en langage clair

anything and everything

Category: Characters

Characters: The Wow Man

I was dumped into a small, empty, blank room, a faux-wood desk pushed against the corner facing the wall, with nothing atop it but a white plastic telephone that looked quite similar to the corded one that sat on the desk in my old home until I was eleven. It was a scene straight out of Office Space, without the luxury of an open-air cubicle, a window, or the presence of any co-workers. Half of the little office was for me, and the other half belonged to the extraneous pieces of random furniture; a loud, metal filing cabinet, an extra desk turned on its side, and two gumball machines. It felt like quarantine.

I was given three pages full of landline numbers to call, and a script to read should someone actually pick up the phone. Working in a restaurant had already pre-programmed in me what I might deem a “professional” voice, where a little person in my head screams “CUSTOMER! CUSTOMER!” whenever it recognizes that I am supposed to obtain something from someone. This primitive urge will always insure that my voice instantly rises in pitch, frequency, and sweetness until I sound like I’m thirteen-years-old, and reverses all hope of authority. My intent to command the civic duty out of the public as a whole becomes my eliciting of sympathy from the Elderly, who tell me that I sound like their granddaughter. I’ll take what I can get.

After the first ten calls with no answer, I was convinced that aliens were attempting to contact me; the bizarre sounds and noises emitting from the other end of the line appeared as I was punching the numbers in, and happened so suddenly that I flinched every time, even though I was completely aware of what was going to happen. I swear, the fifth person I called was using dial-up. I understand fear of technological change, even somewhat share in the resistance against some of it, but ho… ly… crap. One eighty-four year-old woman who picked up the phone refused to answer any questions for herself, and instead insisted that her children and grandchildren would answer this way, or that way, and another yelled at me for calling during her kids’ bath time. One man politely stopped me to say he was eating dinner. The next call I made, someone picked up and actually listened to my opening paragraph. Praise Jesus!

It was a lady with the vivacity of a young woman. When I read my spiel to her, she exclaimed, “Oh, oh! Wait here! Let me get my husband, he’s so into this stuff!” Something rustled around on the other end of the line as I heard her attempt to scurry away, a muffled thud, and a “Shit.” I think I caught a glimpse of future-me. I waited for all of 15 seconds before another person came on the line, clearing his throat. “Hello?” I began my spiel again. He interrupted. “You don’t have to convince me, I’ll do it.” I read the first question, asking what he believes the biggest problem facing the county is. “WOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooow. Well.” And he was off. His long-winded speech ranged from taxes, to compost curbside pick-up, to gun control, qualifying absolutely everything he said, as if he were in argument with himself. It was obvious from the start that he was a thinker and an idealist, and had been unknowingly waiting for an opportunity to unload his thoughts somewhere, and I was the girl waiting with the push-cart. We had been told in training that we could not let the survey-ees speak for a prolonged amount of time; we had been warned that we could not sit and listen for fear of inefficiency and confusion of answers. I looked down at the survey sheet I was to fill out for him, and knew I had to pick one thing to represent him, an impossible task; I was so rapt with fascination in his sermon that I didn’t stop him. I let him run free at my own cost, and in doing so, he became my teacher. I quickly circled the “Other” option and wrote in “everything”. I was trained to end the survey then and there, knowing he would take a ridiculous amount of time to complete it; instead, I opened Pandora’s Box. I asked him next which party he identified with, and which party he most trusted. “WOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooow. None and neither.”  And the pistol was fired again.

I believe I spent one full hour out of my three-hour time limit on the survey of this one man. My last question came out with an air of finality and a bit of sadness: “And what is your age, sir?” I sat and waited for it. “WOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooow. 64. Thank you for doing the community a civil service.” For the first time since sitting in that little air-tight cell, I smiled. “My privilege, sir.” Could he hear a smile over the phone?

At the end of the night, I came out with more than double the completions of the average first-time surveyor, so I was extremely fortunate my supervisor didn’t give me a verbal whipping for sitting up with this “Wow” Man. In any case, only three of the many students participating were unpaid, and I was one of them. As such, my expectations were quite minimal, but the Wow Man paid me back in a way I had never anticipated; the entire time, I pictured him sitting in a velvet-plush chair, thin wired glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose, sipping archaic Brandy from a snifter, the possible twin brother of the Dos Equis man. It was perfect. The anonymous Wow Man residing somewhere in Anne Arundel County can rest assured he has made an impact on something, and that something is me.

