This has really been affecting me lately: my obsession with the bizarre. I wake up, roll out of bed. I grab a history book, or find my laptop and click straight to a science magazine website as if the Holy Grail of the absurd is going to suddenly spring to life like an oddly glowing chalice.
It’s that one weird news story that will go viral. I just know it will. Like when I posted video of a semi-pro hockey coach freaking out. It made the U.K. Guardian’s top ten sports videos of 2008.
This week I posted a story about the time it rained caterpillars in a Bakersfield, Calif. neighborhood. I interviewed my own kid! A few months before, I posted a an article about a piece of glass coming out of a man’s hand twenty years later. It was my own. You see, the absurd even follows me. And so in turn, I am obsessed with it.
Like the time a man came into an ABC TV station where I was working. He had chocolate candy clusters he claimed were infested with bugs. The news director didn’t want anything to do with it. I begged to do the story. In fact, I ran with my camera and helped tear into the package to find maggots and spiders. It was a great news story. And by the end of the night, it wasn’t just on CNN.com. It made Jay Leno and the Tonight Show.
The power of being obsessed with the weird.
On August 7, I surfed the Web for the top ten weird Bakersfield items on eBay. I put together a list that even includes burial plots. It paid off. The president of a local newspaper even retweeted it.
Mostly, this ongoing obsession began transforming me beginning in early 2009. In January I signed a contract with Viva Editions to write a really strange book of bizarre trivia titled “Random Obsessions.”
For some time I couldn’t stop thinking about what the book should be titled. So I took an obsessive, mind-clearing walk around the block.
Here in the urban tundra of Bakersfield I believe my neighborhood is a microcosm of the randomly weird. Just within the last year I’ve seen giant penis chalk drawings, a creepy dead cat at an old folks' home that no one would clean up, a Teddy bear head, fallen trees, deadly car wrecks, kit foxes, raining caterpillars, black widow kingdoms, strange hobos… I could go on.
And so the titled popped into my head: “Random Obsessions.”
My publisher loved the title. They added “Trivia You Can’t Live Without.” Perfectly obsessive, I thought. Stalking trivia like stalking lovers. It’s insane.
And so the book has its odd chapters: Amassed from the Past, Unnatural Sciences, Puzzling Ailments, Idiosyncratic Inventions, Odd Occupations, Saturday Night Fever, Eccentric Authors and Fantastic Art, and Mysterious Places.
For two months as I wrote my people's history of the peculiar, my obsession with weird news like Teddy bears in space, Mothman, Thomas Jefferson's ax-wielding grandson and dinosaur vaccuum cleaners reached an all-time high. Not only did I stalk the Internet, I killed a computer by going to ungodly sites whose viruses plagued my voyage into the inner sanctum of weird.
I also began camping out at the local university library.
In my random obsessions for bizarre information I would yank 30 or 40 books off the CSU Bakersfield library bookshelves and pile them on a desk. I’d tear through history, literature, biographies, invention listings, phobia lists. You name it.
Did you know uranophobia is the fear of Heaven? See, I can't stop myself...
My mornings were filled with more walks imagining the most bizarre oddities I could fill my book and life with. Then I’d get to work. That process repeated daily.
Sure, it has calmed some. But I’m still writing weird news like never before.
And now it’s almost time for the “Random Obsessions” book tour. I literally just booked a freak show oddity named George the Giant for one of my weird readings on Aug. 29 at a Barnes & Noble.
George is from Bakersfield. He was on America’s Got Talent and in the movie “Big Fish.” I know he will have some oddities to share. And so the obsession goes on.