|Wolfram J. Paulovich
From: Fat City, Baby
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THE OBTUSE ANGLE
Randy and Me
December 20, 2003
by Jeb Tennyson Lund
(Note to Dial-Up Users: I don't know if you will not be able to view the illustrations for this piece. If you can't, my apologies. They are, however, small in size and few in number. So maybe the full-graphics mode might be fun for a moment. I certainly hope so. Thank you. J.T.L..)
In the months since I wrote the column, "Randy Orton: Sickening Mutant Bastard," I've received a healthy chunk of reader mail asking where all my dislike and intolerance have come from. In a sense, I don't understand the questions. I think I amply justified the reasons underpinning this dislike.
I think that empirically speaking, he is an undynamic and often merely passable worker. His charisma is minimal and owed more to the storylines and his proximity to Flair and Triple H than anything in his person. And, when compared to outstanding new talents like Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas, it is obvious that his meager abilities did far less to land him a WWE job than did his father's connections.
Still, people think that those reasons are insufficient to justify why I dislike Orton so. They seem to think there is an underlying explanation. Ordinarily, I'd say that I can be totally objective and measure a wrestler's worth by what that wrestler shows me on television, but I must admit that there is an underlying story. And Randy knows it, too.
In order to placate my readers' sensibilities and answer their questions, I offer the story and illustrations below, both of which were taken from the copious notes and sketches I made at the time.
The Introduction... and The End of The Beginning
I first met Randy Orton in September of 1999, at the Edwin M. Schiller Military Psychiatric Center outside Athens, Georgia. I had recently graduated from college with a B.A. in psychology, which qualified me for many jobs in clothing retail and food service but little else. College bills loomed. For months, I felt like a guy stuck with forty subscriptions to Vibe. Except my subscriptions cost about $120,000, and I wasn't even left with a bunch of pretty pictures to look at in magazines. All the books I'd bought for college didn't have any pictures other than MRIs of serial killers' brains.
So I felt pretty elated and a lot less poor when I ran into a fellow alumnus who worked in emergency psychiatric care and knew some people who knew some people, and who ultimately hooked me up with a job as an assistant to the head of psychiatry at the Schiller Center's facility for psychiatric evaluation of active duty military personnel.
To be honest, I was little more than an orderly/gopher who took notes and occasionally got asked questions about diagnoses, but, you know, what the hell? It was a start, and it looked good on a Curriculum Vitae. The Doctor I worked under, Albert Hanson, was published and respected; and, well, one day he was going to give me a good recommendation for those weeks of schlepping coffee, moving papers and occasionally being mistaken, by patients, for Judas Iscariot. I was paying off some loans, adding to my experience, and even making headway in helping to treat our two Jesuses, one Michelangelo and the one guy who claimed he could teleport. (He couldn't.)
Then, one day, Private First Class Randy Orton showed up. He had been in Camp Pendelton's prison barracks awaiting a court martial for several offenses. (I never figured out why they transferred him all the way from Southern California.) There were numerous charges of dereliction of duty. All of them hinged on him apparently feigning death to get out of menial tasks, like cleaning the latrines. Randy had also been charged with desertion, for going AWOL for 82 days on what he called, "A really, really cool cell-phone/internet scavenger hunt." There were even charges of insubordination and failing to salute a superior officer both of which, in fairness to Randy, I felt were gratuitous since in those cases he was pretending to be dead at the time.
The desertion charges spooked him, though. He knew he was going to be dishonorably discharged for the other offenses, but he was pretty sure that the desertion (combined with the other charges) would anger the court. In short, he was afraid he was going to get significant prison time, on top of the discharge, in order to "make an example of him."
That's how he came to us. Randy decided that he might be able to skirt the charges and prison by "bucking for a Section 8." That's apparently what they call it in the Army, and I never remembered the term that the Marine Corps uses. Basically, he was pretending to be insane, but "curably insane" enough so that the court would convict him of the charges, send him to get "cured," and he'd get cured a month or two later and walk away. No prison. I later suspected he got the idea from Klinger, from M*A*S*H.
His act or "persona," shall we say, was creative but fairly easy to see through. I always felt that it shone a light into his innate vanity, something that can be seen to this day. Rather than pretend to be a useless loon, incapable of taking care of himself, Randy claimed to be "Dr. Rand E. Orton, Super Genius." His two months AWOL came about because he was pursuing the "truly interesting new theory of Mammal Conductivity at the FermiLab." His pretending to be dead wasn't pretending at all but rather the result of severe "brain attacks" caused by his massive intellect that left him confused and disoriented.
