Saturday, August 05, 2006

What day is it? Why, it's Embarrassing Confession Saturday!

I love true crime books. I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of them. I like to pose as a erudite, effete lit snob, but when it comes down to the choice between Proust or the SHOCKING TRUE story of the MICHIGAN MANIAC and his ELEVEN YEAR KILLING RAMPAGE!!!!, I’ll take the latter every time. But I’m not entirely undiscerning. I like to think I have standards even when it comes to trash—I look down my nose at the sensationalistic stuff that clutters the Barnes and Nobel aisles. My rule of thumb is a simple one: if it’s one of those big paperbacks, it’s most likely a good read, but if it’s one of those fat little paperbacks, it isn’t worth my time. I also consider it declasse for the cover to scream “TWENTY PAGES OF GRUESOME PHOTOS!” That stuff is just pulp. The other books, the ones I like, are unsparing journalistic inquiries into the heart of evil. As a writer, it’s important for me to be acquainted with the heart of evil. Or so I tell myself.

Actually, I just like to be scared. I like to walk around my apartment at night afraid that someone’s going to leap out of my closet with a hacksaw and a hockey mask. I enjoy feeling anxious about every little bump in the darkness. It’s sort of a holdover from my childhood, when this was the sort of thing that made my difficulty sleeping far more tolerable. If you’re going to just lay there, it’s better to be frightened out of your wits than bored out of your skull. At least that’s the way I saw it. Hey, I’m a sensualist, and what’s fear but just another sensual experience? At least that’s the way I see it. Maybe I’m a pervert, though.

But regardless, my bad reading habits have turned me into a walking encyclopedia or morbid shit. Trust me, I can tell you all about Ted Bundy’s many escapes from police custody or give you a primer on the most promising suspects in the still-unsolved Zodiac killer case. I can deliver an impromptu lecture on the half-dozen or so “Freeway Killers” that stalked Southern California in the 70s. But don’t think I limit myself to serial killers—oh no, if it’s unpleasant and most normal people don’t want to know anything about it, I’ve probably read at least three books about it. Cannibals, cults, air disasters, assassins, atrocities, narcotic trafficking, fiends of all types—I’m drawn to them all. I often have to fight to keep from letting this blog devolve into “Disgusting Things That You Really Didn’t Want To Know”. You have no idea how many posts I’ve had to kill out of respect for my audience’s non-craziness.

That being said, I’m not one of these weirdos. I don’t spend sixteen hours of mass murderer message boards, posting opinions on the carnage. I hate how violent, depraved people are glorified by immature, puerile minds. I know the difference between a guilty pleasure and an obsession. My obsessions: Latin music, writing and finding a new job. My guilty pleasures: true crime books, gooshy French pop, and Will Farrell movies. I’m a healthy, well-adjusted guy. You might have to just take my word for it.

Sometimes, however, my perfectly innocent fascination with the macabre leads me into some awkward moments. I remember one time, at work, when I happened upon a co-worker taking an internet break. The “BTK Killer” had just been arrested, and she was reading a story on about it. Naturally, I couldn’t resist an opening like that. “Isn’t that weird?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she replied, “Yuck.”

And I was off: “I mean, here’s this guy who’s totally normal on the outside, right? President of his church, good job, registered Republican, wife and kids, and at the same time he’s running around killing people. I mean, what kind of person does that? What goes through his mind, you know?”

My co-worker obviously didn’t want to have this conversation. She turned away from her computer screen to face me and said, “I guess he’s just crazy...” Well, that’s what her words were, but her tone was unmistakable. What she meant to say was, You know, Weird Guy, I really am not in the mood to get into a long discussion about some gross thing on the news that I clicked on by accident...

Usually, I would take the hint and proceed on to the vending machines, but that day I was feeling voluble. And I was just getting warmed up. “But do you know what he did, that guy?” I asked, somewhat frantically, “He sneaked into the houses of perfect strangers. When they weren’t at home, right? And then he waited in their closets until they got back. And then he jumped out, tied them up and killed them. But even that wasn’t enough for him! He would then write letters to the police, bragging about killing people! I mean, there’s crazy and then there’s that. The guy on the street corner yelling at cars? He’s crazy, this guy, though: he’s something else, I tell you...”

I could have gone on for another hour or so, but even in my “avuncular professor of sick shit”mode I couldn’t mistake the meaning behind the look I was getting. You see, I was getting the Shut up shut up shut up strange-knows-a-lot-about-killers-man look. It’s a very particular look. You’d recognize it if someone ever shot it at you. There was nothing I could do but trail off into silence and then, after a few moments of unpleasant silence, offer to buy her a coke or a bag of chips from the machine.

She turned my offer down flat. To this day, I’m still trying to prove to this woman that I’m not batshit insane.