I took a short trip to Arcata to visit a friend. On my last visit to that town, I'd had a hard time hitchhiking home, and I ended up spending a cold night on the roof of a grocery store in Ukhia. So this time I was determined to make it back in one afternoon. I made it back in two rides. The second ride might have been the most interesting ride of my entire hitchhiking career.
At the Arcata ramp, I turned down a number of short rides and eventually caught one all the way to Hopland, which is about two hours outside of San Francisco. I knew that the next ride would be critical, because anything short of San Francisco would probably let me out after dark — which is essentially a promise that you'll have to sleep out somewhere.
I waited there for an hour, turning down a surprising number of short rides. Finally a kid about my age pulled over, and when I asked how far he was going, he sort of shrugged and said "LA" — as if I should have already known. The car was absolutely full of trash, and I ended up sitting in a heap of it. Every once in a while I'd pull something like a tube of toothpaste out from under me and lob it into the even larger pile of trash in the back seat. The kid was pretty tall with dark bushy hair and a goofy grin. He was wearing khaki pants and a sweater that was a little too big.
When we started off, I said "Thanks for stopping" and he didn't respond. I waited for a little while, but he only looked longingly towards the road ahead. Eventually I asked why he was going to LA, and he immediately said "I'm going there for Truth." "What kind of Truth are you looking for?" I asked. Again, without any hesitation, he responded "It's connected to my telepathy, the daemons that have been chasing me for years, and the rapture that all of our lives are connected to. I figure that I'll go to Compton and wear a bunch of gang colors while thinking racist thoughts. If they don't pick up on my mind waves then it's all a riddle for sure. If they kill me, then I guess I deserve to die because then I'm clearly insane. Yes, the end is near."
I looked around the car again, and noticed for the first time just how fucked up it was. I started to worry a little, since I didn't really want to be riding in a car with a driver who is immediately interested in dying. I asked why he wanted to die, and he responded "I don't want to die, I want the Truth." Before I could ask what he meant by that, he asked where I was coming from. When I told him Arcata he laughed and said "Arcata! Today?"
"What time did you leave?"
"Ahh, are you following me?"
"No, I don't think so."
He asked what I was doing there, and I told him "Visiting a lover." He chuckled again and said "A lover! Women, women... they're all adulterers." I thought that "adulterer" was a pretty strange word choice, so I asked what adultery meant to him. He immediately responded, again without any hesitation at all: "Let's say that I walk into a grocery store, and there's a married couple in there. The woman will look at me like she wants to have sex with me, and the man will let her because he wants my son to be a part of their family. When the woman does have sex with me, that will be adultery because she's breaking her promise to her husband."
The conversation continued, and he mentioned "his son" several times. He once added "I'm sure it will be a boy" for emphasis. Eventually I learned that he had escaped from a mental hospital in Sacramento, where he had been on his way to Alaska from Tallahassee, FL. We were in a stolen car.
I contemplated trying to get out many times, but eventually decided that I was safe enough, and that it would actually be more dangerous to try and get out. Besides, we were headed all the way to San Francisco.
His reality was this:
- There is a large conspiracy of people who are trying to steal his sperm via rape or other methods. He hates all women, because it is their aim to rape him and steal his son — which would generate some type of Apocalypse. If he lets this happen, he will be a failure in God's eyes.
- People called "watchers" follow him around and listen to his thoughts (because he's telepathic, although the telepathy is only one-way). About 1 in every 10 people are watchers. Many of the things we encountered along the way were "set up" by the watchers. Many of the people talking on cell phones in cars around us were watchers. I may have been watcher.
- There are other people called "translators" who can not only listen to his thoughts, but vocalize them themselves in real-time. It is as if they are stealing his thoughts. He is pretty impressed by these people.
- He absolutely does not care whether he lives or dies. Death would be better than the hell of having someone steal his sperm or even the reality of having to deal with people constantly trying to steal his sperm.
At one point he told me explicitly: "I'm not crazy. I'm actually much more real than everyone else. These people are not alive, they are hypnotized by their lives. I'm just aware of what's really going on. I'm not crazy, I'm in a crazysituation." (!)
He also mentioned his multiple personalities once. I asked "What do you mean multiple personalities?" He responded: "I have so many complexes that I'm working through because of how hard it is to escape the watchers and the pressures of what I'm dealing with. Sometimes it's easier just to play a role, be the person that people want you to be. So I have personalities that can be funny, sad, offensive, whatever everyone wants to hear. It's hard for me to be real." (!) But of course by "people" here, he's referring to all the people that are listening to his thoughts through the radio waves.
At one point he asked when he was going to hit the desert. I told him that there's some desert on the way if he takes the I5. He said "Desert, yeah. I'd like to walk across the Sahara. Walk right across that motherfucker. Of course I'd have to have a helicopter deliver water at certain mile-markers along the way.... it probably wouldn't show up. Oh well, it'd be a fitting end."
Sometimes he'd start a story with "This could have been a delusion, but I'm pretty sure it happened..."
Once I asked him who "Jared" was in one of his notes. He said "Jared is a good man, a righteous man. He helped me want to be a good and righteous person. But he won't talk to me anymore. One night I was hanging out in his back yard, and he came out with a beer — it was cold outside, which is impossible — and told me that I shouldn't go in because his wife was going to sleep. I looked up and saw his wife in the window, and I realized that Jared was going to murder his wife. So I told him that I needed to go to the store and get a cigarette, and instead I called the police from a pay phone and told them that Jared was murdering his wife. I was young then, I didn't know anything about loyalty."
His impression, of course, was that Jared had given up on talking to him because he hadn't been loyal in allowing Jared to kill his wife.
I've never really thought a lot about mental illness. I've always sort of tacitly accepted the general radical analysis that people who are diagnosed with mental illness are just people who don't fit in with mass culture. That things like depression are just symptoms of problems with the world that we live in, not problems with the individual who is suffering. But then all of a sudden, here I was in a car with a paranoid schizophrenic. And all I could think was "Whatever, this guy is fucking crazy!" But there was something strangely cogent about his delusions, and after a while I began to think that he wasn't so crazy for thinking the things that he did. He would sometimes use the phrase "the oppressors" instead of "the watchers," and sitting in rush-hour traffic on the interstate, it didn't seem so crazy to think of all the people talking on cellphones in their SUVs around us as "the oppressors." He was so afraid of mental hospitals and authority because he thought that they were in on the conspiracy to rape him and steal his sperm, but maybe his fears weren't so unfounded. I can certainly see how those places might be an institutionalized form of rape. It was almost as if all his delusions were just hyperbolic reactions to the things that he was interacting with day to day. Where I had become desensitized to these difficulties that I'm forced to live in the midst of, he had felt their pain intensely.
I told the story to a friend of mine, and he told me about a guy that he used to work with that was also paranoid schizophrenic. He had become convinced that cars were secretly conscious beings who were trying to kill him. Crossing a street was very difficult for him, but he had decided that the cars could only come after him if they could see his face. So before crossing a street, he would put his head inside his shirt and rely on angels to guide him across the street. Of course, what happened when he blindly stepped out into the street only re-inforced his belief that the cars were trying to kill him. But here again is this situation where a person who seems clearly insane is also strangely... right. Maybe the cars are after me too, only for some reason I've stopped thinking about how much time I spend trying not to get killed by a car each day. When I do think about it consciously, it is kind of distressing.