I know I make everything about me but that's because I don't put other people's names in my mouth unless it directly effects me so I want to say me and at the same time not. It's because I was raised by the people of Hartford, CT. I'm shaped by everyone I meet as a child, good or bad. And I reflect that in what I call my outdoors personality because my indoors personality is quite the opposite I guess....

Expand full comment

I had a neighbor who was quite eccentric...especially when he got high. When he was sober I would ask him to help a install a couple things at my house. He was a great kid...when sober. One day I woke up and as I'm drinking coffee and looking out the kitchen window, I find myself staring out at my neighbor. He was outside the front door in full view. He was wearing black lacey underwear and heels and smoking a cigarette. My mind was telling me I should be shocked but my brain was thinking "He's kinda serving right now and looks kinda hot and fierce." It's good to own your nickname.

Expand full comment
Feb 22, 2023Liked by Chuck Palahniuk

I read this on a whim today, which was a bad day, and it made me smile

Expand full comment

Man, I read that thing on Scribd 15 times.Powerfull stuff, very emotional.Made my cry.

Expand full comment

Happy belated, Chuck :)

Expand full comment

Makes me think of Chico, my godmother. She was from Okinawa.

Expand full comment

Other than rumours of various sex pests and bath salt inhalers, I don’t exactly have an anecdote about any particular peculiar town’s person. As a substitute I’ll give this: one of the animated characters from the band Gorillaz originates from my city. I’m not referring to the person behind the animated character, the person who voices the character. No. I’m referring to the ACTUAL animated character. My shit-hole city of origin is, for some reason, also where that character originates from.

P. S. Hope you had a happy birthday! (What? You thought I’d forget? Let it pass? Nah. Just be thankful it’s just well wishes and not a birthday cake you’re getting. And no, I’m not saying that because I have a tendency to put spikes in mine.)

Expand full comment

I was cutting my grass in the suburbs when I was in my late teens and a guy walked up to me and in a high-pitched voice and asked if I wanted to have sex. Did I want to make love? Did I have any pop in the house? Did I have any popsicles in the house? What's my Dad do? Wanna make love? Did I want to go to bed? No, I replied. He eventually left me and I never saw him again. I asked around and a similar guy would ask girls to take their shirts off.

Expand full comment

During the summer between high school and college, I worked part-time at an insurance office in downtown Ventura, CA. When I went out for lunch, I'd often see a character who was hard to miss. He was in his sixties but wore makeup to look younger, and always wore a blond "Lord Fauntleroy" style wig with the sides curled up, a pastel-colored suit (I remember light blue, pink, and mint green) and spotless white dress shoes.

That would be memorable enough, but he was never seen without a manila envelope (or maybe a folder--this was back in the early Eighties so that part's a bit fuzzy) which he'd hold up to the side of his head as he walked around the Downtown area. The few times I got near him, he was muttering to himself, but never loud enough to understand.

I was never brave enough to talk to him (I wish I had been!) but when I asked around about him, nobody knew for sure what his deal was. The rumor was that he used to be an engineer at some defense contractor back in the Fifties, and the envelope/folder held the plans for some wondrous invention.

Never did find out the truth, but he was a pleasant, harmless old guy and nobody ever seemed to bother him.

Expand full comment

"Peanuts" sounded like a wonderful dude. I wish there were kind, eccentric and creative folks like him in my town growing up.

All I've got (first-hand experience) is a local dude named "Freaky Freddy" who was a fixture around Scranton, PA growing up. I believe he's still around. His origin stories varied, ranging from having had his eggs scrambled in Vietnam to just being somewhat of a local weirdo who had periodic episodes for no reason other than garden variety mental illness.

Freaky Freddy owned his moniker and would wear a trucker cap that said "Freaky Freddy" on it -- just so you knew it was him. He also had his car painted with "Freaky Freddy." Sometimes he'd just wander around town, shaking hands with people at the Convenient store like a celebrity. Other times, he'd jump up and down naked on his his porch, screaming "Squirrels in the attic! Squirrels in the attic!"

As a kid, a Freaky Freddy sighting could make your day.

My mother, however, had a few more random eccentrics in her neighborhood growing up in the 1960s in Olyphant, a town that neighbored Scranton. Mom and her family were of Slavic descent, so a lot of the colorful nicknames for folks were rooted in Slovak words.

Fun fact: While the Scranton / Northeastern PA region is often thought of as coal country with a lot of Irish immigrants as miners, there were quite a number of Slovak miners throughout the area. Olyphant was a haven for many of these immigrants. My grandma herself was one of 13 kids and 10 of them were born in "the old country." She was only one of three (out of 13) who were born in the U.S.

