Seung-hui Cho and The Paper Clip Lady

This month’s massacre of disarmed students and faculty at Virginia Tech was preordained and takes me back to my experience with the violent mentally ill. My brother worked in Vermont’s Waterbury Mental Hospital in the 70s and 80s. He worked to keep some sense of order among the wing housing the criminally insane. At 5’ 5” and 145 pounds, he seemed a strange pick to work with violent, 200-pound psychopaths and he had fractures and lacerations too numerous to count. But he was more successful in reaching these deranged inmates than most other staffers so he was kept at it. Then, in the late-70s and mid-80s, the Patients’ Rights Movement burst upon psychiatry and he watched in dismay as many clearly dangerous offenders were released with the admonition to “take their medicine.” He predicted a catastrophe.

In the 80s and 90s it seemed that everyone had a horror story about the deinstitutionalized insane. In the 1990s I became intimately acquainted with the insane on a daily basis. Every day I took the commuter train to and from Boston’s South Station. South Station had become home to a colorful population of the insane, some calm, others violent. It was clear that Boston – home of arguably the most delusional Marxists in the United States – was spending most of its time hiding its problems and others than actually fixing them. Haunting South Station were the fruits of “mental patients’ rights.”

There was the Paper Clip Lady. A shambling wreck of a woman – perhaps 40, perhaps 70 – she stumbled through the crowds in a filthy trench coat despite the weather. Her long, foul hair hung in slimy glory about her white, puffy face as she had a never-ending argument with someone no one else could see. Her eyes glazed and ablaze at the same time, she held a straightened paper clip in her right hand, jabbing forcefully with it toward her imaginary opponent as she ranted and hectored in meaningless sentence fragments. In between harangues, she would stab herself under her fingernails with the paper clip, creating new freshettes of blood running down her hand and arm to join the gory dam of half-dried blood turning her sleeve into something like furry raw liver. Commuters kept a wary eye on The Paperclip Lady and if she was near one of the station’s benches, the seat behind her was always kept open in case she decided to suddenly sit down while scolding her imaginary enemy.

There was Agent Mulder, a middle-aged man always wearing a sweater vest and clutching a paperback book. Not obviously insane on first glance, he would take the opportunity to sit down across from you if there was an empty chair at the table you were using while waiting for your train. Once you glanced up in surprise he would stare at you levelly as he showed you a book about alien abductions and began earnestly telling you about the danger everyone was in from space invaders, all in a calm if intense tone, and advising you to be on the lookout.

There was The Ambassador, who wore a filthy overcoat and huge galoshes as he prowled the ramps along the train tracks. As you disembarked, he would suddenly be at your side, eyes wild, finger pointing, his unwashed face a writhing thing of madness, as he followed you into the station while loudly telling you something in no language ever spoken in Boston. Once he had reached the station, without pause, he would turn on his heel, attach himself to someone walking out to their train, and continue the exhortation.

I left my job in Boston after a while and never again had to encounter these beneficiaries of liberal benevolence, though I have often wondered how many of those who emptied the asylums ever had to take the train to and from South Station (let me guess – ah, none?) That Seung-hui Cho slaughtered 32 people isn’t the news. The real story is how the Left deliberately went out of its way to help create this massacre by freeing the crazy and disarming the sane in order that they might feel good about themselves, far from either Virginia Tech or South Station.

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