Stranger behavior II

Stop press: people continue to do surprising things.

On the Washington Metro, a man with a bike takes out some floss. He starts flossing his teeth. He is flossing his teeth on the Washington Metro. In front of people. I cannot believe my eyes and keep watching and looking away in disgust. It’s gross. And bizarre. Flossing is a hygienic act, but only in private and in a bathroom.

On a hot summer evening, patrons of a restaurant with outside seating hear a siren at the intersection across the street. At first no one pays any notice, but its persistent wailing begs the question of why it has not thundered down the street. It cannot move forward because the car in front is not moving. A woman sits in the small car with a huge fire engine behind her. It’s really loud. She can see and hear it because she keeps looking in her rear view mirror and looking around. People are gathering and not understanding why she doesn’t move. The light is red, but she could easily turn right and let the engine pass. Eventually the siren stops and they use a loudspeaker asking her to pull over. At the same time the light turns green and she moves on. Is she new to our planet?

I often buy my Washington work suits at Lord & Taylor. I have to wear one every day. They have massive sales at the end of each season and $300 suits can be found for less than half price. A couple of times a year I’ll summon the strength to shop for work clothes and beste online casino strike very lucky and score two or three new suits. This time, I find three great suits, three cashmere sweaters ($30 each!), a cocktail dress (Kay Unger – only $110!), and a little top. The young woman at the counter starts to process my purchases. “Would you like them gift-wrapped?” I respond in the negative. She is stunned and cannot contain her shock. “These are all for you?” I start guiltily apologizing, “They’re on sale.” “I know,” she says shaking her head, “but that’s a lot of clothes.”

Rushing home tired one night, I pull up in front of the 7-11. I park illegally in the space between the traffic light and the car behind – it’s not terribly disruptive but it makes it harder for people turning right. I rush in to buy one of the few brands of cat food my aging cat will deign to eat this month. When I come out, a parking enforcement woman is about to write a ticket. “I’m so sorry!” I burst out, knowing it was foolish to park illegally on U Street in rush hour. She pauses, puts her pen away, and gets back in her car without writing the ticket. I guess I’m the first person to apologize.

42 responses to “Stranger behavior II”

  1. lane says:

    “people continue to do surprising things.”

    Jeremy remarked not long ago that maturity and adulthood were topics that interested TGW. I hadn’t noticed it here specifically, but as many of you know me personally, you know these are topics that I think about.

    Last year sometime Dave and I were talking and my “adulthood” thing came up (which is partially a function of my being a youngest child) and Dave remarked “yeah go figger, We all thought adults behaved responsibly and now . . . huh . . .(as Dave often says) maybe they don’t.”

    I take comfort in that.

    I once had a studio mate that didn’t . . . like people, in general, all that much. I used to find it kind of sad. I think part of it was that she was fully aware of how STRANGE people are, she could really see into people. I think she used this ability wisely and well. But I think it also came with a cost. Yes, she may not have liked “humanity” all that much, but she was accepting, and ultimately tolerant and wise.

    People, the human animal, is a deeply evolved creature. And has constructed a living environment of such complexity that it FREQUENTLY outstrips its evolved capacity to cope.

    I guess being an adult means coming to terms with that.

  2. Marleyfan says:

    The traffic cop must have been new!

    I manage ten full time staff, and am often amazed at some surprisingly ” stupid” things they do. WARNING: HERE COMES THE OPTIMIST: Yet other times I am equally amazed at the kind and thoughtful things I see them do.

    Last night my wife had a problem with a hotel where she was staying. I called the night manager, and explained the situation, and the manager politely fixed the problem. When I called my wife to tell her the problem was fixed, she said “how did you do it, did you get pissed?” Then I thought to myself how happy I was that the manager just acquiesced to common sense (without me having to get angry). Common sense? I hate even using the term. it would make an interesting post!

  3. lane says:

    “Common sense?”

    As in there is none?

  4. Tim says:

    Stella, I love your notes-on-the-quotidian posts. People will never cease to confound and amaze me.

    I hate to break it to you, Marleyfan, but the night manager may have been responding to the fact that a man called about the problem. Had your wife tried to get the problem fixed earlier, to no avail?

    A few months ago, Jen took our car in to get its regular service. When she picked it up after hours, one of the hubcaps was missing, and no one was there to answer her questions. On the phone the manager said that it “couldn’t be located” and we could replace it for $40. It *had* been cracked, and so we thought it could have broken when they took it off to rotate the tires. All the same, we had a functional hubcap when we went in; if it had broken, why didn’t they just show it to us and say it’s not their fault that it broke. I probably would have accepted that. Disappearing entirely? No. Jen called twice and got the same answer both times — $40.

