The neighbor who’s never gone is back and better -- or worse -- than ever.
Clyde Langtry, you may recall, is my neighbor, the Scientologist and general wackjob. Chronically unemployed because he can’t or won’t do much of any kind of work, always building and inventing near-useless things, distrusts just about everyone and every institution on Earth. And he’s a blabbermouth. Not just a blabbermouth, but a painfully annoying one. If you were walking in your door with an armful of groceries, informed him that you were starving and had to pee, and wore a T-shirt that read, “I HATE PEOPLE NAMED CLYDE,” he would only stop talking long enough to inhale. He also bears a remarkable resemblance to President Bush, which is either hilarious or tragic.
If you haven’t read much about Clyde in these pages in recent months, that’s not an accident. He hasn’t been as talkative lately. Oh, sure, he’ll stop to chat me up about things I don’t need to hear about, like his penis. “I don’t mind saying mine used to be an eight, but now it’s about a five,” he volunteered to me a few months ago. I wasn’t sure if he was talking about length or some Scientology genitalia scoring system.
And he was nice and nosy a month or so ago when a couple of plainclothes police officers knocked at my door.
“What was that all about?” Clyde asked.
“Oh, they wanted me to look at some photos of homeless guys to see if I could identify the one who peed on our driveway and yelled at us a while back.”
“I don’t trust police. I never get involved in anything like that.”
This is the same man who’s asked me to keep an eye out for riff-raff when he’s out of town. Nice to know he’s sticking his neck out for me as well.
But also, I’ve been avoiding him. I’m losing tolerance for indulging crazy people -- or maybe only the ones who are most bothersome. One might say Clyde Langtry has a bothersome streak.
However, on Sunday, he was in rarest of rare form. He raced out of his apartment when he saw my girlfriend and I walking up.
“I’ve uncovered the most amazing conspiracy.” He regularly skips greetings and gets straight to the reason he’s accosting you. “Now, I know, you’re going to think I’m crazy,” (you put in your own punch line here; I’ve run out of them) “but I found something on google that is the biggest violation of the First Amendment in history. But I can’t tell you about it.”
He rambled on about how he couldn’t tell me about it, whereupon I let my girlfriend off the hook by telling her she could go in to take care of whatever it was that she had to take care of, which was nothing, but I’m sure she wanted an escape.
“Yeah, yeah, good, you go in. I don’t know how much I can trust you.” It’s not that Nicole isn’t trustworthy. It’s that Clyde is paranoid.
Now it was just Clyde and me in our courtyard, in broad daylight, talking about this big, big discovery he’s made that he couldn’t tell me about -- followed by him telling me all about it. “Just type in ____, ____, and ____. And click on the first site that comes up. You won’t believe it.”
I repeated the three words back to make sure I got it.
“Google is just amazing. I hit return, and the results came back in, like, zero-point-twelve seconds or something.” He’s floored by the conspiracy and by a search engine. If he had an Xbox, he might never leave his apartment again.
“Have you told your wife about this?”
“I can trust her, but only to an extent.” Naturally, he’s sharing his secret with me instead.
Because he’d made his point, he continued talking for another 10 minutes, slowly getting to the core of his real problem, which was him being bothered by how screwed up he is, and how he was programmed so poorly in his upbringing. It was not unlike the sort of thing one does in therapy, which he’s been programmed to abhor yet doomed to practice without even realizing it. Clyde Langtry is a gas.
“When I was eight or nine years old,” Clyde said, “my mother would take me into the bathroom and turn on the faucet so I would be ready to take a leak. How screwed up is that?”
It took me a while to get him to shut up long enough for me to say goodbye and shut the door in his face. This is also routine with him: I get to my door, I open it, I step in, lean on the door, inch it less and less ajar so that he can barely see my face. Hint after hint that I’m done and he doesn’t even have the courtesy to ask if he’s boring me to death. Either he’s extremely unaware of social cues or he’s writing his own column somewhere. (“That obliging dumbshit neighbor Joe let me talk for 12 minutes again today. Man, why doesn’t he just slam the door on me like everyone else?”)
