Readers of my recently-released collection Cthulhu Fhtagn Baby and Other Cosmic Insolence are probably more than a little surprised by the dedication:
To Norman Amemiya: You are a freakish abomination to everything the mundane world holds dear. That's the highest compliment I can pay you. Without you, this book wouldn't exist.
Psychiatrists and anthropologists will one day debate who or what Norman was exactly, but to me he was the catalyst for my life of imagination. He showed me that "growing up" didn't require selling out your passions or abandoning your imagination. Whether he is a genius or a lunatic is a question I leave for the ages.
For half a century, the forces of normalcy have laid siege to Norman, but he has resisted. Born in Chicago to Japanese-American parents released from American internment camps during the Second World War, Norman has spent much of his life pursuing a life of imagination in books, comics, movies, and genre fandom. After a rocky childhood in the deep South, his response to being tossed into lockers by jocks or beaten by bullies was not to grow bitter or vicious but to focus further ahead on concerns and ideas beyond the present. He developed a peculiar resistance to the demands of culture and society which I have ever since admired.
He belongs to that imaginary whiz-bang future from old pulp magazines where people aren't judged by their appearance or salary or obedience to the norm.
I met Norman soon after my parents divorced in 1987. Several friends of mine and I had started a role-playing campaign, and one of them mentioned a peculiar fellow who often visited his parents' pet store and liked to talk about science fiction. I agreed to meet him, and on a fall day in 1987, my friend Mike and I stood on the front porch of a tree-shaded house.
Mike knocked and then turned to me. "Oh, by the way," he said. "Norman is a little strange."
"How strange can he--" I started to say when the door swung open, revealing Norman Amemiya.
The man standing on the other side of the screened door was short and hunched. He squinted at us through his thick glasses, and his slick black hair seemed to glisten on his head like a lobster's carapace. He had a way of stepping forward with one foot, craning his neck toward you, and speaking in a high pitched voice. This he did now, leaning out towards us and saying, "Helllooo, there."
I'm pretty sure I stumbled back a step or two. I'd expected another teenager, not a gnomish thirty-something adult.
Norman waved us inside, leaning on his cane. Across the wall were cards wishing him well after a recent accident, so I asked him what happened.
Back then, Norman relied frequently upon a bicycle for transportation. A few months before, he'd waited at an intersection to cross and did so when he saw no cars coming. At that very moment, a BMW sped around the curve and hit him. In a bizarre caprice of physics, he was thrown up into the air and into the sunroof, where he undoubtedly surprised the young driver with his piercing E.T.-like shriek. Norman had spent several months in the hospital and therapy, and he still walks with a limp to this day.
That is the prototypical Norman story: filled with folly, strangeness, pathos, and an odd courage and endurance.
Though I didn't know it at that moment, I was standing before a guerilla against conformity. Like Number Six from television's The Prisoner (to which he introduced me), Norman too refuses to be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. Over the intervening decades of our friendship, I've seen time and again his resistance to all cultural standards of taste, fashion, grooming, and success.
Norman would just as soon wear his surplus surgical scrubs or jumpsuits than anything else, and his personal hygiene is more functional than ornamental. His idea of success isn't an SUV parked in a two-car garage but the financial and intellectual freedom to read his books or play his video games or spin his strange theories. Even his rebellion isn't ordinary: he has no political or social agenda. He simply tries to live the life he wants, with all its peculiar consequences.
And oh, are there consequences.
One cannot live as a guerilla of imagination behind enemy lines without facing resistance from the teeming soldiers of reality. He works strange jobs at the fringes of society: delivering phone books, inventorying grocery stores, assembling pump motors. Even as an adult, Norman still faces the occasional cruel quip, not to mention sidelong glances and gasps of indignation. The pricks and assholes from high school have transformed into the supervisors and managers of adulthood, and Norman tries to keep what he calls "a low profile" beneath their notice.
