Friday, January 30, 2009

Exceeding Weirdness

Three case studies:

One - We were both in our mid-twenties. We were sitting in a quiet corner of a house party. She was letting me down easy, speaking in a gentle, smiling tone of voice that let me know I was very special to her. She wouldn’t change a thing about me, or our time together.

But she felt that our relationship should remain at a friendship level to avoid any potential unpleasantness down the road. And I shouldn’t think that I didn’t have enough to offer – I was handsome and charming, and any woman would be happy to have me beside her – but she was a restless soul who was afraid that her need to wander would hurt me. She assured me that she wanted to continue the trust and good-will that we’d built up over the last few months, and the last thing she ever wanted to do was to disappoint me.

It was gentle, but I can’t say that I wasn’t stunned. Primarily because I hadn’t been dating Samantha by any definition of the term.

We weren’t seeing each other casually or otherwise.

We hadn’t had one beer too many before an ill-advised fling on a warm summer/cold winter evening.

In fact, I had never actually been alone with her; we’d always met as part of a group. I hadn’t seen her for more than seven or eight hours since we met a few months before. And none of those hours involved anything that hinted at a relationship.

I was willing to accept that this was the wine talking. And I was dumped with such care and consideration that it felt rather touching instead of presumptuous and patronizing for the first two minutes or so. After that, it just felt exceedingly weird.

I don’t remember how I extracted myself from that conversation. I probably just smiled and said “I’d like that too,” and made a run for it, certain that this polar-opposite of a booty call would be forgotten when her hangover lifted the next day (it was). Exactly why it happened was beyond me. Maybe she was about to break up with somebody who looked like me and mixed up our names.

Two - I worked as a technical writer for a small software company in the mid-90’s. Being single and having nothing better to do, I’d occasionally go into the office over the weekend to do some work. One Saturday in early January, I walked into the lobby to find 4 or 5 small, half-melted plastic toys on a dirty patch of burnt rug. I ran around the office to find more vandalism, some weird slogans written on the walls and some rambling notes on computer paper.

I called the office manager and said “I don’t know if you know about this, but somebody’s held a little funeral pyre for the action toys. Should we call the police or building management or somebody?”

She took a moment before saying “We should probably…what? Pardon? I couldn’t have heard that…where are you?”

“I’m at the office. The toys. The toys from the Christmas exchange. Somebody has set the toys on fire. The fire’s out. I didn’t put it out. I just got here. Suggestions?”

“I…I’ll be right there.”

She and the company owner arrived. Questions were asked, handwriting was informally analyzed, and we learned that Leon was the only person working on Friday night; maybe he knew what was going on. When the owner called him, a serious voice simply said “He’s under a doctor’s care,” and hung up the phone.

It became obvious that Leon was perhaps not in good shape. Whether he caused the fire or walked in on it had yet to be discovered.

The owner rushed to Leon’s household to find out that something had indeed snapped in him shortly after Christmas. The notes were vague and it was hard to tell whether he was avenging himself on the plastic tanks, rockets and action figures for some injury or whether he wanted them destroyed to get back at somebody.

It didn’t really matter. He left the company and found the help he needed. He must have enjoyed the sleep of the just; after all, the toys had learned their lesson.

Three - In the late 80's, I spent a summer working a midnight to eight shift Friday and Saturday nights at an all-night video store. The lack of sleep for those 2 days per week put the zap on my brain and everything started feeling slightly off and surreal.

The weirdness culminated on the morning that I staggered out of the store and found a dozen dead red roses (elegantly wrapped) and a broken cigar placed carefully on the hood of my car. This was especially weird since my car was parked in a corner of the lot away from the other shops in that strip mall. One would have to go to some effort to leave this calling card.

I did what I thought was perfectly logical – I put the dead roses and cigar into my trunk and drove home to get some sleep before trying to figure it out. I had to hold onto these items because I was so zooey from lack of sleep that I wasn’t convinced it had actually happened. It sounded like something that would show up in a Tom Waits song from the early 70’s, the Nighthawks at the Diner stage:

(singing in a gravelly Tom Waits voice, hipster-beatnik phrasing)

“We had a whole lot of fun until we went too far
She left me at Frank Ri-co-tel-lo’s downtown bar
And left a little message on the hood of my car
A dozen dead red roses and a broken cigar…”

I went home. Slept. Woke up. The cigar (a Cuban, or Cuban impersonator) and roses remained in my trunk. I’d proven that I wasn’t crazy. But I briefly entertained the paranoid notion that this was some sort of Mafia warning – assuming that if the whole dead-fish-wearing-lipstick-wrapped-in-newspaper thing was accepted discourse, perhaps there was some kind of deep significance in dead flowers and a broken cigar. This was in the days before Google so I couldn’t refer to past events and see if, indeed, I was soon to sleep with the fishes.

The Mafia angle dissolved quickly (after I’d gotten more sleep) and what had I ever done to cross the Mafia anyway? Other theories involved:

- A guerrilla installation artist

- A beautiful (if frighteningly odd) friend of mine who’d been sending me homemade postcards with ee cummings poems for months and perhaps wanted to branch out

- A horribly misguided anti-smoking activist with Dadaist tendencies.

All these theories were eventually dismissed. I stopped the midnight to eight shift, got more sleep and speculated no further. The culprit was never found.


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