Q&A: Savant recalls beating that changed his life in an ‘awesome’ manner

Staff writerMay 12, 2014 

Jason Padgett poses last week in Planet Futon & Mattress, the family store near the Tacoma Mall where he worked for years.

PETER HALEY — Staff photographer Buy Photo

A mugging reshuffled Jason Padgett’s mind, turning him from a party animal into a math savant.

He talked with The News Tribune about the before-and-after versions of his life.

Q: When you were in your wild days I understand you had more than one Camaro?

A: Yes, with the paint job and fancy speakers. I see that now and I think, “What is wrong with you?” I had a ’67 and then an ’87 and an ’89. I’ve had every single series of them. Even after this happened, I got one more.

Q: Tell me about the night you were attacked.

A: It was brutal. They didn’t say anything. We fought for a minute. The next thing I know I’m on my knees. I was getting pummeled from every direction.

Q: What was going through your mind?

A: I thought I was getting attacked by a gang. I remember this intense fear: “I’m going to die. Right now.” … And then that flight or fight thing came on. All I could think is, “I want to hurt one of you guys before I die.” I grabbed his leg and pulled him down and bit down. I got meat. Then I grabbed his crotch and started twisting it. Then he started screaming. They grabbed my jacket and ran away.

Q: You don’t mention the name of the bar in the book.

A: I signed a (nondisclosure agreement) with them. I got a small settlement from them. It wasn’t even close enough to pay the medical bills. I wanted to sue the attackers, but I couldn’t even get out of the house.

Q. How is it for you now?

A. It’s hard to be out in crowds, in front of people. I want to tell everybody, “Look, this is how pi works. When you see a rainbow you’re looking at pi.” But, at the same time, I just want to withdraw and be alone.

Q. How did you feel once you realized you had a form of synesthesia and acquired savant syndrome?

A. When Daniel Tammet started talking about what numbers looked like to him … instantly (I thought) this is the same thing I have. It was nice hearing it because I had questioned myself a lot. Those three years, I remember many times thinking what if I’m … crazy?

Q. What do people say to you if they don’t believe you?

A. There are some who just think it’s weird. “How can you possibly say that math is shapes?” And then I say, “How can you possibly say it’s digits?”

Q. Have there been any other effects from your brain injury? I know you became a germaphobe and won’t shake hands.

A. I was Lysoling my money and putting it in the microwave to kill the germs. I carry hand sanitizer all the time. You know it’s silly, and you know it’s weird, but you can’t stop it.

Q. You recently took some math courses at Highline Community College. Did they increase your knowledge?

A. Sometimes it seems like I’m ahead of everybody. Sometimes it seems like I’m behind them. It’s still difficult to memorize all these equations, all the symbols — especially at this age.

Q. You eventually tracked down the guys who attacked you. How did that go?

A. The guy came out of the house crying and apologizing. He kept saying how sorry he was, he was drunk. He even said, “We thought you were gay.” Like that justified it.

Q. If you could make all this go away, would you?

A. I wouldn’t go back and change it, because it’s so awesome.

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