People in Suburbia

My dad has a friend in construction who is outwardly nice, but has a nasty habit of making insensitive and judgmental comments about people. He isn’t aware that his comments are — and to put it nicely — a bit colorful. He commented once about going to a grocery store and having his bags stuffed by a 50-year-old bagger, “what kind of wrong turns do you have to make in your life to end up as a bag boy at 50?

He had a way of generalizing his own life experiences to everyone around him. He was extremely proud of his own achievements: lived most of his life in a trailer park, never had any advantages over anyone, never had anything handed to him, worked hard for his entire life, and is presently preparing to retire comfortably.

With that in mind, he has this unusual conception of societal justice. He resents the idea that celebrities, professional athletes, multimillionaire rappers, CEOs for shady pharmaceutical companies get so much out of society without “paying their dues“.

More than the super rich, he really abhors the super poor. “They need hand ups, not hand outs.” He is mystified as to why someone would choose to be poor in America (his emphasis, not mine). Discrimination, disability, unplanned pregnancy, death of a spouse, lawsuits, unexpected loss of job, are inconsequential apparently. With a little hard work, he insists, anyone could pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get back on their feet. He figures since he never had any advantages over anyone else in life and is doing just peachy, anyone can do it.

Mr Judgmental relates a story from 30 years ago when the Carter administration caused him to be laid off. Shortly afterward, he was injured in a car accident — unable to work and having no health insurance, he lost *everything*. Absolutely everything in the space of a few months. Savings, checking, wiped out. Family was too far away to help him out. He couldn’t afford his apartment and had to live out of his car, and had to beg people for food and money. Absolute poverty.

Walking along the highway, he saw a help-wanted sign at a gas station. He went in, completely dirty and unshaved, and told the cashier that he’d really like a job. Denied. But the cashier said that the Piggly Wiggly was hiring, he should try over there.

So, he walked 6 miles to Piggly Wiggly and asked for an application; the manager was sympathetic and gave him a job buffing the floor overnight. Making minimum wage, he was paid nightly and in cash. (Unless someone was cooking the books, I’m not sure why he was paid under the table like this.) With that first tiny bit of money, he purchased and ate uncooked pasta, which became his nightly meal for months. Secretly, he slept in a storage closet, cleaned himself with a hose and plastic bags, and worked 10 – 20 hours a day.

Eventually, he saved enough money to make a deposit for an apartment. He job-hopped for a few years, bolstering his income with each new job. After buffing floors, he found a job at a factory where he screwed the caps on bottles of shampoo for 10 hours a day, then found a job working a plastics factory where it was always 100° F or higher, then lands a position as lead engineer who feeds cardboard into a machine that creates Hostess snack cake boxes, and finally becomes a lead foreman overseeing work on construction sites.

You’d think the whole experience would have taught Mr Judgmental a valuable character building experience about poverty, and it did in a way. He resents the poor more than ever since he climbed out of it not just once, but twice!


I heard this story second-hand when I was in high school, where it apparently took place at the rival high school across town:

Someone was leaving large poos on the floor of a men’s bathroom. After a few weeks, there were four or five poo incidents, a school assembly was held to find out who’s been leaving the treasures, but no one confessed or was outed. Who was this person, this fiend, this… Mad Pooper…

The bathroom in question was next door to a special education classroom. As a result, students from the class were required to be escorted to the bathroom. However, the incidents continued — in fact they got worse. They started to spread to other bathrooms, then out into the hallways, then hidden on top lockers, on stairs, in the lunch room.

The MP was eventually caught after 7 months of terror — actually, I’ve heard this story from more than one person and its sort of become an urban legend. I’ve heard he was active for 3 months, 7 months, and even up to 2 1/2 years. In any case, the MP was not a special ed student, but an athlete on the varsity wrestling team with a history of trouble making.

The story usually ends there, although its sometimes punctuated with an arrest and expulsion.

When I got my first apartment, I lived on third floor, and there was a young woman lived in the apartment immediately below me. She was maybe 25ish, has very pretty, very dark classic length hair (i.e long enough to sit on), appeared to be Russian or Ukrainian or have some other Slavic background.

