It’s a fine line between clever and stupid

Many places that have a primary function like: restaurant, radio station, academic department, store also have a secondary function: hangout. These places almost always end up with volunteer regulars who have no formal connection with the establishment but become unofficial residents and take on their own rights and responsibilities.. and powers.

I’ve seen this phenomenon in places as diverse as a university physics department, several bars, a college radio station, a few schools, and a health food store. These volunteer/pest hybrids spend time in the place for their own odd reasons, end up taking on tasks for which they are not compensated, and eventually gain an inexplicable power.

In police and fire stations this is way too common, and probably just flat out bad for society, since wannabee cops and firefighters are actively dangerous people. Aside from those examples, mostly these characters are harmless and extremely annoying.

At the coffeehouse currently we have one. He’s a pretty nice guy, on disability from a chronic illness, who has a lot of time to kill and appears to have some sort of OCD problem. He spends much of his day there and helps out. He constantly cleans up trash, arranges the tables in a tight grid with two chairs per table, and throws away all newspapers constantly. He runs off the teenaged kids who come there to eat their Wendys food and have french fry fights. He appears, in fact, to have declared himself Mayor of the Coffeehouse Patio.

It’s hard to say what to think about this. The guy is harmless and pleasant, and means very well. He also, as he points out, needs something to do so he doesn’t go nuts. Not being employable plus sitting around watching tv makes you something something. He rebuilds cars but doesn’t do this constantly.

On the other hand, it’s bizarre and unnerving to watch him go around lining up the tables again and emptying all the ashtrays and asking someone “Are you done with that?” more than once, and giving the employees and the manager advice, and telling some people to leave, and and and. It seems to be getting worse, too.

Any similar stories? I know gordonzola has bothersome cheese geeks at times, and most people who work in computer stores have a few of these at times. Tobacconists collect them, too..

10 thoughts on “It’s a fine line between clever and stupid

  1. He does seem to be around more these days. I have seen him recently drive up , move a few tables, get back in his car and leave. Still, I think I’d rather have him than that creepy God-squader with the digital camera….

  2. Sometimes I wonder which side of that line I am on, especially after it took me two minutes to figure out how to comment on your journal.
    I have worked at several coffeehouses, all of which have had creepy stalkers who hang around usually acting as if they are some sanctioned part of the operation. I acted openly hostile towards them which resulted in me being “the bitchy girl who doesn’t like the cool dude who buys all the underage kids alcohol.” Your hanger on seems harmless although he may be overstepping boundaries. At least he isn’t trying to hang out with the kids he’s chasing off.

    1. Right on the line, yes
      I hardly know what to make of it myself, since I’m the 38-year-old guy with all the 19-year-old friends at the coffeehouse. He is creepy sometimes, though. He spends altogether too much time giving Life Advice to very young women.

      1. Re: Right on the line, yes
        I’m neither; I’m just a longtime denizen (since ’96 or so) of this coffee house, and I know all the regulars. It’s odd, I can’t define where the line is between “being nice and talking to people there” and “trapping the café girl behind the counter”, but this guy crossed it a long time ago.

  3. Is this someone I would know, or is he a ‘recent addition’?
    One summer, the Ferry did an expiriment of having a guy to direct traffic at the top of the ramps on both sides. It was a frustrating affair for all involved, and we were out there alternately cajoling, screaming at people, throwing temper tantrums, and wielding the flashlights we were given as weapons. It was a bad idea that was never tried again.
    But one of the bored regulars that sat around and witnessed this spectacle was a ‘slow or special person’. When we abondoned the traffic-flow side of the job, he decided that he would fill the void. He took a small plastic bowling pin and wrapped it with black electrical tape until it was large and menacing. For about a year afterwards, we would see him at the top of the ramp going through the ritual that we had established: yelling out, being ignored, getting angry and screaming, finally throwing the bowling-pin down in a conniption-level rage… Still being ignored, save for the occasional “what’s THAT guy’s problem?”
    Good times.

  4. Seen it!
    My ex’s dad had pretty severe OCD that manifested itself in extreme tidiness, and an inability to leave anything vaguely “messy” around. That included things like lining up the shoes in front of the front door perfectly (I never saw it, but apparently when he got very frustrated with it, he would toss them all in the garbage). He put everything in the basement storage in clearly labelled alphabetized boxes stacked on individual easily accessible shelves in perfect lines full of everything that somehow fit his letter designations, but might not fit yours. He obsessively vacuumed to get the lines in the carpet to be exactly right (also did this with lawnmowing), and making sure lights and stove things were off over and over (I have had problems with this myself, so I can understand his problem). My favourite was the time I was over visiting and had a beer. It was carefully placed on a coaster on the immaculate coffee table, with the immaculately pruned and shaped houseplants. Glug glug. I left to go to the bathroom, and had left about a cm of beer in the bottom of my bottle. Apparently he snuck up on my bottle about 4 times, lifted it, shook it slightly, and then put it down and sat down again. He was conflicted between “pick up the mess” and “what if they want the last cm of beer”. I thought I could possibly nurse that cm all night and see what horrors might be unleashed, but I took pity at last. =) Every meeting I had with him became worse and worse, because as he became more familiar with you, he would check his obsessiveness less and he would try to spill it onto you somehow (knife and fork not straight? aaaaieee!). Not a fun guy to be around.
    Working theatre festivals is always fun. As a volunteer coordinator, you have to run around from venue to venue, giving information to the door people present, and to the people running the shows at said venues. When you have an actual theatre person working a venue, you have a big sigh of relief, because most of the other volunteers are people who were “in Boeing Boeing in high school” or Older Ladies who Love The Theatre. They start to make up rules about their little posts, and don’t understand why their rules are not the best rules. Hurrrrrr. I can’t count how many times I was called to a venue to settle a “they were only a little late” disagreement between volunteer and stage manager (who has the ultimate ruling”, and things of that nature. I tended to try to rotate people’s venues a lot (heaux heaux) so they wouldn’t settle in and get too comfy with their spot. Evil me. It’s too bad that D’s doesn’t have sections… they could make him switch once in awhile so he didn’t get so possessive.

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