Sunday, November 18, 2012

More Kooky Karacters

The Thanksgiving reminiscence of the Allan Incident that I posted two days ago brought up memories of two other strange coworkers from that time period.  And oddly, both memories involve coffee mugs.

The first was Leonard.  He was foreign and spoke with a heavy eastern European accent.  His black hair matched a very tan, deeply creased face that sported a constant scowl.  If had we decided to make a movie involving a terrorist, he'd be the terrorist.  The thing that burned itself into my memory was his preference for using my coffee mug.

Yes, that's right, Leonard drank his coffee from my coffee mug.  I have no idea why he did this.  Perhaps it was because I bought a company mug, and he figured that since it had the company logo on it, and because he worked for that company, he was entitled to use it.  I guess he didn't notice that my name was hand written on it.

The first two or three times he did this, I would retrieve my cup and ask him to use another one instead of mine.  I was young and still had the possessiveness of a three year old who hates to share even the most boring of toys.  And I was a bit obsessive-compulsive, too -- that mug belonged to me and no one else should touch it.

But then I felt a change come over me.  I decided to "release the mug," to let it go.  Besides, I'd stopped drinking coffee because something about the way it was made gave me diarhea.  So I really had no need of the mug anyway.

So one day I approached him and extended my coffee mug to him with both hands.  "Here Len.  I want you to have my cup.  I no longer need it."

"No, no!" he protested.

"Really, I want you to have it.  Take it."

"No No NO," he replied, almost with belligerence.  "I will stop using it."  And he smiled.

And he never again took the cup.

The other guy was Conrad.  He seemed normal looking enough, even though he preferred wearing turtle neck shirts with his tweed sports jacket.  He had light blue eyes, transparent almost.  They gave the impression that he was looking through you instead of at you.  Although that was merely unnerving, it wasn't what made him "off."    Once you got into a conversation with him, you soon realized you were dealing with yet another escapee from the asylum.

His conversation was littered with asides and non-sequitors, which he'd deliver with ever-increasing frequency.  And his non-sequitors themselves would have asides, with each tangent getting quieter and quieter until he was mumbling with himself.  We went through a few conversations like this before we realized we could just walk away and let him keep talking quietly to himself.  Before this realization, we had a system in place to page Conrad any time one of our team members was stuck into conversation with him.  Once, when I paged him, I requested that he dial the extension of the phone that he was nearest.  Upon getting the busy signal and realizing that he had been duped, he slammed the phone down so hard I thought it would crack in half.

Many years later, I ran into someone who knew him fairly well.  When I described his manner of conversation, the other person explained that Conrad would purposely digress in his annoying fashion ironically in order to get rid of the other person.

But there was more to his weirdness than this.  He would use other people's coffee mugs as ash trays.  And he smoked cigars.

His office didn't need a "Conrad" name tag for anyone to know it was his.  We'd just wander around the cubicles until we found the one with a dozen or more coffee mugs half-filled with brown liquid and cigar butts floating like logs in them.  Miraculously (and thankfully), my mug never ended up there. 

There are perhaps lessons to learn from these experiences.  Leonard taught me that you have to be willing and prepared to lose something in order to gain it.  Perhaps in trying to give away the mug, I made it appear valueless to Leonard, so he no longer wanted it.  Or perhaps he was too embarrassed about his behavior.

If it is true that Conrad felt just as stuck in a deadend conversation with us as we were with him, the lesson there is to realize that we all have essentially the same needs and desires, no matter how bizarre we go aobut expressing them.

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