More than anything, she was notoriously, categorically, unwaveringly routine in her daily life — you literally could set a watch by her. Everyday, I’d see her walking out to her car for work or school, and I’d know it was exactly 7:51 AM.

She had an inordinate fondness for mini skirts — she wore them every day of the year, no exceptions. When it snowed or the weather was cold, she wore dark leggings. Likewise, she never showed her bare arms, and always wore long sleeves or a sweater. Very pretty, very feminine, and fashionably modern.

We passed each other pretty frequently in the apartment complex and occasionally the grocery store. She was very chatty, loved talking about family, had a jadedly cynical sense of humor. I learned a lot about her idiosyncrasies:

Apparently she is a miser and lives a completely ascetic lifestyle. She owns no furniture, not even a bed (choose to sleep on a folded-over comforter on the floor), fashioned a makeshift computer desk out of some discarded boxes, does not own a TV, has no lamps, and never uses the AC/Heat. She owns exactly 3 skirts, 5 shirts, and one pair of sandals which are used to create exactly 7 matching outfits, each outfit worn a particular day of the week.

She buys and eats exactly the same meals every week, does not go out to movies, does not smoke, does not drink, doesn’t eat eggs, meat, or dairy. She only enjoys two luxuries: a $25/mo cellphone and an internet connection.

She is conscious of her own oddness and how she comes across to others, even makes jokes about it in a amusedly self-critical way. Over time, she explained herself to me, revealing a somewhat complicated philosophy on life:

  • She was the youngest of 6 kids in a very poor family. That’s where she picked up her ascetic habits from.
  • She put herself through community college doing no-skill labor and temp jobs. Fortunately, hard work paid off: she got a degree and found job as a business analyst making $50K/yr — which, to a 20-year-old, is a startling amount of money.
  • When she got that job, she absolutely splurged, buying all the things she wanted. In the space of a few months, she bought a 52″ flat screen TV, got HD cable, moved to an expensive apartment, spent money at restaurants, bought a nice car, new clothes, went to movies.
  • About 6 months into her job, the paradox of hedonism caught up to her. She just takes no pleasure in parting with money, absolutely abhors conspicuous consumption. She sold her TV, cancelled her cable, moved to cheap apartment in my building, donated most of her clothes to charity, and reverted to a lifestyle more minimalistic than before.
  • Men flirt with her all the time, but she doesn’t date because guys are really put off by her personality. In particular, she refuses all gifts, she will not let anyone buy her a meal, and simply doesn’t get along with guys who idea of showing affection involves an expenditure of money.
  • She has no want or need for money or luxury, and gives some of it away away to Oxfam and the ASPCA, lets the rest of it accumulate in a money market account that she never withdrawals from.

Quite a remarkable person. Regarding her fascination with short skirts: “I look really good in them!

When I was in high school, there was a short kid with dark hair, thick-rimmed glasses, a little on the chubby side but not exactly fat, and appeared to be a loner. I overhead him talking to another student in one of the programming classes, where the Dragon Kid blurted out for some reason “well I can program in BINARY, one zero one one zero one zero one one…”

We had Spanish class together, where Dragon Kid sat in the back of class and on the opposite side of the room. The lights were dimmed for a video on Hispanic culture — while most people were enjoying the video, Dragon Kid was picking his nose with his left hand, wiping the collected treasure in his other hand, and maybe 5 minutes later took a huge toothy bite into his right palm to clean up. I gagged rather audibly.

Dragon Kid gets him name because, in the 4 years we went to school together, we never exchanged a single word, except for one: he walks up to me and says “I’m a dragon and over 4000 years old”.

The grocery store I worked at stayed open 24 hours a day. Oddly enough, although I worked from 9 PM to 6 AM, there were quite a few “regulars” — people you’d see every other day doing their  2 AM shopping. One of our regulars was someone who I’d call UFO Guy.

He was a tall guy, usually well dressed in a polo shirt and khaki slacks, maybe 40ish but still had a full head of hair. He loved to show up and talk to us as we stocked shelves — and he’d chat for a good 45 minutes or an hour. He likes to talk about politics, books, movies, TV, etc.