His obvious ambivalence to all social pressures must annoy all those sellouts who caved, I suppose.
Norman's misfortunes--both human and circumstantial--have made him surprisingly resourceful.
Once we were driving through a busy intersection when the accelerator pedal inexplicably clunked to the floor. In a single fluid motion, Norman reached behind him in the truck, pulled out a bell wire, threaded it through a screw hole in the accelerator lever, and drove through the intersection using the wire wrapped around his wrist.
See? He's a genius.
Another time, he climbed into his boss's car after an afternoon job. When they pulled onto the highway, the boss said, "Hey, Norman: that ice cream smells great. What kind is it?" Norman looked around frantically crying, "Ice cream? What?" Then he started waving his arms and screaming for his boss to pull over. It seems Norman had purchased some flavored water and, lacking a place to put it, had slipped it in his pocket.
Without the cap on.
And then sat beside the only box of tissues in the car.
So maybe he isn't ALWAYS a genius.
All I know is that he can scrawl complicated calculations and equations on napkins and figure odds in his head and make weird connections between cultural references. He can also back into poles, miss a driveway and steer into the woods, drop a forty-four ounce Thirstbuster onto someone's head, and lose two cars to fire. Sometimes he wins twenty grand in a single hand of poker in Vegas, and other times he dates a recently-released mental patient or makes his way home from Alabama by hitching rides with Frito-Lay vendors.
Norman is impervious to reality, and I can't over-emphasize just how valuable that was for me in my youth. My father before he left was a practical man, vaguely annoyed that I played with Star Wars figures and yelled out laser blasts in the yard. To him, there was a discrete moment at which one grew up and became responsible, and that moment was coming soon for me. I feared it.
What Norman demonstrated, though, was that we don't have to grow up in the way society demands. Maybe we can still read comic books or go to conventions. Maybe we can still tinker with Lego bricks or build models. Maybe we can even write stories.
It was through Norman that I discovered that adults--some admittedly more functional than others--could enjoy lives of creativity and imagination, and sometimes even make a living through them. He introduced me to Star Trek, Tolkien, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Prisoner, genre conventions and culture, gaming, and all of the other semi-creepy taboo subjects of geekdom.
He is the ultimate geek, a person so unabashedly in love with his interests that he doesn't care that others think him odd or uncool. He gave me permission to never quite grow up. He showed me that compromise wasn't inevitable, that the picket fences and polo shirts didn't have to be standard issue.
So for all that, Norman's reward is to have my collection of stories dedicated to him. It is the very least I could do for someone who showed me that resistance to reality has both its rewards and its dangers.
Once, after an ugly high school break-up, I called Norman from school to arrange a ride home. He arrived and I slid sullenly into the passenger seat. Out of nowhere, I asked, "Norman, does good triumph over evil?"
He squinted through the windshield, considering the question. Then, in his shrill voice, he replied, "Eventually. And at the very least, good triumphs over bad."
Norman doesn't live in the brutish now. He lives in the better eventually. He reads those books, solves those problems, and makes those observations confident that we'll outgrow this childish attachment to the materialistic follies of adulthood.
I hope more people appreciate him and others like him.
So who is your catalyst? Who encouraged you to pursue your interests with passion and verve? Come tell the world at Will's Horror World message board.
If you corner Will Ludwigsen at a convention, he will regale you with many more Norman stories and his uncanny impersonation. If you corner Will at Necronomicon this October in Tampa, you might just meet Norman himself.
Will's debut collection, Cthulhu Fhtagn Baby and Other Cosmic Insolence, is available now from Shocklines. His story "Faraji" will be in the April/May 2007 issue of Weird Tales. You can learn more about him at his website, www.will-ludwigsen.com.
Disclaimer: Neither Horror World, Nanci Kalanta, nor the Horror
World web hoster are responsible for the opinions or reportage of authors published by Horror World. All copyrights and
liabilities thereto revert to authors upon publication.
Visit the Horror World Column Archives