A Field Guide To Certain Citizens

"Here we go now... another sociology lecture, with a bit of psychology, a bit of neurology, a bit of fuckology..." - Johnny Rotten

I saw a weird thing a couple of days ago, and it wasn't the usual walrus-riding-a-tricycle that shows up whenever I close my eyes for a minute. No, this was some old guy - probably in his mid-60’s - who was walking along and his cell phone went off. The ringtone didn’t go with the guy at all. It didn’t go with anybody, really. It wasn’t music, but a burst of crazy, squeally chatter, like Alvin & The Chipmunks arguing. It sounded like free cupcake day at the asylum, and I don't know where he got it, and - more crucially - I don't know why.

I don't really mind the surreality of it, but I would have felt better had I been prepared for it in some way. You never know when weirdness will encroach upon your day, and most agents of weirdness are fellow human beings. Therefore I thought it might be helpful to categorize some of the strange people we all run into on a daily basis. These people aren’t necessarily dangerous or evil - some you may even want to cuddle! - but still, forewarning can save you some alarm. So, I shall attempt to create a partial taxonomy of types of people I see around. I think you'll see them, too.

1. THE MAGNET PEOPLE. These are people who will veer towards you as you’re trying to get out of their way. No matter how wide the sidewalk, they head right at you, and if you adjust to clear a path and avoid a collision, they’ll step in the same direction to get in your way again. You correct, and they'll swerve again. It’s like you’re involved in a dance you haven’t been informed of, or somebody's trying to trick you into thinking you're walking into a mirror.

2. COMPUTERLESS TWITTERERS. These people go into a public place and loudly start talking about anything on their mind to no one in particular, regardless of who’s around. They also give you a rundown of whatever they're doing even though you can see them. I run into these at the post office a good bit. One is a dissatisfied-lookin older lady, with her hair all done up in this crazy roostertail explosion thing. You would think anyone who could get it together enough to find someone to do that to her hair could figure out how to mail things, but noooooooo. She wanders up and down the post office in a tizzy, loudly announcing everything she’s doing to nobody in particular. “Now I’m going to check my mail! I get a lot of junk mail! I don’t know why they send it! I throw it away, is what I do! After I've looked at it! I need to send a package to my son! I don’t know how to tape it shut! I wonder if three dollars will be enough postage! I don’t know postage! Postage isn't my thing! I can make good cornbread, though! Got a recipe! That's how I cook it, I use a recipe! I parked right outside there! Got lucky to park! Sometimes it's hard to park! Lord is it! People! It’s warm! Okay, getting in line now! This is a long line! Don’t know if I can wait! All these people in front of me! Gotta mail a package! Hope it doesn’t cost more than three dollars! That’s what I’ve got! Three dollars! Need to get it there by Tuesday! I should have mailed it earlier, but I didn’t know how to tape it shut!” And on and on the entire time she’s in there. I think the only reason nobody yells “Why don’t you just shut up and enjoy your hair!” at her is because nobody’s sure who she’s talking to, and people are mostly polite, they don't want to interrupt in case someone's feeling engaged by this. Unfortunately for me, I also work with one of these twitter-twits. She craves attention like a vampire craves blood. She’s Notice-feratu! She talks about everything she’s doing, and if anyone replies, it's like candy! Happy, happy! And then she tells everyone else who walks by what she said and what they replied. “I said I was putting new staples in mah stapler, and Hortense told me to be sure not to staple mah fanger! Wouldn’t that hurt? Oh my! Don’tchew hate when yew staple yore fanger? That hurts, don‘t it?” And it goes on like this. All day. Five days a week. So if they ever find me hanging from the light fixture in my carport, you’ll know why. And, she also belongs to our next group…

3. GIGGLING OAFS. These are people who laugh when they do something stupid. They’re the lead clown and the audience in their own little circus, delighted with their own dumb mishaps and moronic hijinks. Such as, the other day I was trying to get into my workplace, but there was this girl trapped in the doorway because she’d made the effort (and believe me, this isn’t easy to do) to try to get out of the building through the entrance door. I don’t know how she even did it, because the automatic door won’t trigger to let you out. And rather than turn around and go back out the right door, she'd decided to just wait there, grinning, until somebody came along. I had to step up to let the door trigger and then step back so she could get out, and she was just filled with glee at this brainless thing she’d done. I also hear this all day, too. “Ah just stapled mah fanger! Ha HA!

4. CELLPHONE GLACIERS. These people get so involved in cellphone conversations that they achieve stasis. They’re in front of you and moving very slowly, and you can’t get around them because they’re drifting from side to side like an unmoored dinghy, taking up the whole sidewalk. Sometimes they’ll stop completely in an inconvenient place, unaware that anything's behind them. They make you feel like a stalker, looming behind them and eavesdropping, when all you're trying to do is get gone. I think public use of cellphones is proof that we’ve evolved past Darwinian theory; there’s something wrong if survival instincts allow you to get so comfortable in public that you’re no longer even aware of your surroundings. Fight-or-flight is completely overriden by the need to find out what Britney's doing. These people are oblivious, mindlessly marching with their phone pressed to their skull like a soldier holding a compress to a headwound as he leaves a battle, dizzy, stunned, and shell-shocked. Or cell-shocked in this case. And that leads us to the next subset:

5. FRIENDS OF BROOKE. These are cellphone girls who are talking to or about Brooke. I don’t know who Brooke is, but she is apparently Miss It, because this world is all about her. I don’t think I’ve gone a week since around 2005 without encountering one of Brooke’s girls. They always have their faces screwed up in a whiney look as they talk, like the topic of Brooke makes their loins itchy. In coming years we may find an influx of something called Brooke’s Disease. You'll notice a lot of other names, too (Page, Heather, Stacey), but Brooke seems to reign o'er all of 'em.

