Dan Elwes was a weirdo, we all were, but so was Stanford Days. We were all coming up with so many weird jokes, stories, and ideas that most of them got lost in the noise. Dan topped us all one day. He came up with an idea was so preposterous and absurd that some of us thought he might be brilliant, in a twisted, that-will-never-work, but what kind of mind comes up with such an idea, way. The reactions were varied, but the one thing we all agreed on was that no normal mind could think up such an idea. Then someone added that an abnormal mind wouldn’t come up with that idea either. “Seriously,” he said. “They might think it, but they’d never say it. They’d be afraid that the rest of us might know how abnormal they are.”
Weird-Americans have come a long way in the past couple decades. If a weirdo said something weird in the past, it could be a death sentence for them in some social circles. People would give them “that” look that would dismiss them from all future conversations. Thanks, in part, to the comedic stylings of weirdos like, Andy Kaufman, Peter Sellers, Chris Elliot, and David Letterman being weird is now more accepted. Those who used to dismiss weirdos as outcasts began to see them as creative provocateurs, but even the weirdest weirdos know that there is a difference between weird and strange and the just plain different.
Weirdos spent their high school years trying to put all of the unusual ideas, fantasies, and eccentricities of their youth behind them. We wanted people to laugh with us, not at us. We wanted them to take us serious, so they would like us. When we failed, we realized that we could only conceal who we were for so long. When we came together as adults, working for a company on the ideal shift for outcasts, the overnight shift, it didn’t take long for us to find each other and bond. Our time together didn’t last long, but we enjoyed it so much that we still talk about it.
We were a tight-knit group of the ostracized rejects who never fit into groups well, until Stanford Days joined us. When we first met him, we thought he probably should’ve signed up for the day shift. He was so normal there was no reason to notice him. He read books from the best-seller list, and his idea of good music was limited to what sold well. “You think your music is better than mine? I’ll have you know that this particular star,” he said mentioning the star’s name, “sold millions more copies with their last album than your favorite band has sold in total.” He quoted Lord of the Rings and Star Trek. He used math and science to make sense of the world. Yet, he didn’t fit in with the mathematical crowd, because he was too weird. He didn’t fit in with us, because he was not weird enough. He was an uncomfortable man, uncomfortable in his own skin, and it didn’t take a keen observer to see that he sought normalcy to quiet whatever vortex he had swirling around in his head.
The more we learned about Stanford Days, on those overnights, the more we thought the story was about him. Yet, he was a guy who was there, nothing more and nothing less than there. His path to being there ended when the management decided to shift our seating arrangement, and he ended up sitting next to Dan Elwes.
Dan was the complete opposite of Stanford Days. Dan was the type a Stanford Days often loathes, because everything seems to come so easy to them. Dan loved to laugh, but everybody loves to laugh. Dan laughed so hard, so often, that some thought he might be simple-minded. Dan also wasn’t afraid to let his freak flag fly. He was everything Stanford wasn’t. Dan enjoyed being a freak and a weirdo in a way few do and he used to say different, weird, and strange things to pique our interest in a way that left us thinking he might be the story.
As anyone who has ever been in a corporate office, with no walls, knows your desk neighbor can become one of your best friends for as long as that particular seating arrangement exists, and when management put Dan next to Stanford, he took a shine to the man. Dan Elwes had an influence on all of us, but his most profound influence was Stanford, and Stanford found himself a member of our clique, thanks to Dan.
We had no problem with Stanford, but he didn’t seem to be a good fit for our clique. He was so normal that we suspected he studied the habits and mannerisms of the normal to convince others that there was nothing weird, strange, or just plain different about him, and we figured he probably would’ve succeeded if he didn’t get all caught up in our cliques effort to outweird one another.
Thinking back on the normal world, Stanford Days built for himself, it had to be a dilemma for the man when he started seeing us let our freak flags fly. He probably always wanted to do it, but he spent most of his life concealing that desire. We don’t know how much thought he put into it, if any, but he began saying things to fit in with our clique’s attempts to outweird one another, and he won, and he silenced the room. The things he began saying were so weird that they didn’t fit even fit in with the weirdest people you’ve ever met. When Stanford finally let his guard down, it put what Hank Hill would call “extra stress on a structure that wasn’t up to code in the first place.”
We thought we were abnormal weirdos, but we were just having fun being unusually provocative. Stanford introduced us to the difference between the weird and the strange. To put this into a visual display, think of a dartboard with absolute normalcy being the center, bullseye of that dartboard. Stanford’s eccentricities informed us that with all the effort we put into being weird, we were actually a lot closer to the triple point layer than we knew. Dan Elwes was probably closer to the double score area, and Stanford defined for us what off the board meant.
