Dizzy, daffy, goofy snit about using term 'crazy'

April 29, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

I have to begin by saying that this story is kind of crazy.

It concerns a man named Jack Draper, who owns a waterbed and bedroom furniture store in Evansville, Ind.

His store is called Crazy Larry's Waterbeds, a name he picked 14 years ago because he had an eager-beaver ad manager named Larry and they thought it was catchy.

Recently, Draper received a stern letter from Rich Allen, the community services director of the Evansville State Hospital, a mental institution.

Allen wrote: "At a time of growing sensitivity to racist and sexist language, no such caution governs the use of the vocabulary associated with mental illness.

"Words such as 'nuts,' 'maniac,' 'psycho,' and 'crazy' are offensive to those with a mental illness. Use of such words tends to perpetuate the stigma associated with the disease. Negative attitudes and misunderstanding continue because of the offhanded portrayals of the mentally ill in movies and in advertising.

"In a city that has been home for a long-term facility for the chronically mentally ill for over a hundred years (Evansville State Hospital), it's hard to imagine how the word 'crazy' would enhance the appeal of a waterbed store.

"How should one interpret the use of 'crazy' in this case? Has Larry 'gone completely out of his mind' and lowered his prices far lower than anyone else? Or is he really a 'maniacal psychopath' using the waterbed store as a front to cover his hideous crimes? Of course not.

"Unfortunately, people who suffer from a mental illness face undue discrimination, are made fun of, and generally 'stigmatized' simply because they have a disease society doesn't tolerate well or doesn't fully understand. May I suggest some sensitivity for Americans who have a mental illness?"

When he read the letter, Draper says, "I couldn't believe it. So I called the head of the hospital and he said he approved the letter.

"He thinks the name of my place can offend his patients. I said I'd apologize to anyone I offended. And I asked if it would be better if we called the place 'Psychologically Imbalanced Larry's Waterbeds.' He didn't think that was funny.

"But I'm not going to change the name of my store. This is the first time I've heard from anyone complaining. And they should look in the dictionary. There is more than one definition of 'crazy.' "

He's right, of course. Besides "affected with madness; insane," there is also "departing from proportion or moderation . . . possessed by enthusiasm or excitement . . . intensely involved or preoccupied . . . foolish or impractical. . . ."

If a young man proposes marriage or some other arrangement to a young woman, and says, "I am crazy about you," should she assume that he is admitting to a severe mental disorder and flee?

When Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd played the wild and crazy guys on "Saturday Night Live," were we to believe that they should have been institutionalized?

And what about Krazy Glue? If I use it to patch the frames of my glasses, is there reason to fear that I will begin cackling madly and go berserk?

"You want to know how this whole thing got started?" Allen asked. "There was an article in a newspaper about a new Italian restaurant. You know what it was called? The Crazy Tomato. Can you believe that?"

Yes, I can believe it. And if I walked into that restaurant, I wouldn't be at all concerned that a big, deranged tomato would splat me in the face.

That's the way I feel about crazy quilts, too. If I took a nap under one, I wouldn't expect it to smother me in my sleep. Nor would I rush off to have my elbow examined by a psychiatrist if I jarred my crazy bone.

If Allen had his way, when a batter hit a game-winning grand-slam home run, it would not be permissible for an announcer to say: "The fans went crazy." Instead, he'd have to say: "The fans were intensely involved and preoccupied and reacted with great enthusiasm and excitement."

But with political correctness now part of the cultural struggle, we're going to have one crazy argument after another. It's enough to drive you nuts.

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