Sitting in a booth at a pizza parlor in Stockton California, I was sharing a pitcher of beer with my friends when the most amazing person walked up and began talking to us. He was a tall, skinny African-American man, looking about in his mid-twenties, wearing a tee-shirt and Levi jeans with pant legs split up the sides all the way to his hips. That was the first thing I saw when he came up, these long, flapping split pant legs that were like four denim flags hanging from his upper thighs. They made a loud flopping sound with each step.
“Hi,” he said, “I’m Crazy Bob.” He slurred his words a bit and had a lisp, so it sounded like this: “Hi. I’mb craythzee Bawb.”
We all stared at him in silence for a moment, not sure whether to be amused or terrified. Dan, always the outgoing friendly one, suddenly said back, “Well hi there, Crazy Bob, my name’s Dan. How’re you doing?”
My other friend, DT, gripped his beer mug tight, ready to use it as a weapon if necessary.
“I’m Crazy Bob,” Crazy Bob said again. “I wasn’t always like this. You see, the Martians they took me and put a needle in my spine, and they made me like this.”
“The government, they put a needle in my spine. The put a needle in my spine and turned me into a vegetable.”
“Really?” It was about all any of us could think to say.
“They turned me into a vegetable. The government, they put a needle in my spine. They turned me into a vegetable. Vegetable. Vegetable…”
We sat staring in stunned silence, thinking to ourselves: Where did this guy come from? We were just sitting there, minding our own business, drinking beer and waiting for our pizza, and here comes this guy. We didn’t know what to make of it. We didn’t know what to do.
“You see,” he continued, “I have to endure. That’s what my brother told me. He told me that because the government stuck a needle into my spine, I would have to endure.”
“Your, ah, brother told you this, huh?” said Dan.
“Yeah, my brother told me I must endure. It was my brother, Gerolda. Gerolda. Gerolda.” He continued repeating the name, turning slowly to one side, and his voice grew quiet and faded.
“Gerolda told you this?”
“Yes. He’s my brother. My brother Gerolda, in the home, told me that because the government put a needle in my spine, I must endure. They turned me into a vegetable.” He was walking around the room now, his split pant legs flapping, each step he lifted his leg so far into the air it was nearly a kick. “The Martians, they control the government. The Martians told the government to put the needle into my spine.”
“The Martians? Like from Mars?”
“Yeah, the Martians, they came down here. See, the Martians, they control the government, and the government controls TV. They put a needle into my spine. Turned me into a vegetable.”
“The Martians control the government?”
“The Martians control the government, and the government controls the TV.” He was standing right in front of the table again, and DT was holding his beer mug so tight his knuckles were turning white. “My brother Gerolda told me this when I was in the home. Gerolda, he’s my brother. Gerolda. Gerolda. Gerolda…”
“Hey Crazy Bob,” called a lady behind the counter.
Crazy Bob did his flapping goosestep over to the counter, and to our amazement the girl handed him a boxed pizza. Crazy Bob took the pizza and, pant legs flapping, he marched out the front door.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s just Crazy Bob. We give him a pizza and he leaves.” She shrugged. “What else can you do?”
We all looked at each other, our eyes wide. Indeed! What else could you do? After that, we would occasionally see Crazy Bob flapping his pant legs down Pacific Avenue, rain or shine, summer or winter, and we’d honk and wave at our strange new acquaintance. It’s been thirty years and the image of him is still vivid in my mind.