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The Insanity Defense


By Eric Pulier

ONCE UPON a time there were some people who had nothing important to do. This caused them to go insane. They knew that Harvard was located in a place that had so many stores selling condoms that Harvard Square alone could supply enough protective material to create a strategic defense dome over the nation. They even knew that the University Health Services offered every conceivable form of student at a nominal price. They knew this, and yet insanity's heinous shroud had enveloped their minds.

"We must fight AIDS," they said, attracting public attention with a worthy cause before offering a warped solution as the insane often do. "And a good way to start is to lobby vigorously for condom vending machines in the residential Houses."

Many of the group members cracked up in laughter at their own suggestion before the insanity kicked in.

"If we work hard enough, one day no one will have to walk the extra 15 seconds to one of the many drugstores that are located on campus!" There was much cheering.

World history indicates that the rationality of an idea has little to do with the number of people who will wholeheartedly embrace it. (Witness exams after Christmas "vacation.") And so, it was not long before the machines were installed. But the people were soon bored again.

"We must fight plaque and gum disease," they cried. "And a good way to start is to install toothpaste vending machines! You never know when someone will run out unexpectedly...there simply are not enough places to get toothpaste in Boston."

THE MEASURE was vigorously debated. Opponents of the plan were branded insensitive to the horrors of gum disease.

"Just because you are not extremely prone to gum disease as a result of your preference of eating habits, you are acting in anger against those who may be at risk. You are a p-i-g, pig."

I was not perturbed at them for this remark because according to the law one should not hold insane people accountable for their actions. But I did feel compelled to respond.

"Listen, lunatic," I began calmly, "you are stark raving mad, and I will tell you why...Christies, UHS, Store 24, CVS, RIX, Sages..." For 10 minutes I rattled off names of toothpaste-selling stores that I could spit on from my room. I was dragged away amidst chants "Satan's Child!" and "Down with Rationality."

"We have a whole lot of funds to do with as we please. Why should we worry whether we spend the money on something that is 'necessary?' Were the pyramids 'necessary'? Was Vietnam 'necessary'? Were the rocks in front of the Science Center 'necessary'? Sometimes you just have to do something for the hell of it--kill some time, spend a few bucks."

I still believed in my heart that they were mad, and yet my opposition to their plan was losing its passion. Why play the rational outsider? Why not join in on the fun...I was losing my mind.

"O.K, guys, you're right! Let's do it! Toothpaste vendors in the houses! YAAAAAAY!" My eyes were dilated and my mouth was frothing as I led the cheering throng out to fight.

In the following weeks I led the crusade to combat dandruff by installing shampoo vending machines in the houses. We fought untidyness with comb dispensers, scurvy with Vitamin C dispensers, acne with Clearasil dispensers. We hired nurses to stand ready at all houses 24 hours a day, ready to fit women with diaphragms in an emergency. Next to the nurse was stationed a barber ready at all times to sell emergency haircuts to anyone who was unable to make it to the Square.

THE EFFORT was victorious. Soon there was nothing that the Square offered that we did not have available in the Houses. The machines were costly but well worth it, for no one had to run to the store if they ran out of potato chips, Actifed, Chapstick or mousse. The next year it became more practical to simply open a Christie's franchise in each house.

After awhile, however, a few Harvard intellectuals began to question our efforts: "The stores used to be just a minute or two from your rooms, and they were open 24 hours a day! This whole, system is ridiculous!"

"Curses," I replied to the accusation. "You've figured us out! Run! Run!" I made a dash for the door, but was caught.

I now write this from my padded room in the Cambridge Hospital for the Stupid, repenting whatever mental weakness brought me into the movement in the first place. I can only hope that the wave of insanity that spread through Harvard in my day never returns' to wreak its havoc again.

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