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Characters: Kramer the Game Master

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Late on a Monday afternoon, most college kids around here will tell you that the Cafeteria is not the place to be. But having just left the gym, and having gone almost five hours without a meal, I was not about to drive the several blocks to Chipotle, as I probably would have totaled the car speeding down Route 2 in my haste to satiate my hunger. The Cafeteria was a safe walk (sprint?) from the gym, and thus, I didn’t give myself the opportunity to kill anyone. If I’m hungry, I’m probably raging, too.

Per usual, I sit down at the corner of a big table next to a window, facing inwards to survey the rest of the room. There are a few loners like me, scattered here and there along the outskirts, scarfing down their food in the same barbaric manner as I; the joy of late classes is felt throughout the room, and all sympathetically smile at one another whenever eyes meet, as if to say, “I feel you, bro.” The lucky kids, however, are those sitting in the center of the room; groups of about four or more boys sit at each table, all completely shunning the outside world, their entire beings rapt in their cards. The only sounds in the whole Student Union are the chewing of the Loners, and the whisperings and occasional victorious or anguished outbursts of the Gamers. It’s like an invisible Comic-con, a convention I have always wanted to go to, or an anonymous tournament of sorts, except without the costumes. Well, some of them may have been in costume. I’m not sure.

As I sit alone, digesting my food, I watch what seems like a strange, tribal ritual; what are apparently Magic cards are fanned out in front of faces, hiding nothing but the eyes, eyes which are always watching, scanning the table, the piles of cards laid in front of them. I have no idea what’s going on, but damn, they sure do. One among them stands out, a hard feat to accomplish in this group, and seems to preside over the others. He’s the elder, the alpha male, the overseer, the “man” the underlings are fond of “sticking it to”. He’s wearing a crisp, clean, white collared shirt, sporting a fluffy, curly hairstyle that’s freakishly similar to Kramer’s, a tiny mustache that might have been modeled after Kip, and is casually leaning back in his seat with his arms folded across his stocky chest. His jovial, rosy cheeks are contrasted sharply with the little smirk playing around his mouth as he contemplates the cards on the table in front of him, and you can see in his pale face that today is a good day. Somehow, I get the feeling he’s not this same kind of person when he’s, say, in class, at the bus stop, at home, at the mall; this is his expertise, and he’s damn good at it. He now studies his cards, pulls one surreptitiously out of his hand, and presents it like Vanna White to his cohorts with a knowing smile. One of them immediately drops his head to the table with an audible thud. I hope they weren’t playing for keeps.

As I sit there, the nerd inside of me begins to freak a bit. I remember creating a virtual world for myself once, where I was successful and happy. That world sucked up most of middle and high school for me, and though some might think I suffered or missed out on “important life experiences”, it didn’t, and nor will it ever, feel that way at all. He and his companions are joyous in the confines of their imaginations, and so am I. Kramer and I have so much in common, and he’ll never know. This is about the point where I want to stand up and scream something like “I’M ONE OF YOU!” or “I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE!”; but of course, nothing like that happens. Instead, I sit and watch and smile, silently sharing in their revelry, sort of wishing I knew how to play (I didn’t see any ladies at any of the tables; surely they might want one?). Instead, I clean up my trash, glance one last time at Kramer as he begins to laugh like a child at his birthday party, and regretfully walk away.

Characters: The Woman I Hope is Irish

She’s looking at me like she really wishes I wasn’t here. Her mop of red curly hair in sitting precariously in a frizzy ponytail on top of her head, and her bangs are sticking out every which way, clearly impeding her vision, but she seems past the point of caring. She has kind of a funny accent that I cannot place, and thus the only thing I can think when I see her is: Irish. She’s in the throes of middle-age, the lines creeping across her forehead day by day, the weariness setting in under her eyes, nestling in until death. I can hear the stress in her sweet little voice as she stares me full in the face, both hands now on the counter in front of her, and asks me, “What d’ yeh want?”

She’s the perfect model of the busty, bawdy bar-wench one sees in the fantasy settings of stories such as Robin Hood or A Song of Ice and Fire; she’s beginning to age, she’s abrasive, she retains many of her womanly features through all this, and she doesn’t take any of your shit. All she’s missing is a course leather bustier, a stein brimming with ale, and a lute. So, naturally, this woman scares the living daylight out of me.

