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Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Walking Five Percent

If you turn on NPR or watch the news, even for a moment or two, or if you glance at a newspaper on the stand while you're standing in line waiting for the sluggish Starbucks barista to make a $6.00 latte for some Blackberry-addicted schmuck in Italian loafers and unpressed trousers, you will likely see enough to make you want to confidently vom.

The long and short of it is, no matter where you live: people in America are cracking the fuck up.

On Halloween night in Seattle, a veteran police officer and his trainee partner were finishing up paperwork on a traffic stop when the rookie sensed danger from a slowly-approaching car. She yelled for her partner to duck as she did, but it was too late. Someone from inside the phantom vehicle opened fire with an assault rifle of some kind, killing the veteran officer immediately. The rookie, acting on bravery and adrenaline, managed to call for help and get off several rounds at the fleeing vehicle, but, several days later, there is no clear suspect or motive.

We all know about the maniac rogue psychiatrist who went berserk at Fort Hood on Thursday, killing 12 or 13, and leaving scores of others wounded, some of whom are treading dangerous water in that liminal pool that exists between life and death.

Now, some disgruntled sonofabitch Rambos his way into his former place of employment and shoots the crap out of the place, killing at least one and wounding half-a-dozen more. Fortunately, this piece of shit was caught quickly, before he could do even more damage. These frightening, unprovoked, maniacal incidents come on the heels of other violent acts that have spanned the country's landscape in at least the last year.

So, I'm left to ask, as I've done so before: what the fuck is going on here?

Are we to blame the recession? The unemployment rate? Copycat syndrome? Childhood trauma? The breakdown or the inadequacy of the mental health system? The easy availability of guns, both legal and illegal?

I have no fucking idea. The fact of the matter is, though, that people are going off the deep-end without swimming trunks and they're armed to the teeth and we're all pretty much fish in a barrel at this point. And, if that statement doesn't scare you, um, it should. In a post a week ago, I mentioned the phrase "the Lucifers in our midst," in reference to the possible parole for British triple police-killer Harry Roberts, and, sadly, I think that this phrase applies to a shitload more people than just scumbag Roberts-- it applies to people who are walking around, pretending that they're normal one moment, and the next moment, they're showering the party with bullets instead of silly-string.

I remember a trip some of us theatre majors took to Pittsburgh my senior year of college. We took a bus, because we're pretty classy. Through the windows, we observed and commented avidly on the vast array of dubious-looking personages who ambled past Carnegie Mellon University and environs. One elderly woman sashaying along wore a leather trench coat, sunglasses, and a large fedora hat, and we referred to her as "Indiana Jones." There was the elderly black man wearing plaid shorts and red knee-socks despite the January chill, and the Asian-looking gentleman who was enthusiastically talking to himself, long before the existence of bluetooth headsets.

"These are the Walking Five Percent," said Tim, the director of my college's technical theatre department. Tim has buck teeth, wears silk bowties everyday and goes to like Lyle Lovett's hairstylist, so he ought to know.

"What the fuck is The Walking Five Percent, T-Dawg?" asked Matt, a slightly psychotic classmate and friend of mine.

"The Walking Five Percent, Matthew," began Tim dryly, "is a term my friend at MIT uses to describe the portion of the population who remains, for one reason or another, undiagnosed and yet definitely mentally afflicted."

Some of our heads turned in Matt's direction.

"The Walking Five Percent," Tim continued, "look like you and me. They go get their hair cut every month at the barber, they say "hello" to you on the street, they buy normal groceries at the supermarket, and they hold down regular jobs--"

"Do any of them teach Basic Stagecraft, Tim?" I asked, most likely beating Matt to the punch. Tim smiled at me.

"Probably," he answered, grinning toothily and sweeping his blonde curls from in front of his eyes, "the thing about the Walking Five Percent is, they're like an aneurysm-- they can give way and blow up at any time, for any reason, or maybe they go live their whole lives and nothing ever happens. You just don't know."

And maybe that's what our society is contending with these days, although, like the unemployment rate, I think it's very possible that the Walking Five Percent rate may be regrettably climbing. And all we can do, I think, is take that extra glance over our shoulders every now and then, and duck as fast as we can.


  1. It IS seemingly getting worse. Right here in Cleveland they went to arrest a guy on suspected rape charges. He wasn't home, they searched his house.

    They have found 11 SO FAR bodies in his home. 11!

    It's crazy.
    But I'm practicing my ducking skills just in case.

  2. 5% sounds much too low, but then I guess it's impossible to ever know how many people are undiagnosed nutjobs, masturbating in their own faeces and listening to talk radio. So the timeless question remains -- are these problems getting worse, or more common, or are we just hearing about more? Are these deaths more plentiful than illness, accidents and death by misadventure?

    And from a personal point of view, I'm of the opinion that war -- especially prolonged and highly publicised wars -- do nothing to help the mental health of the general population.

  3. Do you really feel like this has been going on for the last year or so?
    I think it's much deeper rooted than that. I would argue it's not getting worse.....only our perception is more accurate.
    Ancient Greeks were already saying that things were getting out of hand.

    That being said - it's freaking to live in this country. I never tell the news to my mom in France - she wouldn't sleep anymore...

  4. The Knight and I were JUST discussing this idea this morning. At Starbucks, no less.
    It's no wonder to us that people are losing their fucking minds in the state the world is in.
    Thanks for writing this. Grim today, but always enjoyable.

  5. Wow, I had only heard about the Ft. Hood shootings.
    I don't think there's really much to do as the average citizen. Certainly avoid places that might be dangerous, but if it's really that random what preparations can we take?

  6. This is really sad :(

    It's a very mad world indeed.


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