When Dr. Hanson first interviewed Randy after he was admitted, Randy refused to speak to him. He said that a mind as vast as his could not be understood by anyone less than the great therapists James Youngblood or Lloyd Andrews. He dismissed Dr. Hanson outright and proceeded to stride confidently about the hallways making mental notes on adjustments to be made to the "Stanford Lunar Accelerator," all the while pursing his lips and reeking of Calvin Klein's Obsession.
After days of his enthusiastic attempts to confuse the staff by staring at geodes and making comments about magma, touching the fronds of ferns and speaking of "Sub-micronic fernulated flagella," and calling Dr. Hanson "Gunsel," we were still at an impasse. He refused to speak to the Doctor and, when forced into interviews, suffered spontaneous brain attacks. The Doctor was sick of Randy wasting his time, and the orderlies were getting sick of carrying Randy back to bed. And we still had 55 of the required 60 days of observation to get through.
That's where I came in. I wanted to have more experience handling patients, and I figured a long time observing "Dr. Rand E." would at least give me material for an article or maybe a Ph.D thesis. Selfishly, I admit, I persuaded Dr. Hanson to tell Randy that he was giving me to Randy for use as a research assistant. I would attend to his cogitations full time and surreptitiously take notes on the patient, on my yellow legal pad. Was it unethical? Maybe. But it gave me valuable experience, spared me the indignity of dealing with "Michelangelo" and his unwanted sexual advances and, most importantly, I got to know Randy.
And I got to like him, sincerely, very much. It was evident immediately that his Dr. Rand E. persona was the worst sort of wish fulfillment. At times it was painfully embarrassing to feed his obvious desires to be smarter than he was. But I understood it; I empathized. (It's always hard to acknowledge that you will never be the genius that your parents and teachers said you would be.) And, underneath that obvious bluster was an equally obvious good heart, a generous heart and a patient one too, no pun intended.
Playing the part of the Good Doctor, he had me accompany him on rounds. While he was trying to show me that he was what he claimed (and, thus, insane), he was actually giving comfort to the many unfortunate fellows in the ward. To a corporal who suffered terrible nightmares and visions that tended toward schizophrenic episodes, Randy saluted and assured him that he was mentally fine, but that he had acute "Neuro-Apneal Glaucoma" and that his eyes were beaming Fear Particles into his perfectly normal brain. I remember Randy extending a steadying hand to the corporal's unsteady shoulder. For weeks after that, the corporal was remarkably happier.
Often, we took long walks along the grounds. We'd meander in the warm diffused autumn afternoon light particular to that area of Georgia: the wind slightly chilled, the sun wonderfully warming on the skin when the wind died down, leaves and the buildings and the sound of the late part of the day all honeyed, in a way, by the light. The environs, with their brick paths and long grassy grounds and oak and dogwood trees reminded me of being at school in Georgetown. We'd walk, and Randy would speak at length on his theories of human nature and interaction, of science and the arts all the while giving me glimpses into his mind and taking my mind off those bills from that selfsame Georgetown I'd attended.
After four years of college study, I came to the conclusion that I am a Behavioralist at heart, in the full B.F. Skinner kind of way. I believe that one's experiences in one's developing years condition what one will become: that positive and negative stimulus teach you how to behave, what is wrong, what is celebrated, etc. I also believe that you can reinstruct people and help them, through supportive but steady behavior modification. This I tried to do with Randy.
Whenever Randy uttered a statement rife with errors and looked as though he knew he had just made a mistake I tried to counter with positive and affirming statements about some true aspect of him. I let the lie go away while confirming for him the worth of something about him that we both knew was real. I gave him an escape route.
I even theorized that he might diagnose and treat himself, as the Good Doctor, if I could impart some principles of behavioralism and psychology to him. In a decision I came to regret (especially given his odd obsession with animals), I went so far as to bring my pet my Emperor Penguin, Boris to visit Randy so that Randy could have a fun afternoon with an animal. Through Boris, I sought to teach Randy some behavioralist ideas that would help him with self-examination. I described to Randy how I had been attempting to teach Boris basic mathematics by having him eat certain species of fish in certain amounts and sequences.
