Dateline: NEW YORK--Leo Cornwallis belongs to roughly the third of modern male siblings that suffer from Crazy Uncle Syndrome, according to the Sociological Index of Abnormality. But Leo and a growing number of others like him have sought to mitigate their condition by joining the Crazy Uncles Society.
Morris Pencilpusher, a sociologist at NYU who studies the syndrome, says that most boys in modern societies grow up to be relatively well-adjusted and successful, according to that Index which defines normality in terms of a range of politically correct criteria. But some men are naturally eccentric, unpopular, unemployed, and perhaps homeless.
"Human parents tend to have multiple children for the same reason members of other species do," says Mr. Pencilpusher, "to ensure that at least some of their offspring will know what the hell they're doing in life and won't fritter away their time until they're left to twiddle their thumbs alone in the corner.
"Inevitably," he continues, "some genetic mutations will be misaligned with the environment in important ways, so the bearers of those genes won't succeed in many of their endeavours. Their failures will force them to compensate with madness, which blocks out the harsh reality. The dregs of humanity prefer to live in a fantasy world, just as the normal folks would prefer not to have the losers in their midst."
"You can imagine how hard it is for me at my extended family reunions," says Leo. "Me, I'm single with no children or prospects, and I'm broke, unemployed, and middle-aged. My insanity keeps me active, but I have to work extra hard at those reunions to block out all of the success on display. I mean, one of my brothers is a doctor, the other an astronaut. My sisters-in-law are lawyers. My parents and grandparents are rich, as are most of my uncles and aunts. So when they get together, their wealth and happiness go with them. Their conversations and mannerisms overflow with signs of their normality.
"As for me, I don't fit in so well. I'd rather talk about ideas in philosophy, religion, or politics. The normals just sigh and say, 'There goes crazy Uncle Leo again, always barking his madness in our direction.' And then I have to ignore that snub and my craziness takes over. Sometimes I'll jump into the kitchen sink and swing the microwave over my head by its cord like a morning star. Maybe I'll dance around the living room, shirtless, while my normal family members are exchanging pleasantries and sipping coffee. And they'll laugh at me and say again, 'There's crazy Uncle Leo for you.'"
The Crazy Uncles Society has been a boon for ostracized cretins like Leo. "When I feel I'm about to explode with pent-up eccentricity, I head straight to my chapter of the Society and let it all out," he says. "We crazy uncles support each other's madness. Our little reunions are very different from those preferred by normals, let me tell you. At the Society, no one bats an eye if you feel like ramming your head through a wall or not showering or shaving for a week or being an alienated loser, drifting through the concrete jungle with nothing to distract you from the private hell of your vision of life's absurdity. I can even have a philosophical conversation with a fellow crazy uncle without everyone thinking I'm wasting my time on nonsense."
Leo recalls when he was a boy, showing great promise, and his Uncle Howie used to embarrass himself at the family get-togethers. "I didn't realize it at the time, of course, but he was my crazy uncle. There's one in most families, especially if we're talking about a family that includes three or more brothers. Uncle Howie used to do the craziest things. His brothers and everyone else would be talking about their children or their latest vacations or their favourite soap operas or talk shows, and they'd be playing with their techno toys while Howie would be sulking in the corner in a cloud of his body odour, dressed in the same threadbare and ill-fitting shirt and pants he'd always be wearing. And when crazy Uncle Howie would open his mouth, out would pour the most frivolous speculations.
"He'd have the nerve to be interested in ideas, you see, not in things-probably because he didn't have much of anything. But because he had the misfortune of living in a world made up of material things, the world punished him for being so irrelevant. The family usually just ignored him. Sometimes, they'd humour him with white lies. I shunned him too, as a kid. I didn't know any better. Yeah, Uncle Howie was the black sheep, he rarely smiled, and he died relatively young.
"And now I'm the crazy uncle in my family. I've inherited the dishonor, if you will. I'm the loser, the anomaly that offends most people's sensibilities. But at least I have the Crazy Uncles Society, to escape once in a while from normal people's twaddle."