Larry was a human CIA antenna. Perry's best friend was a girl named Little Suzie who lived on the planet Ior. Carlos had poisonous snakes in his underwear drawer. Richard was upset because I kept hiding his mustache in my office.
These were some of the patients I worked with in a psychiatric facility after I got out of the Navy. They were wonderful people, but they were also crazy and had been so for years. It didn't matter if we checked Carlos' drawer 10 times a day: he was always petrified of it. And it didn't matter that Richard's allegedly stolen mustache was firmly attached to his face. Reality is irrelevant to the insane for the simple reason that they have lost touch with it.
This is where my mind went after spending three hours this morning going through the week's stack of local, state and national newspapers. We have lost our minds. We can see this in a 30-minute wait required to get into a Siloam Springs restaurant that's two-thirds empty. We see it in gym protocols that turn spending five minutes on a Stairmaster into a bureaucratic ordeal. We see it in people walking and driving alone wearing face masks.
It was pointless to tell Perry that the planet Ior didn't exist. It seems equally pointless to rehearse, yet again, what we have known for two months, namely, that the coronavirus is not a serious threat except to a relatively small percentage of the population, and we know who they are. They are not healthy children. They are not healthy college kids. They are not healthy adults. Yet, incredibly, we are contemplating whether schools will open in the fall.
Sometimes insanity comes gradually, sometimes instantly. It came to Siloam Springs on March 13. "The University of Arkansas and the community college have ended classes because of the corona pandemic," I wrote in my journal early that morning. "The NBA and NHL have shut down. JBU is likely to end classes--everything moving online. It's too much. Few die from the virus. The elderly and others with underlying conditions can be protected. The rest of us can get sick and move on. But the panic is throwing the economy over a cliff. For some reason there's a rush on toilet paper. The toilet paper at the stores has been sold out. Why toilet paper? No one knows. I tell students it's a chance to study mass psychology."
By late evening, word had gone out that JBU would shut down. Students were told they had eight days to evacuate. Within 24 hours, that had been reduced to three days. I said to a colleague that things were spinning into panic. With something like desperation in his eyes he said, "Look at what's happening in Italy." I thought, Northern Italy and Siloam Springs are different, but realized it was useless to respond.
The downward spiral began. In an act of minor defiance against the gathering social self-mutilation, my family went to 28 Springs for dinner. Few others were out. You could sense the death angels hovering over the town. And then the gyms closed and the restaurants closed and the brains closed, and here we are amidst the shambles.
Whatever else the new JBU sign on the northwest corner of Highway 412 and Highway 59 signifies, it means that Siloam's hometown college has become something quite different. The nation itself is quite different. Human relations are different.
Change happens, but one wishes these transitions hadn't taken place in a context of madness.
-- Preston Jones is a Siloam Springs resident and history professor. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
Editorial on 05/20/2020
Print Headline: The day we lost our minds