I told Randy, "Even some of the simplest of God's creatures can become his greatest, through rethinking and relearning, caring and patience. Everyone and everything can learn a new thing, even if it's just how to be happy." Boris liked the fish. Randy ignored the implications and turned away from the chance at the helping hand. To this day, I still don't understand his impulse to try to feed cigarettes to the penguin and his comment to me that "they are the most naturally addictive of all marsupials."
Day after day, I broadened Randy's potential escape route. It was obvious that as a child he had been deeply traumatized by his father's constant and nagging injuries. I told him many times that the fear of life's injuries and maladies can make us be afraid of being human and make us want to be superhuman. I gave him that escape route (or window, if you prefer), that opportunity to talk, but he never went down it, never opened it further. I was subtly telling him that at any point he could become a legitimate patient with a psychosis based in a fear of pain, fear for his father and fear for himself. I knew that he knew I was losing my belief in Dr. Rand E., but that I was also increasing my faith in Randy, the wounded Randy, the frightened Randy, the Randy whose father was so fragile. Yet Randy wanted nothing to do with any of it.
That is where the unraveling began, and thus began my dislike.
The Beginning of The End
Admittedly, there were things about him that I had always disliked. He had a nasty habit of ostentatiously flexing his biceps when pointing out to the nurses obscure "scientific" features of plants or animals in the paintings that lined the ward's walls. The cloud of Obsession surrounding him never fully went away. He had a tendency to hum the rhythm tracks of Metallica songs when deep in thought, but his pitch was always slightly off.
Also, he was fond of whittling, but was enormously bad at it. For one, he wasn't allowed sharp objects, since it was a psychiatric facility, and was forced only to whittle soap. For another, he simply had no talent. Each bar of soap was whittled down to simply a smaller rectangle, which he would then "sell" to other patients as a miniature of Harvard Yard or, say, the State of Wyoming.
None of which would have been necessary, mind you, save for his chronic and offensive gambling during the patients' free time. I say offensive because he cheated at poker against opponents far more medicated than he. Worse, through sheer dumb luck, they often wound up beating him. This meant that he had to sell his whittlings to other patients in order to get items that he could bet with (his opponents already having their fill of winning carved renderings of a "football field" from him). Money not being allowed in the facility, Randy compulsively whittled and sold in order to get stuffed animals, patients' therapeutic paintings, beloved photos... anything, really, that he could bet with. He also had to steal the soap from the bathrooms in order to do this. As such, other patients went increasingly conspicuously dirty, and some became dangerously agitated when forced to clean themselves with their winnings.
I mention all these things out of frustration, which is inappropriate in a therapist. But I would not let myself now feel this anger if it weren't for the fact that Randy spurned all attempts at help and became a more inveterate liar. His bad lies fed his bad habits; and his bad habits fed his bad lies. At any point, he could have stopped the cycle or let me stop the cycle, thus sparing him responsibility. I would have taken it all on myself, if only to let him breathe... if only he'd let me. He did not.
The more I let on that I knew his persona to be a sham and the more I hinted that I knew the real problem (fear, masked with hubristic artifice) the more new psychoses Randy produced. Worried that I was seeing into him more deeply, he threw up any screens that occurred to him. Rejecting help, he embraced anything that worsened his problems and might confuse me, or Dr. Lloyd Andrews or Dr. James Youngblood (neither of whom could ever be found).
On some occasions, we'd drive the grounds in Dr. Hanson's BMW. Randy liked cars, any complex machinery, to be honest. He also liked the opportunity to do more than simply shuffle around the brick pathways that surrounded the facility. It was a lovely car that had a button on the steering wheel that activated the built-in phone. If you pressed it, the car's voice would ask for a name; if you said a name stored in the phone's memory, it would dial that person's number for you. Randy once saw me dial the professor while in the car and took inspiration from that.
Following a particularly tense conversation, during which I had let slip a few more ambiguous invitations to get Randy to open up and be honest with me, he violently reached across the car and stabbed at the phone button. The phone-voice immediately replied. What followed was an exchange that Randy claimed came from his "tribal brain": a part of him that tried to take over his intellect and subjected him to episodes of barbarian savagery and anger. He felt trapped by me and sought to divert my attention. I have reproduced the episode below, as best I can:
Polite Car Voice: NAME, PLEASE....