About four minutes later, there was a knock at the door. Clyde was standing there with his laptop, showing me the first google entry when one types in the three magic words. I told him he was a raving loon, annoying as flies at a picnic, and if he didn’t leave me alone then I would call the FBI. But the words I used were, “Thanks, man. I’ll check it out when I get a chance.”
A short while later, I stepped out the back way to take out the trash. When I got back, Nicole was at the door talking to him. He was asking her if she knew of any computer security experts, just in case the feds or the Martians or someone were hacking into his computer and checking up on his Internet searches.
The conspiracy Clyde is onto is, essentially, that one extremely powerful U.S. organization owns another extremely powerful U.S. organization that’s in a completely different line of work. It isn’t much of a conspiracy, I figure, because both organizations are widely despised by most Americans and who gives a shit anyway; consolidation is de rigueur these days.
But the reason I omitted the search items above is just in case Clyde is onto something. I don’t need the extremely powerful, many-tentacled beasts behind this possible conspiracy to render me to Syria for interrogation. And, in fact, the Web site he told me to read didn’t make much sense anyway. That said, I’ve never seen Clyde so worked up. He was a bit unhinged, even for Clyde.
Last night, I tried to find him for some follow-up on this issue, mainly regarding the fact that I didn’t think it was a conspiracy.
I knock at his door. He isn’t home, yet his car is in the driveway. How is it that a man who’s mastered the art of showing up to talk one’s ear off can disappear during that rare moment when one actually wants to talk to him? Has he mastered irony too?
A little while later, his wife, Priscilla, comes home. I wander out to talk to her and she tells me they were going to dinner soon and that they might be turning in early.
A little while later, I catch a couple of other neighbors outside chatting. I join them for as extended of a conversation as I can, knowing that the sound of chatting neighbors attracts Clyde like the electric can opener draws the family dog.
Nothing. His lights are on but no one’s home.
I leave for a spell. When I come back, his car’s gone.
Now what? Has he been rendered?
A little while later, I hear his crappy blue car roar up the driveway. (He had two and a half dinners that night, he’d tell me later.)
I pour a glass of wine and go out to wait for him. Priscilla is whistling for the cats to come in. She gives up and goes back in, leaving the door open. One of the cats comes in. She keeps whistling. The cat leaves.
Clyde walks up.
I hate living life with regrets, but one of the greatest regrets of my life is, on this night, not having the ability to recite things from memory having heard them only once. For tonight, Clyde Langtry, he of questionable mental status, flew the coop -- or at least taxied for take-off.
He talked for an hour. I barely got a word in. He digressed on tangent upon tangent upon tangent. He barely talked about the conspiracy. He just jettisoned himself from one story to another, none of which had anything to do with his discovery. He kept admitting that he was digressing, then just kept staying off track and interrupted me when I tried to steer him back. I decided that Crispin Glover will play him if this column ever becomes a movie.
“You’re never going to meet a more perceptive person than me,” he said at one point. “That’s a fact. I can tell what a person’s thinking just by looking at them and reading them.” This explains why he’s entrusting his secret discovery to a satirist.
Priscilla came out. “Don’t talk too long,” she said to him.
I was able to squeeze in one question. “You know, I went to that site you pointed out. So just for the hell of it, I typed [the two organizations’ names] into google. It came back with 380,000 hits. So if you’re onto something that hardly anyone else knows about, why is it that there are so many pages with [the two organizations] on them?”
It took ten minutes for him to say what he could have said in one: The real sites, the ones with the real conspiratorial information, are “nanny” sites. That is, they’re hidden from searches that children could make. And most of the hits I got probably had the two organizations in contexts that were unrelated to the conspiracy. I had one question for the guy and it elicited the most uninteresting thing he said all night.
Other Clyde comments included:
“I’m a fuckin’ genius. I don’t care what you think.”
“I’m an organizational genius.”
“I’m great at research.”
“Lemme tell you something. There are two ways to live life: being reasonable and being unreasonable. And I’m here to tell you that being unreasonable is the only way to go.”
“I almost died several times in the past year. Not for real, but spiritually.”
