Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Obsession cycle is not a Calvin Klein-themed Harley

When I was maybe ten, I became obsessed with the Elephant Man.  I think the movie came out around then, or maybe it was the play, and Mark Hamill was playing the role of Merrick in the Broadway version, and because I was so infatuated with Star Wars at the time, I absolutely had to read everything about it, which was pretty much nothing, given that we had exactly five TV channels, and the closest thing to Google around was a Sears version of the Pong game we got that Christmas, which was so cheap it had the paddle wheels actually mounted on the top panel of the game unit, and didn’t even have wired controllers, so two people had to sit right next to each other to play.  (And I also thought that maybe there was some hidden easter egg in the game – which is odd, considering the very first easter egg in a commercial video game was probably the hidden room in Adventure for the 2600, and I never played that – so I would spend hours trying to drive up the score in the practice mode, thinking maybe if I got the score up to 99 or something a magical message would appear, like a “good job!” or a phone number you called for a free t-shirt, or something.  No luck.)

I never got to see the movie back then, the David Lynch thing, because HBO only played it once that I could remember (although they played that horrible Flash Gordon remake pretty much every other hour) and this was twenty years before the DVR and at least ten years before we got a VCR that could record, and it was at the same exact time I had to go to my stupid CCD class on a Sunday for church, and I was so pissed off and tried to talk my way out of it, but couldn’t.  I did manage to borrow the book version from someone, and it had maybe six photos in it, but that wasn’t enough.  Sometimes I wonder if these frantic obsession cycles I have got burned into my head result from a lack of media back then.  I mean, if I would’ve heard about the Elephant Man, and then jumped in a web browser and spent four hours poring over wikipedia articles, instead of just getting a tiny taste of it and then not seeing a single thing for years, maybe I would be placated and not spend inordinate amounts of time researching these memes from childhood, reading old Apple II history or 1970s fighter jets or non-Apollo 11 moon landings, because my school library had only a single book on the subject, and I probably checked that single book out 20 times and memorized every damn page.

This still happens.  Like last night, I saw that movie Benjaman Button (or whatever it’s called – Curious Case of…?) and it had a brief appearance by a fictionalized Ota Benga, who was this pygmy from Congo, who was brought over to the US and became an exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, running around a cage in a loincloth throwing spears and playing with monkeys.  (Obviously the political climate was slightly different in 1906, given that now those primates he shared a cage with can now legally drive cars and vote in 22 countries, and would probably be allowed to apply for home mortgages, had Countrywide not gone under.)  So I throw that in google, and Ota Benga links to the movie Freaks, which links to the Lobster Boy, which links to Grady Stiles, the lobster boy who was a horrible alcoholic and was killed by a (poorly) planned hit by his abused family, which brought me to some other article, which brought me to Chang and Eng Bunker, and now I’m spending my valuable day off combing the web for articles about conjoined twins, half wondering if there is either a medication I can take for this, or a way I can make enough money off of it that I can just harness this compulsion into a six-digit career.  (And no, I’m not going to start an ad-sponsored site about freaks or about Soviet attempts at Venus landings or whatever else.  I know in an hour, I will be busy googling for a new desk again.)

Some strange facts about Chang and Eng Bunker:

  • They owned slaves.
  • They lost part of their plantation in the Civil War and were extremely anti-government after that; they also had a son who fought for the Confederate Army.
  • They met a pair of sisters and fought over which of the two they wanted – they both wanted the same one, but Eng won and Chang got second pick.
  • They had 22 children between the two of them, which raises a bunch of obvious questions about how one performs the required acts to conceive a child when your brother-in-law is sitting right next to your husband as you complete said act, repeat 22 times.
  • The kids were all double first cousins with each other.  Double first cousins are technically half-siblings from a genetics standpoint, but since identical twins have the same DNA, they were more than half-siblings, but not full siblings.
  • The sisters ended up on bad terms, so they had to set up two households, and the twins would rotate between the two of them, spending three days at each house.
  • Chang had a stroke four years before they died, and he was the one that controlled their legs, so they were pretty much screwed after that.
  • Chang died in his sleep; Eng woke up one morning, connected to his dead brother.
  • A doctor offered to perform an emergency separation of them after Chang died, but Eng refused to be separated from his brother.
  • Their grandson was General Caleb Haynes, who was a prominent pilot in the Army Air Corps in WWI and WWII.  He was later a freemason, for those of you who are keeping score on how the freemasons are connected to everything.

Great, now I’m going to spend the afternoon googling how many of the people who walked on the moon were freemasons.