housecall at the loony bin
Sunday, August 31 2003
I got a phone call early this afternoon from somebody needing a computer housecall. It was to be a somewhat unusual housecall, because the guy I was talking to seemed to know what he was talking about. He told me he was having trouble setting up an FTP Client and needed me to come out to help him. I asked what operating system he was running and he immediately responded "Windows XP." (Most people have to be told what I mean by the term "operating system.") I asked what server he was trying to connect to and he said "Biznet.com." I probably could have fixed his problem over the phone, I thought, but that sort of thing violates the principles of my business model.
I wasn't doing anything important at the time, so I figured I could head over immediately. I was driving my truck, and since its paperwork is still out of order, I took the twisty-turny backroads down into the town of New Paltz.
My destination was 581 North Ohioville Road. When I pulled into the driveway, I could see that it was some sort of facility. It was in a pleasant rural location and people seemed to be recreating around picnic tables out in back. But there was something obviously wrong with all these people. It only took me a few seconds to realize what that something was. To a person, these people were all mentally ill. I'd come to some sort of half-way house for crazy people!
Fine, I thought, I'll just go to the office and see about this FTP client. My choice of doors to enter was made effortless by one of the residents, who was struggling to get through a back door in her wheelchair. She called out to me, "Can you help me please?" So I did what anyone should do when someone in a wheelchair asks for help (particularly if that person has a gun) - I wheeled her through the door. As I did so, the woman in the wheelchair made a few rambling remarks about the woman then on duty - how she was slacking on the job.
A few residents later, I'd found the main office. The woman inside, the weekend manager, clearly hadn't been expecting me, but perhaps, she said, her boss had called me. The printer had been acting up. This seemed unlikely, since the problem I'd come for was a misconfigured FTP client. Furthermore, the weekend manager used a female pronoun when referring to her boss, and I clearly remembered talking to a man on the phone. So I asked if I could borrow the phone to call the number I'd been given. Perhaps I'd written down the wrong address. After a couple busy signals, I managed to get a ring. Interestingly, with every buzz in the phone I could hear a corresponding ring out in the hallway. "Hey - it sounds like I'm ringing a phone in here somewhere!" I said. "Oh..." the weekend manager responded, an embarrassed look overtaking her face. "That's the pay phone. I'm terribly sorry, one of the residents must have called you!" "No problem," I said, heading for the door. On the way across the parking lot, I passed a couple of residents, one looking as feral and ungroomed as a homeless person. He asked me if I could loan him a penny.
On the drive home, I was actually sort of pleased at what had just happened, despite the huge scoop of uncompensated time it had taken out of my day. How often does one get called by a lunatic successfully posing as a brighter-than-normal client?
The day was the coldest one so far this summer, with highs in the 70s during the day and blemish-free blue skies. By sundown it felt positively autumnal. There's something about the coming of autumn that makes one reflect on wasted time. I have to believe this has something to do with the childhood tension between summertime freedom and school year captivity. Back then, every summer was an opportunity, and it usually ended before all its potential could be realized. In this way, it was a microcosm of life itself. Viewing it with this in mind, even if only subconsciously, autumn became a sinister beast, a recurring Grim Reaper in time. No wonder I associate the fall with dark, depressing music, particularly music about the leakage of time. This encapsulates everything from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, to Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, to just about anything by Iron Maiden. (I just noticed those three are all from the United Kingdom - perhaps the British are uniquely qualified to explore the relationship between autumn and human futility.)
I'd heard some Iron Maiden-style guitar work in a Flotsam and Jetsam song I'd downloaded, and that sent me on something of an Iron Maiden downloading spree. Listening to this music didn't just mentally prepare me for the coming of autumn, it also reminded me that I have a copy of Somewhere in Time on vinyl back in the Shaque. Actually, that record doesn't belong to me, it belongs to my old friend Shandi Hopkins.
Shandi was one of the few students in Oberlin who came from a poor family. When I started hanging out with him in the Fall of 1990, I'd already dropped out of college. He was on his way to doing the same thing - spending most of his time in his dorm room in Harkness smoking pot and playing chess on his Mac Plus. He'd found a bug in the Oberlin full scholarship program that allowed him to buy enormous amounts of marijuana with "temporary loans" that were then paid by his scholarship, no questions asked. Like all of Shandi's friends, I smoked plenty of that pot.
A couple years ago someone wrote me an email asking if I knew whether or not Shandi Hopkins had committed suicide. I didn't know - it didn't sound like the sort of thing he would do, but I hadn't been in regular contact with him since 1992. Today, remembering Shandi through his connection to Iron Maiden, I did a search for his name in Google. Astoundingly, I found a story about his suicide. He'd hung himself on the 5th of June, 2001.
Gretchen had known Shandi a little in college, so I discussed the confirmation of his suicide with her for awhile, both of us trying to figure out what would drive a guy to hang himself. It seemed like a terrible injustice, particularly when people like Strom Thurmond live to be 100. Some gentle souls just aren't made for this world, assailing their brains with experimental chemistry in a desperate effort to cope, while people like Strom Thurmond thrive on hatred and the fondling of random ladies in elevators.
Harkness 2nd floor hallway (outside room 210), Fall 1989.
From left: George Twigg IV (Shandi's roommate), Shandi Hopkins, Ira, and Emily Sweet.
In the "Stink Shack" (Harkness 210), Fall 1989.
From left: Shandi Hopkins, Nate R., Miranda B.
links to Shandi Hopkins content
Hangover and Mezcal
A Scene from Oberlin Marijuana Culture (Nov, 1991) - Shandi buys some pot he intends to resell at a profit.
Tough Girl - Shandi's girlfriend Janie.
Thanksgiving '91 - a stolen turkey, fights, etc.
Letter to Christin, Feb 26, 1992 - sad to hear he and Janie left Oberlin.
Ed Nelson, R.I.P.
In other news of people I have known who have died, Bathtubgirl reports that her good friend Ed Nelson died recently in New Orleans from nitrous oxide asphyxiation. I met Ed Nelson a couple times and found him a charming, affable gentleman with a delightful sense of mischief. He leaves behind a wife and two daughters.
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