Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Book 21: Ghosty Men

Franz Lidz has intertwined the stories of the Collyer Brothers and his uncles. The Collyer brothers, Langley and Homer were New York City's most famous hoarders. The whole Collyer family had moved into Harlem in 1909-- right at the end of the housing boom there. Their father, Dr. Collyer moved out, or was crowded out and left to their own devices the bothers and their mother went Hoarder Wild.

When Homer was found dead in their home in 1947, over 130 tons of rubbish surrounded him. His younger brother, Langley, was nowhere to be found. The boys had long been media curiosities and rewards were offered by the major papers of New York City. Sixteen days after Homer was found, a workman removing garbage found the body of Langley. He had been pinned and smothered under a booby-trapped pile of junk.

Lidz's four uncles were varying flavors of crazy. Obsessive compulsive, paranoid, agoraphobic. I found it unsettling that Lidz dismisses the seriousness of their conditions and is further dismissive of pharmaceuticals to help treat those conditions. Not just unsettling: irresponsible, judgeworthy, crazy in its own way. He's pretty clearly reshaping their problems in a way that makes it tolerable for him to remember his uncles. People don't collect suitcases full of baggies because it makes them happy. They don't hoard shoelaces because it brings them joy. People hoard and keep and collect and squirrel away stuff, meaningless stuff because it helps them push away anxiety. It dampens a fire of misery that springs up out of smoke and nothing and mixed up brain chemistry instead of from some explainable event. If there was just an event, time would heal it, right? But this soup of crazy that afflicts people may as well be left under the pillow by the monster under the bed. And it's my second-hand understanding that long stays in asylums are not like relaxing vacations.

It's called Mentally ILL, not Mentally Awesome. And another thing! Pharmaceuticals are not the easy way out, or a way of making eccentrics conform. For FUCKS SAKE! They don't even make you feel high! If you're lucky, maybe there is a med that works for you. Maybe they make you feel like getting out of bed in the morning is not an insurmountable task with no conceivable reward. Suddenly, you could be able to be out in the world. Maybe the right pill will keep your brain from spinning out anxieties in the middle of the night like tops run by a monkey on crack.

So, if you read this book, or another book or see a movie where mental illness is sort of shrugged off as quirkiness (I could start a list here, but I won't. You're welcome.)I hope you SNORT DERISIVELY at that crap. Because it's not fun like a collection of vintage hats. It pretty much sucks.

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