Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Demon John

I'm generally a friendly person, I think. When I pass a person in a narrow hallway, I have a tendency to say Good morning, but I find that not everybody thinks that way. At my old job in SF, there was a woman who had the office on the 14th floor at the bottom of the stairs from the 15th floor where I sat. I can't tell you how many times I would walk down those stairs and she would walk out of her office and we'd nearly run into each other, but she couldn't be bothered to respond to my Good morning. I thought that was so incredibly rude.

This morning as I walked through the building I passed this man that I see regularly, he had just walked in the door that I was about to exit (the building is huge and rambling and I think it's quicker to walk through the parking lot than around it). I noticed that his eyes were turned to the right and downward, I was on his left. Now I'll admit that I'm no Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn, but I'm better looking than the dirty floor (at least I would hope so). Anyway, I said Good morning and he didn't lift his eyes at all, but he did mumble a good morning in return. I felt like I was torturing him by greeting him. He reminded me of this person at the University when I worked there whom I'll call Wilbur. Wilbur worked for one of our historians in a Research Center, and I'm sure Wilbur is very smart, but he's one of those smart people who is quite lacking in the social graces. Do parents really think they're doing their kids a favor by not teaching them how to interact with people? I was a little mean back then, because although Wilbur knew me he always about blew a gasket when I would say Hello to him. Technically, he was a part of my department, so I would feel rude passing him and not saying Hello, but as I said Wilbur was a bit deficient in people skills. If I said Hello to Wilbur, it seemed like I threw him off his game. He'd be walking along and I'd say, "Hello, Wilbur." "Oh, uh, er, hello," with blinking eyes and a momentary pause in his walk. I always said it was like he was a computer and he had to re-boot completely because I had caused him to lose his train of thought. Wilbur had feet the size of a supertanker and he was pretty tall, but he always walked bent forward at the waist and at full speed. Speaking to him would halt his forward momentum. It was funny, but sad at the same time.

The mother of the professor for whom he worked died one semester, so we all went to the funeral and after the funeral there was the usual funeral luncheon. It wasn't that usual, though, in that it was a sit-down fully-catered affair at their fancy church. By sit-down, I mean china, extra silverware, bread plate, water glass, wine glass, etc., like a really fancy wedding. I was fortunate enough to end up sitting two people over from Wilbur. It was painful to watch. One of us had to tell him to put his napkin in his lap and as the rolls were passed around, the faculty member sitting between us had to tell Wilbur to take one and put it on his bread plate. He was in his mid- to late-twenties at this point and he needed coaching throughout the meal. Now some etiquette rules I think border on the ridiculous, but these were basics. My Grandma taught me years ago, but I don't always do it, that when eating a roll you break off a bite sized piece, butter it (if you're so inclined) and then eat that one piece. You are not to butter the entire thing and eat it like a barbarian, which is how I so often eat my roll, but I do try to behave myself at fancy occasions or Grandma's house. Trust me, we didn't try to make Wilbur eat his roll in that way. We were literally just trying to help him not embarrass himself in front of his mentor's family and friends.

My favorite Wilbur story though happened one day in the summer. I think I had gone for a walk around campus for lunch and I ran into Wilbur walking along the back half of campus in his buttoned down shirt and dress pants carrying a box of books and sweating profusely. I had to stop him and ask him what he was doing. His car had died on the exit ramp from Southfield northbound to Michigan Avenue westbound. He had walked to campus (which is a fair walk in the summer while NOT carrying a box of heavy academic tomes) carrying the box of books because they were too valuable to leave in the car. Not really, but that is what he's like. How much faster could he have gotten to campus if he hadn't been carrying that damn box? I walked back to the office with him and INSISTED of driving him back to his car to get the rest of the boxes. Yup, he was going to walk back to the car to get another box of books and walk back to campus. I forget how many boxes he had, but he would have done it instead of asking for help. It just wouldn't have occurred to him. And for that I blame his mentor who had no compunction about taking advantage of Wilbur. Of course, if that professor hadn't given Wilbur a job, I'm not sure what he would have done as I don’t think he'd make in the corporate world. He'd have to find a small boutique type company who needed his brilliance and could deal with his many eccentricities. Of course, I believe that professor has retired, so I wonder what Wilbur is doing these days.

9 Comments:

At Tuesday, 04 April, 2006, Blogger Beth said...

I don't like people in general, but if I mumbled while passing you it would have nothing to do with how you looked. It has more to do with the people themselves than you and I will never teach my children to speak politely to strangers. Social graces, etiquette, you bet, but that's where it ends.

 
At Tuesday, 04 April, 2006, Blogger Kathleen said...

Beth - I'm not talking about children speaking to strangers, I'm talking about adults greeting co-workers who work in the same building.

 
At Tuesday, 04 April, 2006, Blogger Jason said...

I think he's in human resources now... ;)

 
At Tuesday, 04 April, 2006, Blogger trinamick said...

I think it's a sign of our times. People just don't know how to behave politely anymore. That's one of the things I appreciate in a small town like mine. If you someone on the street, you greet them, whether you know them or not. You open the door for someone walking behind you. If someone opens a door for you, you have the decency to say thank you. They're little things, but if everyone gave a little of themselves, I think the world would be a much better place.

 
At Tuesday, 04 April, 2006, Blogger Kathleen said...

Trina - Exactly. I remember once holding a door for an old man. I mean I waited a good extra 20 seconds for him to get there and then he sailed through with nary a glance or thank you.

 
At Tuesday, 04 April, 2006, Blogger Save Lando said...

i assure you, i have not chopped Loopy up into little tiny pieces to systematically feed to my cannibal cat. she's just being lazy, but should have some tie-dye pics to post when she finally does get around to writing. i'd like to thank you for the gift you sent her, it made sunday... hilarious.

 
At Wednesday, 05 April, 2006, Blogger Scott said...

Things are a little better in New England in that way than in San Francisco, where everyone tried to be independent and not talk to one another. It's really sad.

 
At Wednesday, 05 April, 2006, Blogger Dave said...

I worked with a guy like that. Pat seemed just a bit slow, and he wouldn't talk for the longest time. Then someone made some comment about wrestling, and you couldn't shut Pat up about it. Bizarre that his main interest was wrestling...or maybe that explained a lot. It got kind of creepy because one day he walked into work wearing this weird stud-covered leather biker/Village People hat. I don't know if I ever saw him without it after that.
I guess there's a reason he worked in the warehouse and not on the floor.

 
At Thursday, 06 April, 2006, Blogger Heather said...

I'm horribly shy but I will respond if someone greets me. Some people are just rude. The Wilbur story was great - he made me sad, though!

 

Post a Comment

<< Home