Rethinking Normality

Robert Kite woke up realizing it had been years since he had an interesting dream. He wondered if this had something to do with living in Maryville, Missouri. Maryville, recently designated by the governor as part of a Dream Initiative for revitalization, was located in Nodaway county. None of his neighbors appreciated the irony.

He had always considered himself interesting, despite his colorless surroundings. As a child, while other boys collected baseball cards or stamps, he collected litter. He carefully arranged his discoveries in scrapbooks, which he dated and identified: “Gum wrapper, October 3, 1979, corner of North Vine and East First Street.” He had filled over fifty scrapbooks by the age of twelve and still kept them, arranged chronologically, on a bookshelf in his bedroom.

After a childhood of being alternately scorned or beaten up, Robert learned to keep his hobbies secret. But this morning—he didn’t know if the devil had gotten to him or the early advent of spring—he decided the time had come for him to be noticed. As soon as he got out of bed, he alerted the media to his present collection of paperback books by authors whose last names were also first names, such as Henry James or Woody Allen. He had thirteen hundred and twenty-seven such books.

This constituted news in Maryville. The reporter who investigated, not only wrote an article about Robert’s collections for the Nodaway News Leader, but the story also played on Maryville’s NPR affiliate, KXCV. Robert became a local celebrity. The women’s auxiliary of the Friends of the Maryville Public Library even asked him to speak about his collection at the central library on North Main Street.

Robert felt himself coming alive and decided to push further his new celebrity status.

He had always worn modest clothing at the bank where he worked as a loan officer, crisp white shirts under dark suits. Now he dared blue, tan and even yellow shirts, and eschewed his customary striped or solid-colored ties for ones with bright abstract designs.

Although he received compliments on his new wardrobe, his notoriety soon dimmed. But Robert had become addicted to attention. He bought a collection of aloha shirts and began sporting them after work. With suspenders.

There was no stopping Robert now.

Proud of his knowledge of little known show tunes, he stopped singing them only in the shower. At first, he’d stroll about town humming or singing to himself. Then, one sunny morning, while daffodils highlighted the gardens of Maryville as if a drunken Jackson Pollack had splashed bits of yellow on an otherwise dreary-gray canvas, Robert took a major step towards rejuvenation. He sauntered into the Maryville Diner and began serenading the stunned patrons with a jazzy rendition of “Hazel’s Hips,” a tune written by Oscar Brown, Jr. for a show called Kicks, Inc., that had a short Broadway run.

Robert was arrested for disorderly conduct.

Refusing to pay bail, he spent the night in lockup. When he was commanded to stop singing about Hazel and her hips, he changed his tune to, “O Canada.”

Finally, the authorities released him on his own recognizance on the condition that he accept banishment from the diner.

For the next few weeks, Robert experienced depression. He took a leave of absence from his job and remained in his house most of the day, contemplating whether he had lost his mind or suddenly found it.

Robert’s well-intentioned neighbors called his twin sister, Roberta, who lived in San Francisco.

“Okay, brother,” she sighed, once she finally reached him. He had been ignoring the ringing telephone. “Your neighbors are freaking over your Hawaiian shirts and song styling. What’s gotten into you? You’ve always been the sane one in the Kite family.”

Robert tried to explain. “I’ve come to the conclusion that sanity is overrated.”

“Hey,” she interrupted, unimpressed. “I got a new tattoo—Tweety Bird pushing a lawn mower into my pubic patch, which I dyed green.”

“Thanks for sharing,” Robert said, understanding at once that his own eccentricities were relative.

They spoke about Robert visiting her, maybe moving permanently. “You’d fit right in here.”

Robert thought about fitting in but decided against it, choosing to remain in Maryville. Imagine trying to be eccentric in San Francisco? He told Roberta he didn’t have that kind of energy.

After speaking to his sister he felt better, although humbled might be the more appropriate word. Robert arranged to return to the bank and readied his white dress shirts and conservative ties.

Then he turned on his computer and searched for karaoke bars in the area.


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