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Recalling 'Crackpots with Just Plain Crazy Ideas'


David Greenberger spends his time traveling around the country collecting old people's stories so he can retell them. He heard this one from Gene Weaver, a retired pattern maker in Chattanooga, Tennessee.


I wish I could have been better educated. I wish I could have traveled more. I wish I could have climbed up the ladder a little further, but I'm not disappointed in what I did. I was a pattern maker. I worked in making things out of wood. When I say things, you wouldn't know what they were unless I told you. I've made some peculiar things in my line.

One guy came in one day and says, I work for the newspaper here in Chattanooga, The Times, I guess it is. Anyway, this guy worked there and he came in and he said, I want to talk to you. I've had a lot of nuts who wanted to talk to me, and that's no reflection on what you're doing, but I've had a lot of nuts wanting to talk to me. Now, maybe I shouldn't have said that. I'm sure you're a fine fellow, and I'm sure you're not a nut because if you were you wouldn't want to be talking to me like this, if you were a nut. I wouldn't guess, anyway. Of course, one nut to another is all right, I guess. Ah, you've got to have a little bit of humor.

Anyway, this guy came in and he said, I want you to look at what I have here. This was an old guy. I guess he was 60 years old. I have to look down towards that age now. Of course, he's already gone. But I thought 60 years old was getting pretty old, you know, back then. Now I wish I was 60. Anyway, he wanted to develop a cigarette extinguisher. You'll have to laugh at this one. He said if you're going down the highway, and you and your wife are just coasting along, and you're smoking a cigarette, and you've got half of it gone, and you don't want anymore, you could save that by putting it in this extinguisher. You could extinguish the odor and the fire in it and save it for the next hour or next 30 minutes. Whenever you wanted to have another cigarette, you could smoke the rest of it.

Well, later he showed me a letter he wrote to the Ford Motor Company, and the Ford Motor Company wrote him a letter back. Of course, they turned that down, but it was a real nice letter. They couldn't have written a better letter than that. It was nice, and it was nice to him.

You want to hear some more?

Well, a guy came in, and he had a wood leg, a wooden peg leg, you know, one with a piece of wood coming up here and straps around. You don't see very many of those anymore. Anyway, he came in, and he said this was wearing out, and he wanted me to make him a peg leg. Well, I didn't. I didn't want to get involved with making him a leg. It's kind of a specialty, and I just didn't want to do it. I didn't know whether there'd be some complications there that it wouldn't suit him, or it might be something else that it might be objectionable, so I just didn't do it.

People would come in, and they'd want me to make devices. I wasn't a device maker. I was a pattern maker. Of course, they didn't know the difference. This one guy, he wanted me to make him a device to strap on his arm that he could put playing cards in, so that when he's playing cards he could slip one out when he wanted to. I said, you're just fixing to get your head blown off. I said, anybody who's playing cards where you're playing cards wouldn't mind shooting you. I told him, the best thing you can do is forget about it, because I'm not going to make it for you.

I've had some crackpots, some real crackpots. I can't think of them all right now. Some of them come in and start talking to me and seem intelligent enough. They'll even have some drawings, but they turn out to be crackpots with just plain crazy ideas.

SIEGEL: That was David Greenberger telling Gene Weaver's story of the crackpots he encountered on the job. The story is found on a CD called The Mayor of the Tennessee River. The music was by Shaking Ray Levis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.