    I got so irritated that I called, identifying myself as her husband. Before the words were completely out of my mouth, before I had the chance to make any kind of logical argument at all, the manager said that we should bring the car by and he’d replace the hubcap for no charge. I’m convinced that it was the magic of gender bias that did it. Justice was served, but at what cost?

  5. Dave says:

    Justice was served, but at what cost?

    I imagine this in the voice of Edward R. Murrow.

  6. Dave says:

    Not exactly on topic, but: Last night leaving a convenience story on the way to meet a friend, I heard someone say, “Hey Dave.” Turns out it was a guy walking past talking into his cell phone, leaving a message. What I heard before he passed out of earshot: “Hey Dave, I know you’re probably busy right now trying to get into heaven, but…”

  7. Adriana says:

    The Lord and Taylor story made me laugh out loud. Is that a DC thing — this idea that you shouldn’t be lavishing yourself with clothes? I bet it was the cashmere and the cocktail dress that pushed her over the edge. Too luxurious for one person! Too pretty! Too funny.

  8. lane says:


    Dave gets carried away with commenting and puts up a self indulgent remark!

    Very Funny,

    But seriously Tim, this is how the world works. Auto shops, even in froofy California are NO place for women. It’s like 1972 never happened.

    And yes the hotel manager could have very well be nice to Marley because he was a guy.

    I think Marley’s point about there really being no “common sense” is a good one.

  9. Dave says:

    My entire participation in this blog is self indulgent.

  10. lane says:


    err . . . creation! rather?

  11. Dave says:

    Dude, the whole goddamn Internet is a mass self-indulgence.

  12. i dunno. i usually find that ssw is more persuasive in dealing with hotel management and mechanics and traffic cops than i am. i either seem not to be able to turn on enough alpha male confidence to get what i want or i turn on too much and my belligerence gets me into trouble.

  13. lane says:

    don’t u “dude” me! mister!

  14. lane says:

    “i either seem not to be able to turn on enough alpha male confidence to get what i want or i turn on too much and my belligerence gets me into trouble.”

    ah yes the channeling of your male aggression. one of a boys trickiest problems.

    chicks love it, but fear it.

    guys love it, but it gets them in trouble.

  15. Marleyfan says:

    Lane- I grew up thinking that there was such a thing as common sense; a set of natural understandings similar to social norms. People often talk about common sense in a way which seems it is acquired in (nearly) an innate manner.

    In college, I realized that one of my best friends who is extremely intelligent (full ride academic scholarship to a major university), lacked common sense. I tried to figure out what common sense was, and why he lacked it. Common sense appeared to be based on cultural norms. Yet there are many micro cultures within the “American” culture, such as regional, familial, gender based, religious, racial and ethnicity based, political, age-related, etc. So what may be common to one person is not necessarily common to another, due to the micro cultures. Does intellect affect common sense or social interaction? Maybe my friend is so intelligent that he doesn’t have the social norms that the simple minded folk like me have…

    Tim- Gender bias had crossed my mind. Since we both spoke to the same manager, who was (female by the way), and I didn’t say anything that my wife didn’t say, I believe you are right.

  16. lane says:

    Yes Marley, this is really it, none of us have anything in common. Brooklyn teaches me this every day. And yet the ability to reach across difference and to thrive in this whiplash world, this is the essence of Cosmopolitainism, as opposed to Provincialism.

    It’s a little harder for us white people to figure this out, this is the source of our “optimism”, but once we see we’re as fucked up as everyone else, then the fun begins.

  17. Marleyfan says:

    Oh how true!

  18. I find observations like Stella’s often while riding public transit. My blog is littered with them. I’m happy these instances show up in the Great Whatsit.

  19. Dave says:

    13: Whatever you say, coach.

  20. lane says:

    and marley i think you know what i mean when i say ‘white people’ as ‘our’ western american white people.

    there are plenty of white people that are rightfully grounded in the pain, misery and hopelessness of human existence.

    god bless ’em!

    19. DROP! gimme ten!

  21. Dave says:

    Right, big guy.

  22. PB says:

    #12 – MB always steps behind my badass temper whenever he needs things taken care of -that being said, I have been trying the Marleyfan nice thing more lately. The result of lovely of vs. shrewbitch is mixed. Gender politics or just who is the nastiest face-off?