He’s actually fairly articulate and well-read on variety of oddball subjects. In particular, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of WW2 aircraft, seems to know Nietzsche inside and out, and can talk at length about judging pedigree cat breeds.

Apparently he’s had a lot of unusual life experiences.

  • He’s spoken at length about a piece of metal he had surgically removed from his eye, which he insists has been confirmed alien in origin by doctors and scholars.
  • Describes an event where he was driving home from work, suddenly found himself pulling into his driveway with no memory of the ride, and most startling he was driving his wife’s car rather than his own which he insists he took to work.
  • Has dreams which are inexplicably banal. For example, he dreams about going to work, doing his daily routine, then coming home — his behavior is undreamlike entirely, he acts in exactly the same way as his conscious self. For this reason, he cannot possibly be dreaming, but speculates that he was fully conscious (in a parallel universe, maybe?), and his “dream” is really the residual impression of erased memories.

Among other things, he believes his thoughts were being transmitted to certain people, Good Ones and Bad Ones. I’m not sure what a Bad One is, what they do, or why they’re bad. But they’re out there.

Good Ones, on the other hand, are so-named because they will subliminally acknowledge that they’ve received his thoughts in some way. For example, if UFO Guy was thinking about an episode of The Simpsons, later that day he’d turn on the TV and see that exact episode — someone was listening! Or, every once in a while, he’d think of an unlikely sequence of words, maybe “nostalgic beauty” or “ridiculous horse”, and later someone would use that exact phrase in conversation.

In his conversations with me, he confirms that I am, in fact, a Good One.

I put myself through college by stocking shelves overnight at a grocery store. My manager was a furry. His fursona was a panda. He occasionally came to work wearing a fox tail, and more than one occasion he’d cashier while in full-body Panda costume.

One day, he decides to move to a new apartment complex, and asked all of on the night crew to give him a hand. At the time, I’d only known the guy for a month or so, and had never seen his apartment before. I get there pretty early, Panda Guy and his wife are drinking beer with a coworker. When a few more people arrive, we’re ready to get to work.

When I stepped in the apartment for the first time, I was absolutely floored. From wall to wall, floor to ceiling, pandas. Panda plushes, panda stickers, panda figurines, panda blanket, panda curtains, and in the middle of the living room was an overstuffed Panda LoveSac. I swear, there was at least $25,000 worth of pandas crammed in the tiny apartment. It took six or seven trips with a full-sized truck to move all the Pandas to the new place.

Panda Guy had an eccentric personality that made him oddly likable. I remember him being a very funny guy with a lucid sense of humor, had tattoos of vegetables all up and down his arms from his experience as a vegetarian chef, and his addiction to carrot juice gave him a faint orange glow.

His wife, on the other hand, was actually pretty sane. Level-headed and quiet, you really wondered how she ended up married to someone like Panda Guy. She did, however, have an extraordinary and extensive collection of Japanese erotica.

Panda Guy was eventually fired for stealing $1200 worth of groceries from the store over a period of 9 months.

When I got my first programming job, there was a young woman, maybe 30, who sat in the cube in front of me. She very petite, strikingly feminine and beautiful, wrote consistently clear code, and was notoriously introverted.

Left to her own devices, she’d go most of the day without speaking to anyone. Whenever she had a question, she’d never walk over two or three cubes to speak with someone, she communicates by email. And for that matter, her emails were extremely brief.

She did not participate in company outings, events, food days, etc. Had an unusual disposition that I’d describe as being somewhere between nostalgia and melancholia. She moved around as if never in a hurry to be anywhere. She hardly ever smiled. Of course, with that last comment in mind, when she passed people in the hallway or the office, she’d smile brightly and meet their eyes for a split second, then move her gaze toward her feet.

However, whenever you said a word to her face-to-face, she’d drop everything to make you the center of her universe — at which time she absolutely beamed with joy and had this incredibly engaging way of speaking that makes the room light up with happiness.

I’ve never heard her complain about anything. Not the weather, not traffic, not anything. Of the few things she ever said, every spoken word was positive, thoughtful, and relentlessly polite. And she remains the single nicest human being I’ve ever met.

She ate lunch by herself everyday. For six years.


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