In my opinion, all of us are born peculiar. That is, peculiar as it describes a thing or person as odd. It seems to me that we are born with a particular personality that manifests one or more traits that sets an individual apart from other individuals. Some of these traits have been judged as deviant from the norm. Most people are schooled or shamed out of acting out their most noticeably deviant behavior.
On the other hand, are people who have resisted the social pressures to act like “normal” folks. These are individuals who seem to be free spirits. They have the guts to do their own thing. Peculiar people are sometimes labled as “eccentrics”. I’m convinced that hidden, deep within our personalities, lies an inner eccentric.
Early on, we come to know what is socially normal behavior for our particular communities. Everyone is expected to groom and dress in a certain manner, enjoy similar foods, read particular types of literature, attend acceptable forms of entertainment or sporting events, and so forth. In other words, we are all expected to behave in an arbitrary, established pattern that is thought of as conventional or normal to one’s own social group. Anyone who behaves markedly different from this arbitrary pattern is thought of as an odd-ball or peculiar.
If you stop and think about your own behaviors, you will probably think of a few that might be considered odd or unconventional by society. Certainly there is some sort of “inner eccentric” living inside your mind. You can consider this aspect in much the same way that all of us has an “inner child” within us. Surely, there is something abnormal, extraordinary, unusual, or different that you do. Maybe you only allow that behavior to come out when you’re all alone. On the other hand, maybe one or two behaviors are obvious to your friends and acquaintances. Something odd that makes you unique is present in everyone.
I’ve been thought of as a peculiar person, for as long as I can remember. It was not very difficult being different throughout my childhood, but as an adolescent, the eccentricity was difficult to hide and cope with. After leaving school, I learned to use my eccentricity to my advantage. I found out that it’s a very good thing not to be normal. However, I’ve retained enough social conditioning and peer-induced inhibition that I don’t really qualify as a peculiar person, per se. To the average person on the street, I don’t really stand out from the norm.
Great places to find peculiar people are colleges and universities. The student body is filled with kids who are stretching their “wings” and discovering the freedom to be who they really are. Being away from home is a liberating experience for many people. Suddenly, they are free to really to let go of the inhibitions that box in their behaviors. Usually, this freedom is only socially allowed during the college years. After graduation, we are expected to act normally and live within the bounds of a conventional lifestyle. Perhaps this is one reason we find peculiar people working as instructors and professors at colleges.
One of the most peculiar people I’ve known was my political-science professor. Doctor Hesse was one of the most kind-hearted, generous men on campus. What was most noteworthy about the good instructor was his style of dress. He always appeared in public wearing 1940’s style business suits. Dr. Hesse would have been a perfect star in one of those old black and white movies from that era. Every detail, from his shoes to his jaunty hat, was exacting. He had an amazing collection of neckties. I never saw him wear the same one twice. On pleasant days, he walked to class, carrying an exquisite cane. Dr. Hesse rarely smoked, but when he did light up, he used a cigarette holder. It was at these times that he most resembled Franklin D. Roosevelt. His smile and outgoing behavior invited inquiry and openness.
Once, I asked Dr. Hesse why he had not run for public office. He answered by saying most people would never vote for such an oddball as him. He had no desire to conform to the lowest common denominator. His reply endeared him to me, even more. I’m glad he had not dirtied himself in the murky waters of politics. He made poli-sci more approachable and less phony.
I’ve had the pleasure of befriending many musicians. Musicians, particularly those who specialize in rock or jazz are some of the most peculiar folks I’ve ever befriended. If you could categorize them, you might say they deviate the most from social norms. The saying, “They’re like herding cats” applies to musicians. Because popular musicians are an integral part of contemporary culture, their behavior is often on public display. We witness benign, mellow singers and certifiably insane celebrities. Like politicians, we either worship them or hate them. Most of them are quite peculiar.
I met Sam when we were both about 25. We were both involved, one way or another, in the music industry. The artistic vibe brought us together. Soon, he began soliciting my opinions about the music he composed. His jazz-flavored synthesizer riffs captivated me. When Sam added lyrics to some of his songs, they reached deep into the soul. I believed his work had the potential to become timeless. He was also one strange cookie. Even though Sam was a native Iowan, he liked to talk with an affected “French” accent. He enjoyed wearing beatnik era, European clothing. I rarely saw Sam without his trademark beret.
Sam also had a large collection of bongo drums. However, I never heard him play them. Whenever I visited his apartment, he invited me to choose a drum to pound out whatever beat I was feeling. Soon enough he’d fire up his synth and improvise a melody on the spot. Sam was the only person, so far, I’ve ever jammed with. I still keep in touch with him. He now lives in Toronto and is a major player in that city’s local culture.
Although, by definition, there cannot be any hard and fast rules regarding peculiar people, often times we bond together. A case in point is my ex partner. I still think about how special his peculiarities and eccentricities made him so remarkable. His flare for flamboyance and his mischievious nature combined into a talent for stage magic. We both enjoy our solitary time, so we were a good match. He preferred to use his solo hours to perfect his illusionist routines. He liked to try out new ideas on me. He didn’t need to ask for my reactions, my facial expressions told him everything he needed to know. It’s been many years since he relocated to rural Colorado. I certainly miss his peculiar, fetching brand of magic.
Do you know a peculiar person? Are you a peculiar person? Today is the day to celebrate those of us who are unique or odd. I don’t know who invented Peculiar People Day, but she or he was probably someone peculiar.