Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Radley/Bickle Ratio

Imagine a neighbor, or even a friend or family member, who never seems comfortable in your presence. At first you think it is you, perhaps something you've done. Over time, however, you begin to realize that this person seems odd to everyone. Harmless, perhaps, but who really knows. There may be a modicum of curiosity at first, but over short time you lose interest. He or she is there, doing whatever people do, but sort of transparent. Not so much a man who isn't there but a man who is desperately trying to hide. A man who wants to not be here.

Then the shit hits the fan. Or as Kurt Vonnegut used to say before he got old and fell down, "The excrement hits the air conditioning." The mettle of this loner is tested, as is his or her sanity and values.

I've begun to notice the extent to which I'm a loner, but one who is unable to go the Full Hermit. In the abstract, I enjoy the idea of being around people. When the time comes to go public, however, it simply isn't going to happen. And I'm not talking about giving a speech or finding a job. This is minor stuff; cook-outs, Christmas dinner at Uncle Blooey's, going to the library, that sort of thing.

The Radley/Bickle Ratio is my way of using American cinema, which never lies, to figure out how well I'll serve the community, or terrorize it. I am, of course, referring to "Boo" Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird and Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver.

It's very difficult to figure what the ratio is here, but it doesn't matter what are the numbers. Let's say there are 100 Radleys for ever 1 Bickle (you always hear about a Bickle in the news). That guy in Canada who went Creepshow on the bus, he's a Bickle. Crazy but harmless one day, and the next...well, you read the story. Look up "Canada, Bus, Beheading" in Google. The biplar and disabled fellow in NYC who pushed a woman onto the tracks at a subway station, he also pulled a Bickle. Before that happened, he was quiet, poor and crazy. And in treatment.

The Radleys are more difficult to find. They tend to go crazy anonymously. But one damn day, a fire breaks out or a kid sticks a candlepin bowling ball up his nose, and there he is, ready for action. Afterward, he slinks away. He will most likely never do anything of consequence again, but when needed he was there for a stranger. Even if most of the time he likes to be alone in his flat, doing God knows what.

Most loners are neither a Radley or a Bickle, but that's no fun from my perspective. You know, at one time I wanted to be a college professor. These days, the most I can hope for is to either go unknown and die or rise to the level of "Boo" Radley, successfully avoiding a Bickle.

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