by Dan Johnson
I met Crazy Gideon not long ago. He’s fairly sane. His namesake bargain barrel electronics store on Traction is now a Brewery. With its shuddering, Crazy Gideon’s days as an icon of absurd local television ads, insanely low business overhead and dubious sanity ended.
Today he’s just Gideon or Mr. Kotzer if you’re nasty. The sort of mild-mannered administrator who would turn the building behind Villain’s Tavern into a utilitarian movie studio featuring dozens upon dozens of unique set rooms with bizarre art like a portrait of Tiger Woods made entirely from pornography.
There’s none of the ranting and raving that made him famous. Only mild handshakes, polite nods and the occasional unsolicited clasp on the shoulder.
It makes one wonder about America’s new favorite descriptor: crazy. It’s another lazy blanket term for things beyond the realm of typical experience. It’s a stop-gap for an illiterate generation living in wild and tumultuous times. Crazy becomes at once an acceptable term for characterizing a particularly wild party or illicit blow job and someone who is erratic and volatile.
Given that we just elected a reality TV star to the Oval Office on the promise of remaking America into a version of itself that never existed, now is a perfect time to examine the boundaries of sanity.
What is crazy?
If you’ve seen Intervention or listened for more than fifteen seconds to a Kanye West rant, you’ll know that mental illness comes in many different forms. It may not always be apparent. It can be triggered or exacerbated by many different stressors. It runs on a spectrum from “mostly acceptable” to “totally delusional.” Even more confusing, insanity is at times rewarded.
The nature of our society encourages renegade individuals to create and distribute new ideologies, inventions and work flows to facilitate a system that loves to be shocked. Spoiler alert: it ain’t often that a norm changes the world by wielding the status quo.
It’s like the great sound poet Seal says, “we’re never going to survive unless we get a little crazy.” So as long as your crazy is within the bounds of productivity and the amount of shit you heap on your friends and loved ones is less than your overall value to the world at large, things are good.
Our crazy system has its winners. That is for sure. So too does it have its losers. Case in point: Downtown Los Angeles. For every family who tucks their bat shit son in art school where shitting in a fishbowl in public is applauded, five others say, “figure your own life out.” Here in Downtown, we are at the very bottom of a mental health topography where “absolutely nuts” travels along the path of least resistance to pool before draining into the ocean that is oblivion.
Crazy down here is not a welcome sight. Mostly because it’s in public. Also because it’s prone to a dual diagnosis by which people with mental issues self-medicate with “all that smack and crack and whack that hits the streets.”
Here’s the good news: the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health operates no less than 300 hundred support clinics around the county. In Downtown alone, fifteen DMH maintained or partner locations work to alleviate the voices in our collective head.
And now for the bad news: treatment is neither mandatory nor comprehensive.
All the crazy talk has me hungry, so it’s worth mentioning that just south of the large mental health office on San Pedro St at 4th St, a supposedly crazy idea has blossomed into a decent café.
On this Thanksgiving, let’s give some well-deserved gratitude to the Downtown Women’s Center for their pioneering work in not only keeping people off the street but integrating their skills into a revenue generating primer in the basic merits of cooperating with capitalism. The Made by DWC space is an unusual nook on the 400 block of South San Pedro St. There appear to be sane people here.
Inside, past an almost comical castle-esque door, you’ll find a variety of chic products made by women in the DWC program. Then there’s a collection of tables and chairs by a coffee counter where a host of sandwiches, wraps and salads are yours for the pickin’.
There is a calm here which you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find within the legal limits of Skid Row. Though I was the only customer there, the place was well-staffed and the food fresh.
Yes, almost all the lunch options came from Homeboy Industries. Yes, I did play it safe with the hummus wrap because meat served in out-of-house demi-sandwiches is never a good idea. Yes, I thought $7.50 was a bit much to ask. No, I don’t have any complaints. Because everyone was polite and unlike every food option I’ve previously indulged on the false premise that a portion of the proceeds would go to some relief effort or another, it was clear that my money was going directly to a job skills program benefitting people mere feet away from me.
I worry a lot when people go on and on about “getting the crazies off the street.” Who is sane after all? I understand that there are clear benchmarks of what cannot be allowed to endure in public, but I also fret that sanity in our wildly off-kilter world is measured against absolute rote compliance to a generic, vanilla mindset of “produce and reproduce” that ultimately serves nothing but extinction.
Who gets to decide what is crazy and what isn’t? Ultimately, it is neither you nor I but money that has the final say. Money shapes opinion. Money lends prestige. Money rewards gambits that have found luck.
So use your weekly $8.72 and throw a vote to the sane column for the Made by DWC café. They took a risk on an errant idea of a quick service bistro amidst the chaos of Skid Row. They bet their chips on the basic merit of teaching people how to work for their keep and translate their skill sets into an honest wage. Do something so remarkably sane it may be crazy and reward their wager.
I award Made by DWC a “1” on the binary and politely suggest that anyone still eating McDonald’s is the actual lunatic.