Randy: What did you do with my camels?
Polite Car Voice: I'M SORRY....
Randy: You're goddamned right you're sorry!
Polite Car Voice: PLEASE REPEAT....
Randy: The animals! My animals! Where are my fucking camels, you asshole?
Polite Car Voice: NAME, PLEASE....
Randy: Oh, I see your game now. I'll get you. I'll run this car into a tree, if I have to, but I'll get you. And you'll
Polite Car Voice: I'M SORRY....
Randy: Yeah, you're sorry now you chickenshit disembodied car zombie voice sonofabitchcocksuckerassholebastard. I'll find the box you're hiding your voice in and rip it out!
Polite Car Voice: PLEASE REPEAT....
Randy: I said I'll rip it out!!!
Polite Car Voice: NAME, PLEASE....
Randy: Oh, you're dead. You're so dead.
Luckily at no point did he reach for the wheel, because I honestly don't know what I would have done.
When we discussed this episode, he proffered the "tribal brain" theory I related above. Days later, however, when I noted that he had no history of violent or abusive episodes (and that he had had none since this one), he had no answer. Instead, he fully reverted to Good Doctor mode and spoke interminably about how, at the FermiLab, they had succeeded in passing 12 gigawatts of protons through an otter.
Being a genius with epilepsy and a kind of Tourette's Syndrome wasn't enough for Randy. As if determined to find a better excuse for his condition, he claimed, one day, that he had been raped that he was a victim. Unfortunately, he claimed that the rape happened on the grounds, which wouldn't have explained the feigned psychoses that had gotten him institutionalized in the first place, and certainly wouldn't help him avoid the charges at the court martial. He pressed on with his claim nonetheless.
He blamed one of the cooks in the facility's kitchen, a poor half-witted Russian woman named Anna ("Annushka") Semyonovna Paleologue. Annushka had come to work with us years before, qualified for little except menial work and too mentally disabled to be guaranteed a secure life anywhere else. Randy claimed that she collared him in the ramble behind the kitchen, held him down with her giant calloused and almost horned hands (from years of working with cleansers and hot water), and then used her overwhelming peasant frame to pin, nearly suffocate and grievously use his body. But none of this gibed with the Annushka everyone else had encountered: a placid giantess who named potatoes and spoke to them, in the absence of having friends and who, later, when forced to peel them, wept inconsolably.
Luckless Annushka was detained, interrogated and pressured to the point of total emotional breakdown. Not only was it obvious that she didn't do the things of which she was accused, she clearly hadn't the imagination to think of them, the mental capacity to plan them or the character to carry them out. When counter-questioned, Randy shrieked something about the "heat from the oven" and fell down in another brain attack. No charges were brought against Annushka. But I had seen a glimpse of a streak of inhumanity in Randy, and it had crippled my faith in him.
All of his weaknesses could have been forgiven, had he just admitted that he knew they were there. His lies were understandable in their context. But, as his mandatory observation period neared its end, he showed no regret, no change, no awareness. In fact, he intensified his Good Doctor performance and complemented it with a kind of ineradicable smug grin. He had failed as a Marine and failed as a patient. Most of all, he failed me as a human being when I had told him that I would accept and understand him on any terms.
The day before Randy's transfer back to Camp Pendelton, Boris went missing. He turned up two days later in a patient's closet, wearing a towel tied to his head, his feet jammed inside a pair of tiny Dutch clogs. Randy had taken him and used him to pay off a poker debt. The poor winner never knew he'd been paid with a stolen penguin.
I sympathized with the man Randy Orton was, and I admired the man I knew he wanted to be. But he never consciously let me know the first man, and he never let me help the other man. He lied to me, and stole my penguin. I later found out he was given a Bad Conduct Discharge, sentenced to 45 days in the Pendelton Brig and suffered forfeiture of pay. Two months after I last saw him, I was accepted to Columbia for graduate work and moved to New York.
Tremendous thanks go to Brad "Angst Biscuits" Smoley whose idea it was to illustrate this piece. All credit for that singular idea, for the content of the illustrations and, of course, their excellence goes directly to Brad. Smoley is God. This is a stark contrast to the evil of Erin Anderson and Matt Hocking, who a drifter told me were using occult powers all along to stop this piece from being printed. And to Samuel Richardson and Clarissa, I say, "No thanks."