How Being a Weirdo Writer Benefits Society

Isseta with Trailer

I was at a vintage auto concours yesterday, where there was an eyeball-scorching field of gleaming chariots, where the “oohs and ahhs” were many and involuntary. But then I saw this rig pictured above, a BMW Isetta with a teardrop trailer behind. The Isetta took more than 30 seconds to reach 31 mph, topping out at around 50. That the owner of this one had the peculiar cant of mind to hook up a tiny—but usable—trailer behind struck me with its whimsicality.

I don’t know where the quote “Normality is what cuts off your sixth finger and your tail” comes from (I’m sure it’s not Michele Bachmann), but the Isetta is an exemplar of the quote’s creed. So this post is rather a coda to the Katherine Hepburn one that preceded it—sometimes that sixth finger is the only one that can get a grip on an unusual idea, so it’s a shame to cut it off.

I recently read an article in an April 2011 New Yorker about David Eagleman, a professor of neuroscience and his work on how the brain conceives, interprets, and filters its sense of time. The article is wholly fascinating, but one of the tangents discussed in the piece was the “oddball effect,” which at its essence posits that the brain reacts with great focus and avidity to things that are outside the standard pattern, pushing the norm or subverting it, so much so that time itself seems to be dilated as a result of the brain’s attention.

Here’s to the Oddballs
Though I don’t even play a scientist on TV, I can’t address the measures or implications of that phenomenon, so I’ll just turn it to my purpose: The oddball effect is often a sensation of incredulity, mixed with delight. It’s when you pull up next to a car at a stoplight and the driver is wearing a gorilla mask. Good God!

So, like the Apple ad that saluted the crazy ones and the misfits, I want to salute the eccentric writers, who stroke and poke our brains. People like Tom Robbins, who never met a metaphor he couldn’t bend around a shooting comet, or Oscar Wilde, who while studying at Oxford University, would walk through the streets with a lobster on a leash. Or Lord Byron, who when told at Cambridge he couldn’t keep a dog in his room, discovered that there were no rules against bears. So he got one. (Note: Can we draw any conclusions about prestigious English academies and lunacy?)

Bertrand Russell said, “Orthodoxy is the death of intelligence.” Here’s to the guy that owned a truly oddball car, an Isetta, and thought, “A little trailer to go with it, that’s the thing!” He probably would have put a bear in there too, if he’d thought about it long enough.