Kai makes it tougher to accept 'weirdos'

The Fresno BeeMay 23, 2013 

It's never been easy to be a weirdo.

The unfolding story of Caleb Lawrence McGillvary doesn't help.

If you don't know McGillvary's name right off, that's OK. Until last week, he was mostly known as Kai, or Kai the Homefree Hitchhiker, or Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker.

Being arrested for murder tends to get your full name in the paper.

Before his arrest, Kai was an Internet sensation, the young and eccentric hero-hitchhiker who happened to be at the right place at the right time to help rescue a utility worker from an attack -- by smashing the attacker with a hatchet.

The details of the story were outrageous on their own, and McGillvary's description of the incident -- given to a local news station -- was laden with f-bombs and sound bites tailor-made for viral success.

Memes ensued. The video got mentioned on "The Colbert Report" and Kai was invited for a spot on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

A Fresno couple even started a Facebook like page that hit the 10,000 mark within days.

When news came last week that Kai was arrested in Philadelphia and charged with killing a New Jersey lawyer, the shock was less than one might expect. A post on a friend's Facebook page summed it up well: "Kai, we thought you were one of the good crazy ones."

Even before Kai's story turned grisly (and in truth, didn't it really start that way), one had the sense that Kai wasn't like the rest of us. Watching the original video again, it's clear to see: The guy is weird.

That was the general consensus made by those of us living in "normal" society. Kai doesn't see the world like we do.

In the video, he's unsure about even his age, says he "can't call it." He's not just homeless; he's homefree. The implication being that "home," and all that word entails, is something of a burden, something to be freed from.

That idea has a powerful attraction for some people.

As was Kai's message of love and second chances.

"Even if you make mistakes, you're lovable and it doesn't matter, your looks, skills, your age, your size," he said.

That's a message worth hearing, and one of the reasons why Kai had so many fans.

We should remember, there is often genius hidden beneath weirdness. The entire Beat generation in the 1950s was a bunch of weirdos and outcasts, but it produced Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and Jack Kerouac's "On the Road."

If you have any doubt that director Quentin Tarantino is a weirdo, watch his movies back-to-back-to-back. Or just watch any interview he's ever done. Ditto with "Kids" filmmaker Harmony Korine.

Other artists are even further on the fringes. Marilyn Manson comes to mind, as does the late shock-punk "GG" Allin, who had a band called the Murder Junkies and was known to cover his audiences in all kind of bodily fluids and still somehow had fans.

So, if you're trying to find some context for Kai's story, this is it: There are those out there who live on the fringe, who experience life in a way that the majority of the population can't understand. Maybe they cover themselves with piercings and tattoos. Maybe they dedicate their lives to punk-rock or following around the Insane Clown Posse (or the Grateful Dead or Phish, when they played). Maybe they are homefree and happy.

That's OK. It's even good. These "weirdos" challenge the status quo and generally keep the rest of us "normals" honest and on our toes. It doesn't make them bad people.

Unfortunately, Kai's story just makes that harder for people to accept.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @Joshuatehee on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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