I fumble about for a moment before producing the carton of milk I had completely forgotten I originally intended to purchase. With that same I’ve-seen-some-shit attitude, she leans over, eyes me up and down like a hog ready for slaughter, pulls one hand off the counter and plants it with a smack! on her hip that is now jutting out to the side, and exclaims “Yeh need more than milk fah lunch, de-ah, that’s plain!” I start to mumble something about the granola in my bag before I can see she’s already hawking the next victim in line, and I jump at the chance to scurry away, the alpha-female victorious once again.

I could sit and imagine that a husband or two have seen the whites of her knuckles too close for comfort a few times and a half, but her superiority complex is completely understandable in a place like this. She’s a menopausal woman in a smock, serving coffee and sandwiches to college kids. Her happiness may depend on her daily scoreboard relying on the amount of clean, unblemished 20-somethings she can spoon-feed a taste of reality with a quick quip of her tongue. I think she may find a smile disarming, if anyone dared; not a meek, my-face-is-frozen-fear kind of smile, but a large, round-faced, touching-your-eyes kind of smile. Maybe I’ll try that tomorrow. If I can grow a pair by then.

Characters: The Perpetual Bus Stop Dancer

He’s alone, at the bus stop. He’s maybe eighteen, of Latino heritage, and possesses an angelic face; it’s a face no mother could deny. He looks around occasionally, maybe to see if anyone’s paying attention, maybe to watch for his ride; either way, he’s alone at the bus stop. But he honestly doesn’t seem to care. There’s no music, but he’s kind of strangely bouncing around to a ghostly beat, muttering what I assume to be lyrics occasionally at the cars that pass by, as if they could hear him. He loses his baseball hat at one point and runs out into the street to retrieve it, and then reverts back to his previous state of music-less bliss. He’s rocking back and forth, shifting from one foot to the other, almost like a bizarre mating ritual common among birds of paradise. There’s no methodic calculation or choreographic ingenuity, no concern or misgivings apparent on his young face. His eyes are closed, and he is closed, shut away from the world.

A random passerby might see him and think “People are so strange,” and walk away. They would be correct. But as I watch, I envy him completely. He’s gone, in a place of his own creation, available for inhabitation whenever he needs it; he’s trained himself so well, is so fine tuned to his own channel that he doesn’t even need to carry his music with him. It’s always there. I can see it flowing through his mind. He, like so many of us, will be a victim of his own ideals; but in those few precious moments, before a car pulls up next to him and beeps, knocking him out of his ecstasy, he is perpetual.

Characters: Introduction

Your Extraordinary Mind, Andre Jordan

Hello, invisible audience and readers! I am proud to announce my newest venture in the science of enculturation, and the art of writing. I will be attempting to understand the age-old conundrum that many before me have described as the “human experience,” an elusive, vague depiction of what it is to be a part of the only species known thus far to possess the capacity to think logically and feel illogically, to recede entirely into the depths of our infinite imaginations, and to be able to perceive the universe in entirely different ways. I realize that there are and have been many other much more qualified attempt-ees before my time, and there will be many more after my time. Unlike the Psychologists, Biologists, and Anthropologists among us, (whom I have nothing but respect and adoration towards) I will not provide a detailed theory or hypothesis, or a book full of statistics and data; I will not give exact measurements, and there is no degree hanging on my wall; my attempt may have no scientific relevance whatsoever, and I am okay with that. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to gain (there ALWAYS is). This in itself seems like a vague and hefty task, I know; but think of it as a letter from one student-of-life to another, and let me tell you exactly how I plan to bring to you, with one click of a button, a portrait of humanity (or at least, your community).

I plan to display, right here on this blog and as frequently as I possibly can, a miniseries of sorts, of which I am calling “Characters”. I will attempt to seek out one person who intrigues me during the course of my routines, whether by actions or appearance or any other number of factors. I may know nothing about this person, or I may be very familiar with them. There is no limit on age, race, gender, class, occupation, relationship to myself, whatever; to me, you are all fair game. There will be no intentional slandering or glorification; only hopeful objectivity, even though that is damn near impossible to attain. You might also be wondering, “How would you know enough about a stranger to write an entire essay on them?” and you would be absolutely correct in that I have precisely no way to extract every detail in the life of that person without violating their privacy; so this is where something called “creative liberty” and inference come into play. My aim is not to lie to you, but Literary Non-fiction is what I do best. So if you see some girl staring at you and scribbling in a notebook from across the room, or park, or street, you’re allowed to be a little creeped out, but please don’t run away. A little smile would be nice, too.

I am so nervous to start. But, a great music teacher once told me, “That is good. It means you care.”