As a result, my grandma and her siblings spoke English as well as Slovak. And then their kids (my mother's generation) also spoke a smattering of Slovak. My mother attended a Catholic school and, during the '50s and '60s, those schools would have kids learn either Slovak, Polish, German, etc. so that they could converse with their parents or grandparents, too.

My grandma, great-aunt, and even my mom carried on a tradition of shit-talking and gossip and had colorful names for a lot of the eccentrics that roamed Olyphant -- many of whom already had ethnic-sounding names.

My mom told me about a lot of these chararacters she knew of growing up in 1960s Olyphant, PA , including (and please forgive some of my mangling of the spellings here as I do not speak fluent Slovak):

- Krásne Petro - aka "Pretty Pete," a dude who'd walk around town wearing dresses and makeup with a full beard.

- Hlooey Andro - (I'm totally unsure of how to properly spell the word, so just throwing in how I'd heard it phonetically.) His name translated to "Messy Andrew." Whenever someone left the house looking like they pulled every single item out of their hamper and put it on, Grandma would say, "Why are you leaving the house looking like "Hlooey Andro?"

- Coozie - Not a Slovak name, but this one's pretty universal. This dude the town had dubbed "Coozie" only had half a tongue and talked like he had a mouth full of .... you know where I'm headed here. I remember having come back from the dentist as a kid after getting 8 cavities drilled and filled. My mouth was numb, I could not control my spitting and drooling, and had all the elocution skills of someone with a mouthful of poontang. Mom started laughing and said, "You sound like Coozie!" and proceeded to tell me about "The Legend of Coozie." (I was maybe 10 years old. This was VERY normal for my family, as weird as it sounds.) "Coozie" jokes became a running gag with me and my mother. Years later, during my senior year of high school, she purchased space in my high school yearbook (some parents would buy "ads" in the yearbook to send sweet messages to their own graduating kids). Mom used it as an opportunity to offer up a congratulatory graduation note to me from "The Coozie Fan Club." (I still have the yearbook. I'd post a picture here for the hell of it if I was able to!)

- And finally, there was Yitzek the Dirty Dragon and his wife, Dirty Julia. (Pronounced "Eet-zek.") Yitzek and his family lived in town and were just known for living a more bohemian lifestyle than most. Yitzek was just generally unwashed, his daughter had multiple kids out of wedlock -- pretty scandalous for the 1960s -- and his wife "Dirty Julia" was both unwashed and had banged a lot of dudes in town.

As a kid, Mom and some of her friends wrote a song immortalizing Itzek and his kin to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon." (I later inherited my Mom's penchant for writing song parodies. It became a coping mechanism for our family to find humor in messed up shit -- and transform awful events (like sexual assault or discovering marital infidelity) into humorous song parodies. Hey! We've all got our quirks!)

A few verses I remember from Mom's "Yitzek the Dirty Dragon" went like this:

"Yitzek the dirty dragon

Lived like a pig

And frollicked in Bozak's Court

While his balls grew big."

There were other verses I don't remember in detail, introducing Dirty Julia and about Yitzek's daughter getting knocked up. But one of the last verses tied it up with:

"The whole family was so happy

Living in a one-room shack.

Especially old Yitzek.

He never had to take a bath!"

That's all I got. I wish it were as heartwarming and magical as Peanuts. But this is what I'm working with!

Expand full comment

There was a man in Valdosta who I thought of as "the notebook man," since he always had a huge stack (like 15-20) of those black and white speckled composition books. I preferred those myself at the time, since they were dirt cheap and I really went through paper. He started a conversation with me at Wal-mart once because of the notebooks.

The notebook man, when I met him, was probably in his forties, but it's hard to say. For one thing, I was in my early twenties, so anyone 30+ just looked old. For another, he came across as a five-year-old in an adult body. He lived with his brother, who worked all the time, but the notebook man wasn't supposed to be unsupervised. They couldn't afford much, so when the brother went to work, he dropped the notebook man off someplace public, where hopefully the rest of us would look out for him. I usually ran into him at Booksamillion. It seemed like a favourite place to spend the day waiting for his brother to pick him up.

I wish I had a good ending to this. I really wish I had asked him about what was on his notebooks, but I'm the kind of woman who errs on the side of caution with men I don't really know.

But I'm still so goddamn curious after all this time.

