Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Sorry, wrong number

My art has been appearing in print for over 50 years. My first caricature (of Hubert Humphrey) was published in 1965. And, I began inflicting my writing on the public in the 1970s. In all that time, most of the people who have bothered to speak to me about my work have been complimentary, or at least they seemed to mean well enough.

The vast majority of the time I've enjoyed their comments, even when they disagreed with me or didn't even get the point. Every now and then, it has gotten too weird. Such was the case when a man called me out of the blue on a Saturday night in the early 1990s. (In those days my phone number and PO Box number always appeared in SLANT.)

The caller said he had just read an issue of SLANT and had to talk with me. Right then.

Naturally, the man was calling from a bar. Don't remember which one, but I think it was in a hotel. As far as I knew we had never met.

Well, I was watching a movie with my then-girlfriend, Gayle. So I didn’t really want to have a long conversation. It was late and the more this character talked, the less comfortable I felt about hearing him out. He kept saying he had a story he had to tell me. It was about a scandal he thought I should write about ... and I was such a good writer and so forth.

Then he started babbling about religion. Uh, oh.

So, I interrupted and told him I would not come to the bar to meet with him that night.Still, experience had taught me to avoid setting this sort of oddball off. So I thanked him for the compliment and told him to call back during business hours, should he want to talk again.

Although I don’t remember his name, now, I did when I told the story of his unsettling phone call to some friends a couple of days later at happy hour at the Cary Street Cafe. One of them promptly recognized his name. “You remember him,” the man said (approximately), “that was the crazy guy they found on the Huguenot Bridge, maybe in February, about a year ago. He was bleeding to death.”

The happy hour  friend said that according to the story in the newspaper, my Saturday night caller had apparently bought into one of those perplexing Biblical sayings. It was something like -- if thy right arm offends thee, cut it off.

My fan, obviously a religious man, went down to the wooded area north of the bridge. The account said he placed his offending arm into the canal water to numb it. Then he chunked his arm into a fork in a small tree’s limbs, took out his hacksaw, and he sawed that bad arm off … just below the elbow.

Those gathered at the bar chucked. But not me.

It wasn’t funny to me, because I was already wondering why in hell such a madman would want to talk to me about anything? What had I written that had set him off? Would he call back?

It was hardly the first time I’d been approached by a creepy reader, but this one -- he sawed his damn arm off! -- was especially disturbing.

Blogging and Facebook open the door to all sorts of possibilities. While I am happy to discuss reactions to my posts, there has to be a limit to what I will put up with. The story above is just one of the reasons I won’t suffer fools of a particular stripe but for so long. And, I won’t put up with bullies at all.

Furthermore, I urge others to be careful how much you engage, on the phone or online, with unreasonable people who don’t really mean well. Most of them are just a waste of time. They will try your patience. But, every now and then, one of them may be out of control in a dark way you don’t even want to know about.

Fortunately, the one-handed man didn't reach out to me again.

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