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.

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27 thoughts on “How Being a Weirdo Writer Benefits Society

  1. And I thought it was a Messerschmitt KR200…
    But, then, that means I’m in the oddball club too, because I knew enough to think of the wrong German 1960’s-era three-wheeled car.

  2. Dorothy, you’re quite welcome. I’m sure my parents probably wished I’d chosen the path of doctor or lawyer, but I guess my path was chosen for me. At least I don’t have to spend too much on the outfits.

  3. Hey Bonnie, good to see you up and at ’em again! I’ve noticed you’re posting more on Tribalicious these days, as well as plussing your Googling.

    Thanks for your steadfast support of oddballs the world over.

  4. Rick, an Isetta towing a Messerschmitt would have been even better. The editor of Airstream Life told me that one of the figures of early Airstreaming drove an Isetta coast-to-coast in the 50s. That would give you plenty of time to write out several novels in your head. I do hope he had memorized plenty of show tunes to hum…

  5. Oddness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

    Take this quote, for instance:

    “In my world, everyone’s a pony and they all eat butterflies and poop rainbows!”

    Knowing that the quote is from the fertile mind of oddball extraordinaire, Dr. Seuss, I delight in its whimsy. But if Michele Bachmann had said it (of course, it’s early days in the campaign, so she still might), it would just seem nutty to me.

  6. (Oops. That’s supposed to be “eat rainbows” and “poop butterflies.” BIG difference.)

  7. I suppose that’s better than eating haikus and pooping out pocket dictionaries. And now that we’ve gone into the conversational canal, how will I ever get these comments off my shoes?

    (I did like the Seuss quote though, Annie, being an eater of metaphorical butterflies myself.)

  8. My first car was a ’59 Renault Dauphine. Fifty-one cubic inches of raw, um, I just realised I don’t know the word for “complete lack of power.” The kids in our high school pointed and laughed and all I could think was, what’s wrong with you people? Really, ALL of you have to drive a ’57 Chevy and the only difference is what shade of red you have it painted in Tijuana?

    Where folks lose me is when they cross the line from absurd to intentionally offensive. Sadly, we absurdists often get tarred with the wrong brush and it makes sensitive types like me skittish.

  9. Well, my first high-school car was a 10-speed bike. I would have loved to have a ’59 Renault! (I got even a couple of years later, when I owned a ’48 Dodge which could have had your Renault and all of your cousins in the trunk.)

    Hey, I’m almost afraid to ask, but what do you mean by intentionally offensive? You mean with naughty words and pictures? (You can send those to my private email.) Or do you mean intentionally cruel, mean-spirited stuff?

  10. First car I remember was my Dad’s ’57 Buick Roadmaster, into whose trunk your tiny little Dodge would have fit (in fact, you could have practiced your parallel parking.)

    Intentional, as in, with intent. Y’know, like when whichever of the Gallagher brothers was accepting the Grammy for Oasis, then took the statue and pretended to be shoving it up his backside as he walked away from the podium. That’s not being different, though they apparently thought it was.

    Mean-spirited, also, but that’s easier for me to write off as stupid, rather than the amoral label I can’t help affixing to those who think that shock equals interest. (David Bowie painting himself strange colors is absurd; Iggy Pop defecating onstage falls somewhat outside the parameters.)

    You, sir, I can’t imagine falling outside the parameters unless you were delivering a much-needed fillip to the nose of someone who needed it. Then I’d just laugh. With you, not at you, of course.

    My one and only manifesto at was entitled “Manners Matter.” I’m a rudeness bigot. Manners are free. It is, as they say, how I roll. (It certainly limits my appreciation of standup comedy, but, so be it.)

  11. Uh, yeah—statues shoved up rears and rears leaving their contents on stages: offensive and then some. To me, that’s a strange kind of ego statement, or an act of willful (and self-styled) privilege, for people to display foulness under cover of “daring.”

    Though I do sometimes find foul-mouthed comics funny, but it’s rather hit and miss. Thanks for clarifying, Joel D. (Note how I got away with putting a period after the “D,” pretending it was just the sentence terminus, but secretly mangling your scheme.)

  12. Oh, I admit, sometimes something which is technically bad manners or vulgar just sneaks past the filters to surprise the sense of humour.

    Unrelated, I’m giving your terminus a miss, pal. That means you’re missing your period. How’s that feel?

  13. I forget- did Captain James T Kirk eschew the period too? Or did he favour the flavour that it brings?

    Let’s see: “Captain James T. Kirk.” Nah, doesn’t look right, or write.

    I do believe he eschewed.

  14. Here’s a classic: Alice is trying to learn Esperanto, because she knows it will soon be the language of romance and commerce the world over. What movie did we watch the other night? “Incubus.” Who is the star? Shatner. What is the language of the movie? Esperanto. No, not dubbed. All the actors speak Esperanto. It’s a cult horror film, quite crazy.

    Let’s you and me sneak up on Joel some time and put that period back.

  15. What if we took away Joel’s ‘D’ instead?
    ‘Joel . Canfield’
    I rather like the look of that. It suggests all kinds of variations. In fact I’m considering this for me:
    Rick .ilson @DMD@
    (That last bit around my degree signifies that I actually listen to my patients.)

  16. I am reminded of a rather childish and pedestrian piece in Mad Magazine about a century ago called “Sex Through the Ages”

    The only part worth remembering was the bit entitled “The Victorian Era”

    Two facing pages; on the left, “There was no sex during the Victorian Era” and on the right, a drawing of a woman’s face with the caption “This is Queen Victoria. Now you know why”

    Rick, a period used like that is a concatenation function in PHP, so Joel.Canfield or Joel . Canfield would just result in JoelCanfield which, well, don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.

    You’re looking for the universal symbol for interchangeability and wildcards, the asterisk (*)

    And then there was the furniture rental place in San Diego that used that symbol as their logo.

    The company was called “Astric Rental.”

    Somebody needed to learn to spell, methinks.

  17. I have decided that the transposition of Mr. Canfield’s letter identification will right his disposition. Thus: “Fie on all Jecdd”

    (A Jecdd, of course, being the tiny, malevolent spirit that causes your hairstyle to never actually be as dashing as you envision it.)

    Of course, you could turn it to baseball and say “Can Joel Field?” and that rids us of that apocryphal D as well.

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