As I slump into my office chair on an average Monday, I catch it out of the corner of my eye—a pulsating red light. It’s summoning me, beckoning me, pleading with me to check my voicemail. I spend all afternoon trying to avoid it, taking care of other trivial tasks until I can resist no longer. I dial the number.
“You have...17...new messages. To listen to your messages, press—”
The familiar baritone comes on.
“Hi, it’s 5:30 on Thursday, and how about some ranger cookies and devil’s brownies? I haven’t gotten more than two hours of sleep in three months.”
“Hi, it’s 7 on Friday, and what does Clifford think of Howie Carr’s column on national searches? Did you know that Pandit is Indian-born?”
“Hi, it’s 2:30 on Saturday, and I just told Malcom my favorite line about Henry Kissinger.”
“Hi, it’s noon on Sunday, and later I’ll be breaking out the cotton and the gorilla.”
And so on.
The voicemailer’s barrages remind me on a regular basis of one of the most unique, amusing, and sometimes frightening aspects of my job—I regularly come into contact with more crazy people than probably anyone else on campus. Not “crazy like a fox” people, not people who are “a little off-kilter,” but people who are genuinely, certifiably out of their gourds. Drew Faust probably gets more of their messages than I do, but I bet she doesn’t read all her own mail or check her own voicemail.
For some reason, crazy people dig The Crimson. (I’ll avoid the obvious jokes.) The voicemailer is far from my only deranged friend.
There’s the guy who sent a collage of photos, newspaper clippings, and paragraphs of text extolling the virtues of “Froggy the Gremlin,” who, as far as I can tell, was a precursor to Kermit the Frog for TV shows in the 1940s. Apparently, “in a puff of smoke, Froggy appeared, laughing, hopping from side to side, that fixed and evil grin on his face.” I encourage you to Google around to find out more.
A certain woman called my cell phone once a week over the summer, always with the same opening.
“Hello, is this Max Child?”
“I have to talk to you about a huge, huge story. In fact, it has the potential to be the biggest story in the history of The Crimson.”
In fearful, hushed tones, she would go on to describe a food safety bill working its way though Congress that threatened to thrust the country into martial law. I did a little fact-checking, and the bill was indeed real. The martial law part...not so much.
The “biggest story in the history of The Crimson,” device, however, got a lot of use from a wide range of crazies. In fact, as advice for future Crimson sources, I will dish out this warning: the more you emphasize how “big” a story is, the more likely it is that you are in fact just an unhinged person with an agenda.
Also, if your letter is stamped “THIS LETTER WAS SENT FROM A MASSACHUSETTS CORRECTIONAL FACILITY,” odds are your credibility has taken a hit before I open it.
One of my favorite letters came from a guy who was deeply concerned about Harvard’s budgetary situation. He took it upon himself to provide 13 pages of concrete recommendations for how we can all scrimp and save, including having all students brush their teeth more often so as to avoid the long-term costs of serious dental work and cavity fillings. I should have forwarded that one to Dean Smith.
Some of my correspondents have moved into the digital age. One set up an e-mail address named “crimson editor” at “plymptonstreet” for the purposes of spamming me and others on the staff with important news updates. For example:
“Just to show that I am not being hypocritical, when Lance Bass came out and JT dissed him, I spoke out on behalf of The Crimson staff. JT came to Cambridge to give a private show and apologize in person.”
Another one friended me on Facebook. I did not accept.
Then there are those who convey their message more directly—by walking in the door of The Crimson and talking the ear off anyone who will listen. I usually have to gradually walk them out while entertaining discussion on topics like whether or not Obama will be disbanding the U.S. military.
In the end, it’s kind of refreshing to have the opportunity talk to people who are really, really out there. It keeps me grounded with anyone who’s not completely off the reservation. Also, it gives me a good comeback when people say their friend or roommate is “insane.”
“Oh, you want to know insane? Well, I know a guy who worships a 60-year-old frog puppet...”
And I’m certainly not trying to stop the crazies from perusing The Crimson. Anything to boost readership, right?
—Maxwell L. Child ’10, the President of The Crimson, is an economics concentrator in Lowell House. FM received this endpaper from a Massachusetts Correctional Facility.