face, and Ronny told me of the various strength contests he won. The fact that I flirted with believing any aspects of the tales told the others in The Family Liquor Store that I was almost as laughable as the fools that told them.

“Why would they lie about things like that?” I asked to top off the joke.

“Wouldn’t you?” they asked when they reached a break in their laughter. “If you lived the life they did?”

The unspoken punchline of this ongoing joke was that I may have been more lacking in street smarts than any person they had ever met. The answer to the question that was never asked was that a thorough understanding of their world could be said to be on par with any intellectual study of the great men of the book smarts world, in that they both involve a mastery of human nature.

“You see these guys here,” Paul’s father whispered to me, on another day at the liquor store, gesturing out to its patrons. “I could introduce you to these men, one by one, and you’d hear varying stories of success and failure, but the 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.”

Knowing full well how this line would stick with me, I turned back to Paul’s father in the moment.

“What’s the wrong woman?” I asked. “What did those women do to these guys?”

“You won’t know,” he said. “All you can know is that you don’t know, because you’ll be 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 that advice, I met a variety of picky guys. Some of them wouldn’t even look at a woman that was below an eight. Others looked for an excess in class, intelligence, strength and weakness, and still others were in a perpetual, perhaps unconscious, search for their mama. For me, it’s always been about sanity. I would date some beautiful women. I would date strong women that could school me in intelligence, and most of the women I dated brought that sassy element that I so enjoy, but it’s always came back to a fruitloopery index for me? 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 back in my head. I did not want to end up 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.

For all that I learned in The Family Liquor Store, I still had one question that I dare not ask, why would a normal family, with normal kids, want to open a liquor store on the corner of failure and despair? I would not ask this question, even as a young man with an insufferable amount of curiosity, because I knew that the answers I received would reveal some uncomfortable truths about the people that answered. One answer I did receive, over time, and in a roundabout way, was that surrounding one’s self with failure and despair, makes one feel better about their standing in the world by comparison.

“How does one get so smart that they go crazy?” I asked Paul, still staring at this man that sat in the corner, and spoke to himself, named David Hauser.

“I don’t know,” Paul said. “They say he had a fantastic job, prestige, and boatloads of money, and he just got fired one day. No one knows why. Then 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 those that informed Paul– wouldn’t let the “too smart” angle go in regards to David Hauser’s condition. 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 full-fledged conversations. David Hauser was a good listener in these conversations, a characteristic that made him an anomaly in a world of anomalies. There were times when David Hauser looked to this speaker that no one else could see, but this glance was one often reserved for the introductory section of the speaker’s conversation. When this purported speaker’s dialogue would progress, David Hauser would begin looking at a diagonal slant, then an outward glance, followed by that inward glance that suggested that the man was contemplating what was being said. There were also times when he and this friend said nothing.

Prior to David Hauser, I assumed that people that spoke to themselves did so to fill a void of having no one to speak with. David Hauser filled that void, but he and his invisible friend created other voids, what some might call these voids seven second lulls, and there were times when the lulls in those conversations 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’s listening prompts encouraged the speaker to continue. This added element to David Hauser’s conversation deepened my fascination, until I had to know what this man was saying.

“I have to know what he’s saying,” I told Paul.

I went on to inform Paul that my curiosity was based on comedic intrigue, but that was a ruse to cover for the fact that my obsession with David Hauser had grown into a full blown desire to understand something about humanity that I didn’t think I could learn from my otherwise sheltered life of books. I needed to know if a person, as progressed as David Hauser appeared to be, continues to speak to themselves to sort through internal difficulties, and they recognized it for what it was on some level, or if they genuinely believed that they are talking to someone else.

Paul laughed and gave me a ‘for God’s sake, why?’ expression when I informed him that I had to know what those active listening prompts were, and that I was getting frustrated trying to read the man’s lips. This part was all true, other than the fact that I implied that it, too, fell under the umbrella of comedic intrigue.

