Canelón was the town crazy. It was rumored that he had been in and out of the San Antonio State Hospital several times. He was a shell-shocked World War II veteran. But he could talk about practically any subject, so he was a Socrates in the park. At night, we youths enjoyed listening to his war stories and laughing at his jokes.
Most people avoided him in the streets, unless they felt like taunting him. Bloated, chain-smoking, with a back injury that slanted his body to the left, he trotted to the public library every day. He shocked patrons when after quietly reading he would burst into convulsive laughter.
One afternoon I was waiting for the city bus in front of the Teatro Iris. The station was full of cackling men and women loaded with shopping bags. Suddenly Canelón was coming—frantic eyes on the sidewalk, gesticulating, arguing to himself—and I stared at the chicken-feed store across the street. I was hoping that he would not recognize me and start talking.
But he recognized me. He walked back and forth around me. I expected words and spittle. He was probably wondering why I ignored him. I hoped he would not ask me for a match as he sometimes did in the library. I wanted to walk away, to have someone call me quickly.
He stopped, his labored breathing nastily close to my face.
"Are you sane?" he said.
I felt every man and woman freeze. The traffic listened.
"Are you sane?”
He was smiling, almost snorting, his eyes watery.
"Of course I'm sane."
"Can you prove it?" he said, snorting.
I squirmed. He pursed his lips to keep from laughing. His neck and cheeks inflated. His head sank into his shoulders.
"Yes! Can you prove it?"
The world waited. ▬▬ι═══════════════════════════════════════ι▬▬
"Prove it? What are you talking about?"
"I can prove I'm sane. Looky here."
He took out some smudgy papers from his back pocket. His laughter was leaking through his stained babyish teeth. He opened the papers like a scroll.
"There are birth certificates and death certificates and other papers in between. But check this out: I have my discharge papers from the San Antonio State Hospital. This proves I'm sane. This proves I can walk the streets. What about you? Where are your papers? You got any papers?"
He exploded in laughter. The world exploded with him.