October 26th, 2021


Which Ones Are the Wackos?

Greg Crosby

By Greg Crosby

Published April 17, 2015

If only the wackos were so obvious.

As we go through our little humdrum lives, most of us just want to make it through with the least amount of pain, suffering, and destruction as possible.

We try to sidestep the potholes of life, so to speak, and keep clear of dangerous situations if we can. A large part of keeping safe is to be able to distinguish between normal people and the crazy people who might cause us harm.

In order to survive in this world it is imperative to avoid crossing paths with psychotic killers, crazed hopheads, sociopaths, morons, and dangerous imbeciles.

In almost all of human history it was fairly easy to tell who was who. Generations of the past could spot the psychopath, imbecile, or weirdo by the way they acted or looked or spoke. But it's not so simple today.

Fifty years ago if you saw a guy coming towards you, talking to himself out loud and flailing his arms, you crossed the street immediately because you knew this guy was nuts. If you see that today it might just mean he's on his cell phone or talking through a Bluetooth mobile headset. Or — he might be nuts, who knows? You'd better cross the street just to be on the safe side.

Hoboes used to look like hoboes, and they still do. They wear sloppy old clothes, ripped pants, have unshaven faces and long, stringy hair.

The problem is, there are thousands of so-called "normal" people who look the same way now. How are we supposed to tell the real hobo from the look-alike hobo? Then there's the gangster look with the multiple tattoos, shaved heads, hoodies, and loose low-riding pants.

You see a kid who looks like that and you can't tell if he's a real gangbanger, a wannabe, or a multi-million dollar recording star.

Once upon a time people who looked like they were insane looked that way because — they were insane. Their hair looked like it hadn't had a brush or a comb through it in weeks.

They painted their faces, their fingernails, and their hair in outrageous crazy colors. They spoke loudly, quickly, and what they said didn't make any sense. They dressed crazy too, and had absolutely no awareness of others around them. They were rude, vile, and insulting. They had no social decorum whatsoever, using foul language, spitting in public, and ignoring all rules of decency.

Today we call them ironic hipsters.

Back in my parents and grandparents day they could (for the most part) tell who the nut-jobs, criminals, and wackos were. They looked like what they were.

The crooks wore black masks, caps, and turtleneck sweaters, and had beard stubble on their face. The bums carried bindles, wore old, frayed fedoras and old shoes with their big toes sticking out, and smoked smelly cigar butts.

Crazy people wore straightjackets and their eyes went around in circles and their tongues stuck out. Or am I thinking of old cartoons?

The point is most people years ago looked clean, well groomed, nicely dressed, and well mannered. (At least when they were in public --- what they did at home was their own business.)

Normal men wore suits and ties and hats, and leather lace-up shoes.

Normal women wore dresses and hats and gloves, and two inch high heals. Blue jeans were for panning for gold, or horseback riding, or farming. T-shirts were worn as underwear. Sneakers were for gym class. Flip-flops were for the beach. Torn clothes were for the garbage can or hoboes.

So back then if you encountered someone who didn't look like most people, you might guess that something was wrong with them. Looking dirty wasn't cool yet.

Looking like a gangster or a convict wasn't considered hip.

Looking like you worked in a sideshow carnival wasn't an image that many strived for.

And looking like you might be criminally insane was not yet considered fashionable.

For centuries people wanted to look as good as they could. Poor people tried their damnedest to dress as if they had money.

The idea was to dress up not dress down. Now the idea is to look like you smell really bad. Now that's progress!

If I sound like a grumpy old man this week, it's because that's what I am.

That's right, I miss the good old days when I could tell the difference between a carnival sideshow freak and an insurance salesman, back before people turned their bodies into walking graffiti walls.

Don't get me wrong, if you are really, truly nuts then please go right ahead and look nuts.

I like to know who the real idiots in the world are by sight so I can keep the hell away from them.

Just don't confuse me by looking weird when you're not.

It creeps me out.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. He's also a Southern California-based freelance writer.