    Lane! Always enjoy when you take a likin’ to a post.

    Stella – I love your observational posts – we seem to discover the “surprising-ness” along with you.

    A guy walked on to the airplane leading a toddler the other day. He says in that slightly too loud voice that is directed toward the child but meant to be heard by all: “Keep walking son, our seats are starboard!” The kid just drooled.

  23. lane says:

    my god, speaking of weird people, this country of ours:

    Stella, is all the crazy behaviour more native to this cartoon country?

  24. Marleyfan says:

    Lane- I almost made a wisecrack about the whitepeople thing, and told you I was “of color”, but I remember that you know who my sister is. I remember she and I staying at your place in Brooklyn (July/’01)with all the cool art on the walls, and all the porno videos on top of the TV.

  25. lane says:

    “and all the porno videos on top of the TV.”

    In 01? . . . uhh, we had premium satellite back then.

    I’m sure we were a little more discrete.

    But back on topic, can you believe those people in the Times? Talk about over indulged whitepeople!

  26. lane says:

    Just by chance another one:

    I showed this to Adriana and she commented, “Is the Times starting a new section called ‘What The Crazy People Are Doing’?”

  27. Adriana’s reaction was exactly right.

  28. Also, it’s my birthday! Come over to my blog and wish me well.

  29. bw says:

    lane — you’ve got to figure out how to embed those links. what browser are you using? don’t you have a little set of buttons at the top of the comments box?

  30. bw — it seems to me unreasonable to expect the innocent commenter to know that an little circle with an arrow pointing north by northeast means, “Insert an embedded link here”. I myself did not know that until like just now. “B” and “I” are pretty easy to understand; the NxNE button just looks like it might have something to do with Michigan.

  31. lane says:

    bry, i agree, the embedding this is much more stylish. i will pursue this.

    thanks coach.

  32. Beth W says:

    Fun post Stella!

    #23 I don’t think that people wanting to get rid of their stuff and live more simply is weird. In general, Americans have far too much stuff. I think a lot of people use stuff to distract themselves. Getting rid of the stuff allows for a higher level of consciousness, which brings us to #26. Yeah, those people are extreme and I certainly don’t want to live like that. But, there’s something to learn from them as far as being aware of others and ourselves throughout the day. What’s wrong with living simply in the woods?

  33. lane says:

    It struck me as cultural bulimia. Those people are going to move to Vermont and start the process of accumulation all over again. They’ll find they are no “happier” in Vermont than they were in Austin (and that they sorely miss the weather) and that all that shit they came to demonize DID, in fact, make they’re lives a little better.

    But they won’t learn anything about balance, because they are naive Americans. And now, instead of only being responsible for ONE pile of consumer shit they will accumulate TWO. (And after the disillusionment, and the divorce, THREE or FOUR.)

    And why will they do this? Because their examples of “enlightenment” and “fulfillment” and “balance” are these other wackos in Arizona.

    Why don’t they just stay in Austin, enjoy the good weather, buy a place downtown, become urban homesteaders, plant a garden, and rock out to SXSW once a year?

    Because they are caught up in the American myth of a better place looming over the horizon.

    I do not live on the Continental United States, and hope I never will.

    It’s filled with crazy people.

  34. Dave says:

    Jesus, Lane, you’re talking like New York, especially our corner of Brooklyn, is not overrun with the most bourgeois, accumulative, striving, materialistic, neurotic people imaginable. You know full well that a walk around the Slope on trash night yields plenty of evidence of cultural bullimia.

  35. bw says:

    not to mention a surplus of organic free range children.

  36. bw says:

    or maybe OFRC = cultural bulimia?

  37. S. Godfree says:

    Sorry to be so intellectually minimalist, but I always root for a utopian (assuming their brand of utopia is peaceful in nature).

  38. S. Godfree says:

    And B, what does OFRC stand for?

    I always feel so effing out of the loop with these things.

  39. Dave says:

    OFRC are not allowed out on trash night, lest the vapors damage their chances of getting into Harvard.

  40. what does OFRC stand for

    See the comment posted previously to the first comment in which that acronym is used.

  41. A-and just by coincidence, FRK.

  42. lane says:

    People living in cities, with decent housing stock, that doesn’t rot in 50 years, and that make use of public transportation, and that can’t keep garages full of all their shit and that share common public spaces and blah blah blah . . . cite some new urbanist here . . . this is how people should live.

    Everyone knows this.

    blah blah blah