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With a lanky frame, deep mind and wild moustache, “local eccentric” Andrew Hooper makes his life in Watertown

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“Ah, then Adelard hoed the turnips.”

— Andrew Hooper

Andrew Hooper is a genteel eccentric. When he greets you or bids you farewell, he inclines his 6-foot, 3-inch frame toward you in a slight bow, his sandy blonde hair a tousled mess, his reddish moustache sprouting in all directions. His hand is tentatively offered, his elbow flexed but not locked, somewhat withdrawn but not withheld — a body and mind not quite unfurled yet fully engaged.

Andrew has written several letters to the editor over the years but he first came to my notice one rainy Saturday morning last summer at the Second Look bookstore on Court Street. I was impressed by the books he selected and struck by his appearance, which reminded me more of a Brooklyn hipster than a north country denizen.

I saw him several times after that, sometimes walking in the snow or rain down Watertown’s many streets, sometimes in the library or sometimes in the bookstore, before I finally approached him at Vito’s Gourmet one morning to introduce myself. We spoke briefly and he told me he was a “local eccentric.” We went our separate ways. But Andrew seemed to be possessed of a unique mind, prepossessed by lofty thoughts and wholly unique, living a contemplative life in the midst of the hustle and bustle that daily grinds us down. So I decided to approach him again and he agreed to an interview.

“Trust me, my life is very boring,” he told me. “My internal life, that’s interesting.”

In an hour-long conversation that ranged from ancient Egypt to the invention of the Ouija board and from the fall of the Russian monarchy to the communist witch hunts of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, his disclaimer proved to be true.

“Never underestimate people’s love for bad ideas,” Andrew told me.

Andrew is a writer and, like Raymond Carver before him, he supports himself by working as a janitor. He works nights at the Jefferson County Department of Social Services. He keeps an apartment in downtown Watertown and walks everywhere he travels, his tall and slender frame often calling attention to his wanderings. He’s given up trying to have his work published for now, but he might try again, he said.

Quoting the poet John Donne, “no man is an island,” Andrew said. But the opposite is also true, he told me. We are all isolated from each other to a great extent.

“I don’t find it sad anymore that I find the fact that I can’t step out that window, spread my arms and fly sad,” Andrew said. “You have to accept limitations.”

Andrew is obviously intelligent, highly erudite and pleasant to be around. I wouldn’t describe him as shy, necessarily, but he is clearly not an extrovert.

He graduated from Jefferson Community College and matriculated at SUNY Oswego before dropping out. He talks about having some hard times in his life, some issues, but declines to go into details. He seems like a gentle person and it’s clear that he feels some sense of outrage at the injustices done by various people at various times in history, sometimes willfully and sometimes blunderingly, to solve basic human problems.

“I just try to live my life in a way that satisfies me and keeps me busy,” he said.

“The good endures,” he said, pointing to the persistence that has carried him through his own life. A sense of persistence that seems to encourage an essentially optimistic, if somewhat jaded, view of the future of humanity.

“The theory is that with enough of us working together we can mitigate our flaws,” he said. “It doesn’t always work. Sometimes we multiply them. We often fail but you’ve got to keep trying.”

In his letters to the editor, Mr. Hooper employs an acerbic wit and sometimes adopts ironic stances that belie the central message of his tomes, but it is his sincerity and humor that are most striking.

I don’t know how we came upon the subject, but in keeping with the theme of isolation, we talked about how, as consumers of television, film and literature, we’ve all become stars of our own dramas. I asked Andrew if he thought this was a new phenomenon or something that has been going on for time immemorial.

“Everyone has always tried to view themselves as the star of their own popular entertainment,” he said. In the classical era, “there were probably young guys who thought of themselves as stars of their own sagas.”

And then, lampooning this terribly narcissistic tendency, he laughed and postulated that in feudal times, perhaps even young Adelard was lost in self-regard as he hoed the turnips.

Was he always thinking such deep thoughts?

“Sometimes. Other times I’m thinking about other things. Or just walking. Or the fact that my feet are hurting. Trust me, I’m not half as profound as I seem,” Andrew said.

Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper. He can be reached at dflatley@wdt.net.

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