October 28, 1995
Web posted at: 9:16 a.m. EDT
From Reporter Christine Negroni
NEW YORK (CNN) -- They say if you're rich, you're eccentric; if you're poor, you're just plain crazy.
But a new book on eccentrics, rich and poor, argues that most odd people are, in fact, pictures of mental health. They may be seriously strange but not crazy.
Case in point: New Yorker Jak's Family Phillips (his real name). You might spot him cruising around in his motorized miniature fire engine, siren blaring with a stuffed Dalmatian dog doll perched beside him.
Calling teacher Darla Shaw a pack-rat would be an understatement. Her house is filled with odd items, toy musical instruments, strange hats and a gorilla suit she says she wears "all the time."
San Francisco's Gary Holloway, is in the habit of wearing a friar's frock, though he's not a friar.
"To me it's just a garment," he says. "It's very comfortable; you don't particularly have to wear anything under it."
Dr. David Weeks, a clinical neuropsychologist and author of the new book "Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness," interviewed hundreds of eccentrics like Phillips, Shaw and Holloway.
"I see them as kind of supernormal in many respect because of their creativity and intelligence and the way that they cut right to the nub of the issue," Weeks says.
And 10 years after asking the world to show him its eccentrics, Weeks has pronounced them happy, healthy, terminally sane and stable.
"They are very non-conforming individualists, permanently so."
Shaw is a permanent party girl. She throws themed events. On one recent day she put on a duct tape party for fellow teachers during which guests were encouraged to be creative with duct tape. One teacher dressed a Barbi doll in duct tape, complete with duct tape dress, earrings and handbag.
"I saw that duct tape book, and I said, this is a party," Shaw says.
Shaw draws on her extensive collection of props for her parties. Collections, in fact, are big with eccentrics.
Phillips and his wife Linda Lou Reynolds Phillips have a year-round Christmas room, packed with holiday bric-a-brac. Not terribly unusual, until you consider that but every room in their house is similarly jam-packed.
"We like a lot of stuff," Jak's says.
For his part, Holloway collects tea and coffee tins, hundreds of them. They're not just for decoration. These tins perform a useful function.
"You've heard of the Richter Scale?" he says. "Well, I have the tin scale. So that when we have a mild quake and someone calls to say, 'Gary are you okay?' I say it was a seven on the tea-tin scale, meaning seven tea tins were found on the floor below. The big quake in 1989 was a 436 on the tea-tin scale."
In Weeks' opinion, some very famous people can be diagnosed as eccentric, including Michael Jackson, Prince Charles, Bridgette Bardot, Howard Hughes and Katherine Hepburn.
For the most part eccentrics have been that way from a very early age and have no plans to conform.
"The eccentric never changes themselves, never even contemplates doing that," Weeks says. "They're always true to their own nature and as far as they're concerned, the rest of society can either like them or not."
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