I did not provide Paul details of my full blown obsession with David Hauser for all the reasons that a young person doesn’t provide his adversary ammunition for ridicule. I did not tell Paul that I believed that the words this man selected to prompt the speaker would tell me everything I needed to know about David Hauser, and how much the man believed he was talking to someone else. I did not want to tell Paul that my obsession was such that I couldn’t focus on anything else, 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 perpetuating a façade of a man talking to himself, if he believed there was another person there, or if his need to fill the void had manifested one. The latter was so far beyond my comprehension that I didn’t want to spend too much time thinking about it, but I figured that his mannerisms, his tone, and the context of his active listening prompts would form some sort of conclusion.

“Be careful,” Paul said.

Those two words slipped out, as if Paul was repeating what had been said to him when he considered further investigation. He then focused his attention on me and dropped some dramatic repetition on me:

“Be careful!”

I was willing to accept these words of caution on the face of what they implied, 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 is possible that Paul was messing with me, and that I was so obsessed with this whole matter that I couldn’t see it, but it’s also 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. Our minds were just starting to understand the complex, adult understandings of the real world, while still young enough to consider the possibilities of what could occur under an altogether different premise.

Long story short, his attempts to warn me 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 had an insatiable curiosity, and I was an observant sort, but tackling highbrow intellectual theory, or highbrow literature, was beyond me. I was ill-equipped for that. 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 as they neared it? Is there a maximum capacity that a person should be careful not to extend themselves beyond? Furthermore, 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, pretending to look out at something beyond the window, standing 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 lowering his voice to avoid being heard?

Whatever the case was, I couldn’t hear him, and I was a little relieved. I felt encouraged by the fact that I had dared to near him without fear and more than a little relieved that no overwhelming theories had been implanted in my brain, in a manner I feared might be similar to 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, screaming for the nurse to come in and provide them some relief in the form of unhealthy doses of chlorpromazine to release the pressure in their brain.

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 everyone involved needed a way to deal with his story.

We all enjoyed the story of how a once prominent man, of such unimaginable abilities, could fall to such a level of despair and failure, “Like that!” and everyone snapped their fingers to punctuate their description. I told the story of David Hauser to more than a few people, in the decades that would follow, and most of those people exhibited the awe I felt that day at the Family Liquor Store.

The fascination with this idea is superficial. Is it possible that a person could gain so much intelligence that they go insane? To those that offer a flat out, “No, no that’s not plausible!” In the decades that would follow, I would develop a follow up question to that flat out refusal to even consider the possibility of this idea: “How much of the human brain do we understand at this point in history? I’m not talking about rubes like you and me. I’m talking neurologists. I’m talking about those with doctorates on the human brain that deliver various theses on the inner-workings of the human brain. I’m talking about peer-reviewed studies that are accepted as fact one day, only to be refuted by future findings. I’m not saying that it is a fact that one could gain so much intelligence that they go insane. I’m just saying that it’s a possibility, an alarming possibility, considering how little we actually know.”

Bubbling beneath that surface fascination, and the idea that we’re all susceptible to becoming a David Hauser, as a result of something mixing up our chemicals in an inorganic manner, a blow to the wrong part of the head, or a number of other possibilities, lies a suggestion that we’re all more vulnerable than we want to consider. 

In place of traveling through a maze of unspoken fears, confusion, and concern lies an even more complex maze of theories, and research findings, that seek to find a truth, those of us at the Family Liquor Store came up with an answer. No one knew who came up with this answer first, and no one questioned if that person knew what they were talking about. We just needed an answer. A coping mechanism.

The fact was, no one knew the undisputed truth of what happened to David Hauser. We knew some truths, because he told us some truths, but he wouldn’t give us an answer, because he probably didn’t have one. My guess was that even if a sit down could be arranged David Hauser, in a clinical setting, or some climate that would assure him that his answers weren’t sought to satisfy a perverse curiosity, David Hauser would still not provide any answers, because he didn’t have any.

The man that had spent the first half of his life answering the most difficult questions anyone could throw at him, had reached a block regarding the one answer that could prove beneficial to his continued existence. His solution, therefore, was to 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 a foundation of 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 I’m quite sure that our answer didn’t come anywhere close to solving the actualities of how a man could fall so far. I’m quite sure that our answer was nothing more than a comfortable alternative developed by us, for us, to try to resolve the complexities of a question that could’ve driven us insane if we sat down and tried to figure it out, and it trapped itself in our brain.