After high school I went to work at a loading dock, because I had read a book about Gandhi and decided that my calling was that of secular saint rather than college graduate. While the experience would change my mind—it’s easier to be Gandhi when you have throngs of adoring followers—I did meet a few interesting characters, and learned the difference between a ‘skid’ and a ‘pallet’.
One of the characters I met was a guy we all called The Psychic Cowboy. He was compulsively clad in a big rimmed cowboy hat, was about fifty years old, 300+ pounds, and living on social security. Something was wrong with his legs.
He would come to visit his wife on lunch, and would talk to us occasionally about prophecies that had been revealed to him and fringe pseudo-science. He was really into a book called ‘psycho-cybernetics’, and talked a lot about a thing called biofeedback, and the mystical experience that can be had by those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. The Psychic Cowboy was good to talk to, because our job was so mind-numbing and physically strenuous. From time to time, the cowboy would snap into a creepy-growly voice and make a sudden proclamation: “The Jordan River, which I believe to be a holy place…it is! It is a holy place!” After doing this, he would rebuke his creepy voice in his normal voice, and continue on talking about whatever he was talking about.
Over the course of about a year, I started talking to his wife more often, and learned that her family had disowned her over her marriage to the Psychic Cowboy. They thought he was crazy and dangerous, and apparently some of his prophecies and revelations had led to financial and emotional hardship for their family. Her family urged her to leave him, but she stayed true to him, and believed that he was who he said he was. She was content to live in a little apartment stuffed with strange books and newspapers, and to drive a broken down old hooptie as long as she could be with her prophet.
After a while, I realized that I wasn’t Gandhi. I switched jobs, went to college, and got a degree. While I was at school, word got to me that The Psychic Cowboy had fallen down dead in the parking lot of a local grocery store. It turned out that he had a gigantic tumor in the middle of his brain. After realizing that this was no doubt the source of his strange beliefs and behavior, my thoughts immediately went to his wife, who had allowed her life to take a fairly radical path based on the delusions that her husband suffered from. I wondered if she connected the tumor to the prophecies and weird hobbies that the man had. God only knows what other strange things may have passed from him to her over the years. Did she understand that he was suffering from an illness, and not a divine gift?
I haven’t run into her since then, but I hope she’s okay. She popped into my head as I was driving to work today, listening to Glenn Beck’s radio show. The connection was hard not to draw. There’s no way that Beck will be able to keep his fans all revved up and full of horrible anticipation over a prolonged period of time. Eventually, when the revolution doesn’t come, when white Midwestern conservatives realize that a black president with a funny name needn’t be a fascistic dictator, or that a handful of progressive policies may actually do the country some good, Glenn Beck’s influence will greatly diminish. I have to wonder if the reckoning that the Psychic Cowboy’s wife experienced will be analogous in any way to the reckoning all of those tea-partying housewives across America are going to experience when they begin to get a hint of what really animates their talk-radio icon.
Maybe the experience will be analogous. I mean, it's not like their going to start listening to Laura Ingraham again, right?
cross posted at Kos
UPDATE: This is the first essay I've written at Daily Kos that has made the recommended list. Pretty awesome.