A few of you have requested another story about the Count, so here’s a real whopper. I hope you enjoy it!
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the Count, click over on the May Archives section in the column to the right of my blog. Scroll down to the entry for May 2, 2006, and read. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Seriously.
**real time lag**
OK, all caught up? Let’s press on!
I thought the assignment was simple enough. Write an in-class essay entitled “My Best Friend,” in which the student describes the special, emotional, and deep feelings they have for their best friend. Then, we would go around the class and share them.
It yielded some interesting results. First of all, four people picked Jesus. Two girls picked their mothers. Two guys picked their brothers, and one guy picked his godfather.
The Count picked Robert Downey, Jr.
I knew we were in trouble when it became his turn to read aloud. After clearing his throat dramatically, he began with: “My best friend is a famous stage and screen actor…” (this caused several students to look up, alarmed) “…named Robert Downey, Jr.”
The other students, who hadn’t really been paying attention, suddenly look very confused and intrigued. The Count’s essay went on to describe how he and Mr. Downey had grown up together in California, and how they partied all the time. I just stood at the front of the classroom, tapping my foot.
“OK, Count?” I asked, once he paused to take a breath, “how old are you?”
“Twenty,” said the Count.
“Robert Downey, Jr. is forty-one years old,” I said. “There’s no possible way you could have grown up together. Technically, he’s old enough to be your father.”
The Count remained undaunted. “Well, we didn’t really grow up together,” he allowed. “But we were teenagers together.”
I loved this leap in logic, but not as much as a poor guy named Ryan, who sat directly behind the Count (the Count, of course, sat front row center). Ryan began pretending his finger was a gun and kept “shooting” the Count in the back of the head.
“No,” I argued, “that’s not possible. When Downey was a teenager, you weren’t born yet.”
Even this logic didn’t penetrate the Count’s skull. He continued to read his essay, talking about all the good times he and “Rob” had had as teenagers, mostly “cruising around in Rob’s car and picking up chicks.” This was too much for poor Ryan, who suddenly blurted out: “For the love of God, Professor BeowulfGirl, make him stop lying!)
Out of curiosity, I asked the Count; “What did you do when your so-called best friend went to jail for drugs?”
“He never went to jail for drugs,” said the Count, in a low, intimate whisper. “He was…set up.”
“By whom?” I demanded.
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that,” said the Count, ominously. “It could lead to very bad things. But I can tell you this; he wasn't in prison. He was making a movie at an undisclosed location.”
"Oh, well, yes, that makes perfect sense," I said, rolling my eyes sarcastically like Hugh Laurie.
And that’s pretty much how the class went. The Count kept insisting he was best friends with Robert Downey, Jr. Ryan kept calling the Count delusional. I kept trying to corner him with logic. Nothing worked.
Several days later, I had a brainstorm. Since no one at Very Serious University had a clue as to how to deal with the Count, I decided to go right to the horse’s mouth; I would ask my psychiatrist.
My psychiatrist was utterly fascinated with the Count and we spent nearly the entire session talking about him; I want my money back. He explained to me that the Count actually had two problems. The first was pathological lying, the clinical name for which is pseudologica fantastica. With this condition, the patient honestly doesn’t know he’s lying, and lives in a constant state of surprise and confusion when people keep proving him wrong. Although annoying, these people are rarely dangerous.
The Count’s other problem, according to the good doctor, was something called parasocial relationships. This is a condition in which the patient believes that fictional characters on television and movies are not only real, but they are talking directly to him. (Apparently, this most often happens with soap operas). These are people who think they're dating, say, Dan Rather, because Dan shows up in their living room every night. In extreme cases (like the Count), the patient actually believes they are best friends, lovers, or confidents of very famous people. These are the sort of people who, when the object of their parasocial relationship gets married, are very upset that they were not invited to the wedding. (A good example of this is that woman who was stalking David Letterman some years ago).
There are many other great stories of delusional lies that the Count told me and the class as the semester unfolded, so I will do my best to report them here. Believe me, there is a plethora of them.
Next time: BeowulfGirl’s Excellent Off-Broadway Adventure!