Ray was 23, a dangerous age. I hired him to produce a local radio talk show. He had all the right stuff for it: he had produced radio shows for a few years, he was young, experimental, egotistical, smart, curious and reckless.
I offered him freedom. Work with little or no supervision. No set office hours, aside from the show’s airtime. No suits breathing down his back over ratings or sponsors. Keep the host happy, and experiment with ways to make the show better. Have fun with it.
He worked in my office, so we ended up making a lot of small talk. I really suck at small talk, and so it typically ends up as some kind of philosophical, metaphysical, scientific, or religious rant. In Ray I found a willing and intelligent audience and as he came up to speed our conversations would get ever more speculative and unusual.
It was my fault. I didn’t realize that I was blowing his mind. I should have seen the warning signs. My wife saw them first, and as usual I made the mistake of thinking she was mistaken.
When he started coming to work at strange hours and his work began to suffer, I realized she was right. I sat down to have a talk with him.
“What’s going on, Ray?”
“I can’t describe it. I think that I need less freedom.”
“I need walls, John. I need a supervisor. I need rules. I need less freedom.”
He stayed on for a while longer, but rapidly deteriorated. By the time he left, he looked like a wreck. He was becoming irrational and abusive. He was using powerful drugs. I grew very, very worried about him. He obviously needed help, but when I brought the subject up it became equally obvious that he didn’t think he needed it.
I suspected that Ray’s life was in danger. After spending a fitful night thinking about it, I decided that the only thing I could do is alert his family. I was powerless here, but perhaps they weren’t. I called his father and explained the problem.
An hour later, Ray stopped by for a visit.
“John, I think people are plotting against me. I need someone I can trust isn’t in on it. I’ve always been able to trust you before. Can I trust you now?”
I suddenly felt like a gaping asshole. “Ray, think about this for a minute. Why would anyone plot against you? What makes you so important?”
“Just tell me, are you in on it?”
“If there’s a conspiracy against you, I haven’t even caught the remotest whiff of it. There are a lot of people who are very concerned about you, though. You need help.”
“Yes or no, John. Are you in on it?”
“No. But if I were, I’d still say ‘no’, wouldn’t I? Can you see how your thinking is self-confirming? There is no answer I can give you that will put you at rest about this. All I can tell you is that the only people who give a rat’s ass about you are your friends and family, and they all love you and want to help you. You’re a fool if you don’t let them.”
A week later, Ray went insane.
He announced his insanity to the world by stripping nude and painting himself green and yellow. Then he broke into the second-story apartment of a friend of his and threw everything in the place out of the window, screaming incoherently. His family had him institutionalized.
A month later, I spotted a soggy lump under the tree in my front yard. A book. It must have been dropped there the prior night.
It was titled Trips: How Hallucinogens Work in Your Brain (an excellent book, by the way). I didn’t realize it was a gift from Ray until I opened it and found an inscription on the title page. “Dear John, Thank you for “acting” in my best “
bu bizness” interests!! Pleasure???? with you. R.”
My friends started getting calls the next day. Ray had been released and was asking odd, personal questions about me. He alternated between being angry and complimentary toward me. He was still crazy. It’s been many years since I hired Ray. He still stalks me, and I hear that time has not improved his mental state. If I’m to have a stalker, though, I suppose I could do worse.
I can’t fault him, really. After all, I’m the one that drove him insane.