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Crazy Eddie

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Few Rock Islanders even know his nickname: Crazy Eddie. Confronted with the giant graying Afro as Eddie makes his rounds along 38th Street or Seventh Avenue, passersby look straight ahead, pretending no one is there. The more cautious cross the street.

In between walks, Eddie sits for hours at one fast food restaurant and coffee shop after another, often causing an exodus of nearby booths. Once in a while, he overstays his welcome and is told not to return.

Rock Islanders find Eddie disturbing because he talks to himself—constantly and loudly. Eddie is an encyclopedia of talk. In the course of a typical half hour, for those brave enough to listen, there will be bits and pieces of dialogues, debates, sermons, editorials, orations, poetry, and prayers. The conversations are heavily laced with quotes from Socrates and Martin Luther King, Jr., Shakespeare and Mother Teresa. The subject at any given moment might be the merits of Moby Dick or the Bible.

On a few occasions on Eddie's lonely walks, college students sitting on front porches along 38th street summon up courage to invite Eddie to sit with them. They hear an amazing story. Eddie tells them that he is really a professor of parapsychology at Harvard, and that he has gotten so good that he can sit at Hardee's and mentally reach a class at Harvard. People think he's crazy, but he's really lecturing.

It could be. Talking to oneself does not automatically certify one as crazy. And even the Harvard story might be believable, were it not for one habit that normal people think is crazy. You see, Eddie doesn't hold back his feelings. When he imagines happy thoughts, he laughs loud and long. When his thoughts turn to human injustice, Eddie gets angry and shouts, and when, as often happens, sad thoughts drift into his consciousness, he breaks down and cries. An Emily Dickinson poem might bring him to tears.

Now, in our refined and repressed culture, that's scary.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.