Marolt: Sanity is only the most common form of being crazy

Roger Marotl
Cluster Phobic
Roger Marolt

A guy has the music cranked up on his phone and he’s singing confidently. We’re on the B-line train from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica, California, so it doesn’t strike anyone as strange and, if it’s normal, then how could anyone be annoyed? So commonplace is this type of performance in this setting that it barely registers when he stops.

“I like to sing because I used to do this professionally,” he says to my daughter as he stands above her.

He is polite and non-threatening. He gave up his seat for her and my wife when we boarded.

He smiles when my daughter looks at him.

“Have you ever heard of Ritchie Valens,” he asks her as a kind teacher would.

She just smiles back and he then looks at my wife sitting next to her.

“Do you know?”

Finally he looks at me and recognizes a different kind of smile on my face. “Ah,” he grins. “You remember.”

I know where he’s headed with this: “You’re Ritchie Valens?”

“Yes. Everyone thinks I’m dead, but you can see for yourself…”

He holds up his phone displaying a picture of Ritchie Valens.


I look back and forth from the screen to his face.

“It’s you, alright.”

I look to the front of the car. There is a man in a security guard uniform grinning and talking animatedly to the microphone in his earphone cord. He is older, but not old. His smile reminds me of my father’s. There is something familiar in his eyes.

I look at the shirt pocket where the headphone cord leads. The fabric is flat except for the outline of the cord. There’s no device in there. The gentle man is talking excitedly to himself, or no one at all.

It’s a quick trip to LA with a lot of coffee and moving around. Short bursts of intense sleep in a hotel room. I feel on the perpetual verge of deja vu. Every other move I make I feel weirdly that I have almost already done it.

On the evening of Feb. 17, I saw Benny the Blade on the boardwalk in Santa Monica. I have known the Blade for nearly 30 years as a true Aspen character, so of course I could not reconcile his image right in front of me and walked on past.

On my way back, was it fate that made certain he was sitting right there on a bench, face toward the sun, just as I have seen him many times in front of the Wheeler Opera House? I said “Hi, Benny,” and it was him. We talked for a minute and he told me his new life story that can only be absorbed that quickly by familiar people meeting in an unexpected setting fueled by some derivative of shock.

After catching myself staring curiously at the off-duty security guard, I realized Ritchie was still speaking to me.

“She said I should buy her a house, but I told her, again, that I have given away my fortune to various charities. I’m happy living without things now. I don’t miss the crazy life.”

“That was a nice thing to do,” I told him.

I kind of know why I was talking to him. I was sitting by myself earlier on the University of Southern California campus, wondering if I could picture my daughter there. As soon as the thought formed, I saw a kid walk by who could have been a boy who graduated with my son from Aspen High. Yes, of course, it was him. By the time I realized this, he was gone in the crowd and I felt badly for not saying something when he passed. He’s a good kid. I’ve known him most of his life.

The thing with Benny seemed too coincidental for me to randomly meet another person I knew in the immensity of LA. That’s why I didn’t say “Hi” to Victor. It’s a ridiculous reason, but it is why, nonetheless.

It also is the reason I am patient with Ritchie now. I don’t believe in coincidence. Many more times than not we don’t know why people enter our lives. Almost always, we don’t have enough time to be nice, much less patient enough to find out why, but when we do have the time, maybe we should.

As we arrive at Ritchie’s station, he leans toward me and confidingly reveals, “My real name is Paul.” As he walks away, I realize he has no shoes on his feet, only socks.

Another man smiles. He had been watching the whole thing.

“You were kind to that man.”

It made me happy. Not pleased with myself. Just happy.

Roger Marolt wonders what Paul thought of him. Email at


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