Expand full comment

I've talked about this in a previous comment months ago, about a private teacher I had. A math mad genius with a magick wand, who turns bad apples into graduating students. And doing so quickly! By making study simple and loose.

Where do I begin? My goodness. His name is Yassine. A big brown guy, who had a shy smile. Like, a gentle giant, who is also wicked smart. He graduated high school around 2006, then went to college to study Biology. But, I heard he got into a fist fight with a professor, so he got kicked out. Around 2010, he sat up an unlicensed private math class for senior high schoolers, at an abandoned old basement near his grandparents' house. If you were a good student, you're not allowed. The class was filled with misfits, drug addicts, trouble makers. Class open all day, all night. Come and go as you please. Smoke and drink as you wish ( Including weed and alcohol). For most of us who also couldn't handle waking early for school, his system was a dream. Cause we wanted to succeed too.

He ran this basement camp for 5 school seasons. Around 60 to 70 students per year. Every student he had, passed the national math test at the end.

You'd think everyone would jump in to his waggon. but no. It was too scary for most parents to let their sons set loose and free past midnight. I had to convince mine. At once, my mom chased me to see whats going on. When he spoke to her, with his disarming charm. My mom got convinced. He was a good guy. Moms can tell. Yassine also had an afternoon class for girls only. but his only boys class would start around 20:00, and ends around 04:00 in the morning on most weekdays. He probably didn't sleep at all. Sometimes I'd see him mid morning at a coffee store with the same yesterday clothes. Eyes all red, and beaten by insomnia, or whatever he struggled with.

The room he teached in, felt like it was hit by war missiles. A chalk board with a missing part. Rusty chairs and tables. Add to that a little gas cylinder stove, a pot and broken utensils. The room itself was relatively small, yet was packed with 30+ students. Aside from his emphasis on freedom, befriending students, making it all fun and loose by arranging group bonding activities frequently. His main tactics were repetition and patience. Systematic teachers often rush, so only a dozen follow whats going on. The rest who weren't up to date with everything education-wise, felt alone and stupid. Yassine identified this. He would make us understand a subject at our own pace, excercise a math problem, then repeat and repeat all night long. Staying on the same subject for days. Even going back to 7th and 8th grade curriculums.

That basement cave remains to this day, a stuff of legend for many of his students. To me, if you ask about great people from Taza, Morocco? I'd leave some great mainstream artists, sports and historical figures, and I'd name my underground ( sorry for the pun) mad teacher up front. Who saved everyone but himself. The year I was in his class was his last of that kind. His grandpa died. Yassine lost his mind. It was scary to see someone go on that crazy slippery slope, that 'last' slide to madness.

He recovered though, and became a certified teacher. The last time we saw each other, I gave him a big kiss on the cheeks. This experience, imo stands as proof that maybe, just maybe the power at be needs to rethink how schools are structured. So, that even 'bad' students have a chance to recover.

Expand full comment

Bless your father for taking you to all those interesting places, and what- or Whomever for making you receptive to these experiences. I'm also left wondering when Peanuts, who I'm sure I've read about in other pieces by you, will make his appearance in a full-length book. Also, on a side-note: the home of spark-geyser-spewing metalworking also happens to be the same territory where most believe the actual Garden of Eden to be. Seeing as this region is volcanic, the connection should come as no surprise.

Expand full comment

In Wichita, KS there is a guy known as Crazy Mike. Everyone knows who he is. There is even a Facebook group called Crazy Mike Sightings. You would see him at just about any random bar always wearing giant headphones with thick eyeglasses. His outfit was usually as weird as his personality -- leather vests, strange patterns, mismatching everything.

His family supposedly owned a business and he was a trust fund kid. I’m not sure what the whole story is, but the bottom line is he ended up with a pile of cash and decided to just party his entire life. His house would get egged and paint balled by kids. Eventually he boarded up the windows.

He’d cut his grass with scissors. He would cycle through Corvettes as often as most people change wardrobes. He’d offer bar patrons some of his lithium. He’d show up at his family’s business and “fire” employees only for managers to tell them to just ignore him. Very odd guy. Pretty sure he’s still alive somewhere crawling around from bar to bar.

Expand full comment

It's not a person but a place I lived near in Sacramento. A restaurant called "Pancake Circus. Think a rundown Dennys decorated with clowns every where. Covered in clowns from wall to ceiling. It's terrifying because the majority of these clowns are creepy and the grime of the place only makes the assault on your senses that much more. That said, it's not a place you want to take visiting friends, it's a place you have to take visiting friends

Expand full comment