Off His Rocker

This is a story about Jeff O'Leary trying to write a paper about the Crocker Rocker conspiracy. He's probably working on it right now. His Metro State class, Advanced Creative Writing, is--or ought to be--a place where hackneyed phrases like "This is a story about..." are not tolerated.

But such stylistic matters are the least of O'Leary's problems. If he is going to write about the Crocker Rocker conspiracy, he must be able to explain it--and that won't be easy. I know this for a fact, because I've tried myself. But since O'Leary is young and game, he should be encouraged. And so I leave a message on his answering machine asking him to define "Crocker File" for someone who has never seen one.

More on this later.
O'Leary must not only explain the Crocker Rocker conspiracy, he must do so using creative nonfiction--"and what is that, exactly?" he asks. "What used to be called literary journalism? My instructor is in love with Annie Dillard, and we had to read this piece of hers about Northern explorers, and it has this whole part about Catholicism and the two themes eventually merge and she makes this grand analogy--that we're all arctic explorers, basically, and blah blah blah."

So now O'Leary and his classmates are assigned to write something known as a "parallel narrative," along the lines of Annie Dillard, with two threads running through the piece--one from real life and one personal. "I have an idea for the first stream," O'Leary says, "the Crocker stuff. But I don't want to get into the subject of me."

Tough.
O'Leary, 27, grew up in Evergreen, the youngest of five kids. He has an affinity for libraries, words and weirdness. One of his brothers once had a job editing the magazine Private Pilot, published by the same conglomerate that puts out Cat Fancy. "The writers at Cat Fancy have to write stories about the latest cat toys," O'Leary says, "and I heard they have to test them themselves, which is bizarre." It is also the kind of detail that interests O'Leary more than it does other students.

When he first started working part-time at the Auraria library, O'Leary wrote a story for the student newspaper detailing the exploits of a foot fetishist who stole women's shoes from beneath their carrels. "The research was simple," he says modestly. "I called security and said something like, 'Do you think there's a high percentage of perversion in the library?' They said, 'Why, yes.'"

His current assignment is in the library's archives department. O'Leary loves it there. "We have the Minori Yasui collection, scrapbooks, papers, correspondence," he says. "I go pull them out of boxes. If this was Victorian times, I'd be called a clerk."

One of the first boxes to land on O'Leary's desk was a Crocker File. And just what is a Crocker File?

Oh, here's O'Leary on the phone to tell us. Except he thought my message said "Crocker-phile."

"No, no," I say. "Write one sentence defining Crocker File, and get back to me. It'll be good for your self-discipline."

Meanwhile, here's my version: A Crocker File is a huge mass of correspondence sent by a certifiably crazy man whose name is not Colonel B. Jasper Crocker (retired), as he claims, but Robert Thurston Wylde. One day in 1978, Wylde was walking down 17th Street when a roll of steel mesh fell from construction scaffolding onto his head, instantly turning him into a mental case--depending on whom you ask, either a dangerous, disturbing loony or a creatively manipulative mastermind who just happens to be insane.

Over the past twenty years, Wylde, dressed in a respectable suit, has wandered the streets of Denver, popping into offices, stealing letterhead and business cards from unsuspecting receptionists, and then firing off correspondence, cc-ing like mad. His letters touch on everything from global warming to world peace, but they share one central theme: the existence of twelve handmade rocking chairs known as the Crocker Rockers. These are somehow linked to Native American rights and have inspired endless committees, task forces, alleged movie deals and letters requesting that anyone and everyone from here to Hollywood serve on various Crocker Rocker-related boards and subcommittees.

Wylde hooked me in 1991 with the suggestion that I become "recording secretary" for a Crocker Rocker subgroup known as the Association of Polish-Speaking Navajos. (He signed his first letter to me "Antelope Bukowski," a name I found hilarious, as Wylde knew I would.) Throwing caution to the winds, I waded into Wylde's world and produced a hundred-inch story on the Crocker Rocker conspiracy, after which I went to sleep for a week.

In the years that followed, I would receive an occasional letter from Wylde--on stationery from the Brown Palace, various law firms and the Native American Trading Company--which I would throw into my burgeoning Crocker File. And I'd sometimes hear stories about him, mostly of the "It's not funny anymore" variety. An example: Wylde reportedly stole some Westin Hotel stationery, wrote memos stating "Please pardon the interruption, but there is an ax murderer loose here this afternoon" and delivered them to every room on one floor of the downtown Westin. (That wasn't funny?)

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