Friday, May 14, 2010

On Stumbling Across A Few Old Dispatches From Big Leonard Carnap

Big Leonard Carnap is one of my oldest friends. We've known each other since early childhood, and were in the same kindergarten class at Banfield Elementary school.

He was born Big Leonard, or at least that was the only name I ever heard him called. Even when the teachers would call roll in school it was never simply "Leonard" or "Big," but always "Big Leonard."

For a long time now I've believed that a character of the dimensions of Big Leonard Eastman Carnap was a more statistically improbable product of my modest hometown than a movie star, professional athlete, or President.

He was born different, and his apparent gift was that he was capable of becoming more different all the time. He grew up pushing envelopes that were mostly of his own creation. From the time we were fourteen years old, Big Leonard would walk into any store in town and find the one thing --whether a book, record, or item of clothing-- that didn't belong, that never should have been there in the first place, and immediately claim it. He called these things messages, believed they had been waiting for him, and were going to change his life.

I remember he once told me, "Every day you can discover things in even the crappiest little town that are every bit as improbable and astonishing as anything some Spaniard or Frenchman ever found while out mucking around the world in a boat."

I honestly don't believe there's a single person Big Leonard ever came in personal contact with who had any direct influence on him. He invented himself.

I could tell stories about Big Leonard all day, but I'm not going to. I will, though, mention that our first band --formed in his garage at a time when none of us had the slightest idea how to play our instruments; "We're going to learn to play by learning to play," Big Leonard had said-- was called "What Shit" and was banned three years running from the high school talent show.

Big Leonard still lives just outside our hometown, in a big, old farmhouse full of books and records. He inherited the house from his paternal grandfather, who had been a judge of some sort when we were kids. I visit him on the rare occasions that I get back down there, and he's always doing something interesting, still, as he says, "trying to come up with something suitably unusual to keep me entertained." I'm of the opinion that everything he does is art of one sort or another, but he's never shown the least interest in sharing anything he does with anyone other than the occasional visitor.

At any rate, when I first moved away, Big Leonard used to regularly send me postcards featuring generic images of our hometown, photos that almost succeeded in making the place look even more uninteresting than it was. He'd usually scrawl one or two lines on the backs of these postcards, and every once in awhile I'll stumble across a stash of them when I'm rooting around in boxes looking for something else.

Here is a sampling of some of those notes. Finding them this morning made me very happy, and made me wish Big Leonard had a phone so I could call him and hear his voice.

  • Don't go over to the other side, Zellar. There's nothing over there for you.
  • Never forget that the purpose of any decent man is to make himself unfit for citizenry.
  • You can't get people to follow unless you get ahead of them, and it's best to get far enough ahead of them that you're not even aware they're behind you.
  • There is no higher calling than resistance.
  • Take the time to sit down with something interesting and don't get up until you're somehow a different man.
  • The only happy actor needs no audience.
  • Embrace the inconvenient.
  • Surely you agree with me that leaping is a more attractive option than stepping.
  • Don't you think it's always better to get thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple than to settle for a lousy double?
  • Only when you recognize that you don't know anything can you consider yourself truly omniscient.
  • You can lie to Jesus and get away with it but, brother, lie to the devil and you're gonna pay.
  • I'm not isolating; I'm insulating.
  • I don't need any introductions. If there's somebody or something I need to know, there'll inevitably be a collision.
  • I'm never happier than when I'm blindfolded and flailing at a cement pinata with a broomstick.
  • If I was picking teams I'd take the kid who invented the armpit fart over Andy Warhol every day of the week.


  1. Great portrait. Everyone needs a Big Leonard, and also to be someone else's. It takes courage to be who you are when there's no one else that way.

  2. You crack me up.