6. THE CAMEL FOLK. These people are laden with water. They always have a bottle in their hand and at least one more tucked in a backpack, as if they're on a great transcontinental trek instead of a brief foray out of the apartment. Their bladders must be made out of high tensile steel to handle the kind of traffic they inflict on it. I always worry that one of them will be hit by a car, and the surrounding buildings will be swept away in the resulting torrent. I don't know if they're actually that thirsty, or if they've bought into that "hydration" myth that was going around a few years back. (Hint: you don't need to drink unless you're actually thirsty. You don't actually need "X number of glasses of water a day" - your body will let you know.) Anyway, it's good to spot these people, because in a crisis situation, you can take them down and steal their water. Just think of it as they're carrying your water supply for you if anything happens.

7. THE PEOPLE YOU HAVE NAMES FOR EVEN THOUGH YOU DON’T KNOW THEM. Some people you just see around a lot, and you start recognizing them. If you spot them enough you start feeling like you kind of “know” them, even if you’ve never made eye contact, and you come up with names for them in your internal dialogue. Many are known to you by some physical characteristic, sometimes flattering but more often not (“It’s Baby Shark Guy!”) or by some resemblance to a famous person (“There goes Lee Marvin Dude!”) or movie character type (“Hmmm, Mafia Boss is about to talk to White Eyebrow Priest! I didn’t know they knew each other… whoever they are.”). Some you actually go through enough mental self-amusement to come up with actual names and sometimes even elaborate backstories for (“Hey, it’s Javier! I hope his wife Dolores and their kids, Sondra and Eugene, fixed that leaky washing machine before it could ruin the tiles in that little yellow alcove off the kitchen."). You decide you like or dislike these people you've never met, based on nothing, except maybe that they nod back if you nod at 'em. Even though the private nicknames you come up with are seldom flattering (sorry, Billy Jerkoff and Thing-On-Her-Face Tiffany!), you still can come to oddly care about the People You Have Names For Even Though You Don’t Know Them. Like, I don’t know whatever happened to Wacky Tai Chi Guy who I used to drive past every day, but I hope he’s okay. If anybody sees him, tell him the Vlad The Impaler Fella says hello.

8. STOMPERS. Some people walk comically hard, making a lot of noise, and you image they’re running films of Wehrmacht stormtroopers in their heads. "Here I go through the Arch de Triumphe!" They like to hear themselves, I guess. I whump-whump-whump, therefore I am. I always hear Crown Of Thornz’s “Juggernaut” in my head when our office Stomper (who’s an ironically skinny lady) thunders past my desk. Some day I may start singing “She’s her own judge, and her own jury! I hear the footsteps! I feel the tremors! No one can stop her! The Juggernaut!” (I don’t really mind, ‘cuz that song has one of the most killer fucked-up break riffs ever. Quit readin' this sillyshit 'n' go watch the vid).

9. PETROGLYPH PEN PAL PERVERTS. You never actually see these people, just their artifacts. They’re the people who live secret lives by writing weird things on bathroom walls, most of it latent. They’re always setting up dates to meet and do unspeakable things with whatever stranger decides to show up at the given time. I doubt they show up; the writing down of the appointment probably is the sex act. Some of them also like to brag about their conquests anonymously, as if somebody is going to be impressed with their secret fantasies. "Wow, some guy I don't know screwed three chicks I don't know. If only my life were so exciting! Wait, I've got a pen, I'll say it is..."

10. BICYCLE HELMET GUY. This is an odd guy who feels comfortable walking around in public wearing a bicycle helmet even when his bike’s nowhere in sight. It’s like a fedora. You almost have to admire it; here’s a guy who’s wrestled his ego down, hit it with a rock, and had his way with it with no orifice left undefiled. Nothing says “I don’t care what you and your stupid society think, I've conquered the need for respect” like walking around inside a building wearing a bicycle helmet. I just ain’t punk rock enough.

11. BUMPER STICKER MANIACS. These people have at least a half dozen bumper stickers on their car, promoting various causes from the reasonable (stop war, recycle, look out for breast cancer) to the very obscure and personal (I may never know what “FRY BREAD POWER” is, but it makes me want a “THOSE POPSICLE THINGS IN THE PLASTIC TUBES KICK ASS, YO!” bumper sticker just so I can represent to my peeps, too). When you see one of these people getting into their car, they usually have wild, desperate eyes and are often wearing some kind of odd hat.

12. PERIPHERAL CLOWNS. These are those clowns that lurk just on the edge of your vision, and then disappear when you try to look directly at them. They’re not the FUNNY sort of clowns… and they have a SMELL. In fact, I’m not certain they’re clowns at all. Just because something won’t stop smiling doesn’t mean it’s a clown. Anyway, ya’ll know what I’m talking about, right? Please tell me ya’ll know what I’m talking about…

Anyway, this is a far from incomplete field guide*, so feel free to add your own observed species in the comments. I may put up a more substantial, less silly post later, but for now, this seemed like the thing to do. It was either write it out for you folks, or yell it out loud in the post office...

* actually that should say "far from complete field guide" but I kinda like my typo because I have to think pretty hard to figure out what "far from incomplete" would even mean - and what would "close to incomplete" mean, for that matter? - so I'm leavin' it in as possibly the most cerebral thing I've written today.

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