The goal of true weirdos, who we might classify as strange and just plain different is to convince their observers that they hit the bullseye, the arbitrary and relative definition of absolute normal. When they make it over one of the borders, preventing them from progressing, we assume that they continue to have strange thoughts, but they learn not to say them. The fear of public perception keeps them desperately clinging to whatever progress they make, and they do whatever they have to do to maintain their hard-fought place on the dartboard.
To progress over a border, people like Stanford Days watch normal people, and they impersonate them. As any skilled impersonator will tell us, quality impersonation requires hitting bullet points of familiarity in your presentation, so that your audience knows the target of your impersonation. If an impersonator is imitating Johnny Carson, for example, they say things that Johnny said most often. Similarly, an abnormal person seeking to imitate a normal person focuses their presentation on the habits and mannerisms of the normal that we all know well. It’s not hard to do, of course, but the level of difficulty required in maintaining a consistent presentation corresponds with their placement on that dartboard. Some slip up, and others turn ultra-normal.
Those vying for the ultra-normal can reveal their effort in a variety of ways, but when we loaned Stanford Days some of our music, he revealed himself in cinematic fashion. It might be a fault-ridden form of measurement, but Stanford accidentally informed us that music could be used as a barometer of sanity.
We all listened to Top 40 radio in our youth, but most of us grew out of it. As we matured, our tastes in music followed. We might have become obsessed with Heavy Metal at one point in our lives, and we might’ve switch to Jazz, Punk and Classical at various points, until we worked through just about every genre of music at one time or another. Most of us stop, at some point, and listen to one genre for the rest of our lives, but some of us love music so much that we spider web outward. The weird clique, in our office, went through all of these phases and arrived at the most unusual, weirdest, and just plain different music you’ve probably ever heard.
When Dan brought Stanford Days into our clique, we thought Stanford was a like-minded music aficionado who was always on the lookout for something deliciously different. Our clique was anything but exclusive. We welcomed anyone and everyone to love our adventurous music as much as we did. We mostly loaned our music to people in our clique, but some of the times, some music excited us so much that we loaned it to outsiders. Most of them said they didn’t get it and they politely said it was just too weird for them. They often littered their rejections with humor, “You must be an odd duck if you like that.” The music we loaned them was not what we considered on the outer fringes of that particular dartboard, we reserved that stuff for the insiders. We loaned them what we considered weird music 101, just to gauge their reaction. Our MO was to stair step them to our most difficult favorites. When Stanford Days entrenched himself in our clique, we didn’t think stair stepping would be necessary. We thought he was ready for the weirdest music you’ve ever heard.
Stanford was outraged. He angrily rejected the music we loaned him, and he proceeded to tell everyone in the office to avoid listening to any of our music too. “It’s just so weird,” was the refrain of his condemnations, and his warnings to others. By going so overboard with his condemnations, Stanford accidentally revealed to us how tentative his hold on normalcy was.
“Why don’t you just say you don’t enjoy listening to our music, and that you don’t want to listen to it again?” we said. “Why do you have to make such a show of it?”
Stanford said something unmemorable and irrelevant in reply, but the gist of his answer was that he didn’t know the answer. We initially thought his display was all about his personal condemnation of us, but we learned that the show was the show. The goal of Stanford Days’ show was to inform the outside world how normal Stanford Days was by contrast. When he said the music was “just so weird” he wanted to declare to the world that that music was too weird for him, because he was just “too normal” to understand it. He never said such things, but his wild, angry display implied it. He wanted to use his hatred of our music as a platform to declare to that our music was exclusively for the abnormal, and he wanted no part of it.
We thought the unusual, so normal he was abnormal Stanford Days was the story. The more time we spent around Stanford and Dan Elwes, the more we realized that Dan Elwes was such an unusual thinker that no normal mind could come up with his unusual ideas, and no abnormal mind would either. As our mutual friend said, “[The abnormal] might think it, but they would never say it out loud. They’d be afraid that we might know how weird they are.” Most abnormal minds don’t want us to know how abnormal they are, and they don’t dare delve into their unusual thoughts either, because they don’t want to know how abnormal they are either. It takes a special mind to be so comfortable with their eccentricities that they embrace them, as Dan Elwes did just that when he heard our music. He didn’t reject it, as Stanford did, he tried to top it with his own brand of obnoxiously complicated and difficult music. We all knew that our music barometer was not a comprehensive indicator of the various levels of sanity, but Dan’s embrace of our music, and his subsequent recommendations prepared us for his personal embrace of the weird.