He reached into his crotch to adjust his hernia belt a few times. He ripped a big fart too. Didn’t apologize for any of it. The man has ass meat in his head.
Remember, all this was coming at night, in the dark, with no one else around, from a man who looks almost exactly like President Bush. It’s a good thing I wasn’t on drugs or else I would have shit my pants right there in the courtyard.
“Lemme take you inside to show you something.”
By now it was nearly 11:00, and Priscilla was about ready for bed. I was barely inside the door when Clyde shouted to her, “Put something on because I wanna show Joe something in the bedroom.” This whole thing really begs for context.
He took me into his bedroom. It was just as I remembered it from the time before. Dreary and unchanged since about the 1970s, I’d guess. Not one sign that a woman lived there. And one wall was floor to ceiling with notebooks, most of them from Scientology. He thoughtfully pointed out which ones were rip-offs and which ones weren’t.
He fired up his laptop computer and showed me something on the desktop. “That link, that’s the one I wanted to show you. Don’t pay any attention to these others.” We didn’t actually visit the Web site. He just wanted to show me the icon.
We retired back into the dining room, which has no dining table. It has his drafting table instead, on which was one of many notebooks that happened to be open to a page about arguments. “All arguments between two people are explained right here,” he said. “They all have to do with a third person.” He laid out two glasses cases and a cassette tape to illustrate the two arguers and the third person, proving that he’s a spatial genius too.
By now, his manifesto had degenerated into a speech about how he thought I’d benefit from Scientology classes. I farted just to see if he’d acknowledge it. He didn’t. But he did tell me to leave my wine glass outside because he hated the smell of wine.
He pointed out framed certificates and more notebooks, and then opened up a side closet to show me something else. It was at about this moment that I realized something I’d never thought about before: His apartment has the exact same floor plan as mine. There but for the grace of God....
He pulled out something that looked like a typewriter case and opened it to reveal a Scientology meter of some kind. The idea is that the subject holds a cylinder that’s connected to the machine, which, from the looks of things, can measure no more than the pulse of the subject. The operator asks the subject questions and the machine registers changes it detects in the subject. Back on Earth, I think they call these lie detectors.
Clyde the genius thinks the invention is brilliant. The thing had a grand total of three LCD displays. “It has a clock on it too. I guess this is the clock.” He pointed to the one that displayed the time.
It happens to all humans who talk to Clyde, but I never thought I’d see the day. We’d been talking too long, and we crossed the tipping point, the moment where one’s capacity for hearing Clyde talk had been reached. For at that moment, Priscilla, the easygoing woman who always has time to chat with any neighbor about anything, came out and got mad at him.
She opened the hallway door and just stood there in her robe. How is it that they have a hall door and I don’t, I wondered.
“I’m just showing Joe something,” Clyde said. “Joe’s cool.”
“It’s time for you to go to bed.”
“Joe’s asking questions and I’m answering them. He’s cool.” I hadn’t asked a question in half an hour.
“I should go,” I said. I felt like a cassette tape near two glasses cases.
“No, you stay. We’re having a discussion.”
“Just remember...” Priscilla stammered, “what we talked about at dinner tonight!”
Holy damn, they were having a fight, right there in front of me. It was like watching ugly dogs fuck or something.
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I know!”
She went back into the bedroom. Clyde closed the door. It opened again.
“No,” she said. “I just want to hear it.”
She wants to hear us talk about this claptrap?
“Just go to bed!”
“Leave the door open!”
“Will you get in there already?”
“I can get out of here, really,” I said.
Clyde insisted that I stay. Priscilla finally disappeared into the bedroom and he finished his show and tell of the Scientology meter.
“Ain’t that cool?”
“Yeah.” It wasn’t.
We exited back into the courtyard. I apologized for not leaving earlier. He said his wife was crazy.
Then he told me that he was all alone with his thoughts about this whole conspiracy business and the feeling that he wasn’t able to talk to anyone about any of it to anyone.
So I did what I should have done years ago.
I walked away.
L.A. Nuts is a weekly look at the cast of characters that make up this city.