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April 11th, 2023

Wherein Bruce Gets Suddenly And Inexplicably Creeped Out

Ever take a sudden instant disliking to someone? You take one look at them and you feel your hackles rise and revulsion hits you in waves? Some total stranger whose only crime was crossing paths with you while minding their own business and suddenly an involuntary reflex of absolute hate hits you? Spain Rodriguez’ character Trashman had a random alert factor that would break into his thoughts with warnings about impending danger. I sometimes wonder if we all have something like that going on just below the level of conscious thought. Some background brain process that is adding it all up while we go about our day and suddenly makes us feel nervous about someone nearby, or imparts an instant dislike that makes us keep our distance. They say animals can tell almost instantly whether a particular human can be trusted or not, and I can easily see how evolution would have given that to us.

This one was crowding me at the bar at Texas Roadhouse the other day…which I can normally shrug off since restaurants these days like to put more seats at a bar than reasonably allow customers some personal space. But there were other places this guy could have sat and had space all to himself and instead he sits right next to me and starts taking up the counter space between me and him instead of the space on the side of him that was empty. And what made it worse was it didn’t seem to me just then to be deliberate. He wasn’t ignoring me, he knew I was there, he even asked me if the chair was taken and I told him politely that it wasn’t. And from that moment on he was simply oblivious. Or so it looked. And I wanted him to please go away.

Something about him just completely creeped me out. The instant he sat sat down next to me I just…loathed him. And then I thought…why? He isn’t doing anything to me. But my hackles were up and to concentrate on what was happening inside of me just then was difficult. His interactions with the bartender only made it worse. He wasn’t rude to her. Something about his voice, something about how he used language, how he strung words together, just completely irritated me. Blunt but not rude. Simple but not stupid. Not an empty head, but a head full of nothing. I tried to analyze it but I couldn’t see why just loathed this guy every second I had to sit next to him, I just did. I asked for my check quickly with my plate only half eaten, just to get some distance.

Maybe it was the delicate smell of some gruesome cleaning solvent, like something you’d expect to smell in an autopsy room. Maybe it was that frozen blank expression. It was a face out of a police sketch. A deer in the headlights but just staring back unsurprised. The face a blank wall might have if walls had faces. Maybe it was the toneless voice. Not toneless in a Jack Webb Sergeant Friday way, just empty. But with a certain undertone that speaks of a kind of runt locker room dive bar internet basement troll masculinity that creeps me out. But it wasn’t an aggressive tone, what I heard was an oddly passive kind of toxic masculinity. Every time he spoke something inside me cringed with loathing. And…a weird kind of unfocused alarm. I could not for the life of me pinpoint why he was making me feel the way I did, but I just badly wanted either him or me to be somewhere else.

He wore a quilted overcoat that should have been way too warm for outside then, let alone inside, that he never took off. I’d have taken him for a street guy but everything about him was clean and neat and tidy. And yet not just drab but ostentatiously bland. Extreme ordinariness. I thought maybe he was wearing his work clothes but it just looked like he picked out whatever looked colorless and ordinary off the rack. He struck the sort of figure that sucks all the color and life out of wherever he was. In his clothing, but especially in his empty unfocused yet not at all stupid face.

He had some sort of iPhone but I couldn’t tell its version, other than the case it was in seemed to be one of those they sell that give iPhones a look of a faux military hardened device. Reflexively I turned off my Bluetooth in case he had an app for hacking into smartphones. His eyes fixed on whatever he needed to pay attention to at that moment, and then looked at nothing in particular. He seemed completely aware and yet totally disengaged with the world around him. 

You took one look at him and you just knew his living space had nothing on its walls but paint. No books. No music. No interests. Just the daily routine of life for no other reason than it’s what adults do. Neither joy nor despair. The eternal gray overcast of the uncurious mind.

Every time I moved slightly away from him (I was seated at one end of the bar) he extended his counter space into where I’d left it. But it didn’t strike me just then as deliberate. Just an off handed use of the space where I was and wasn’t now. I wanted to put some space between us and he just kept maintaining the same distance simply I was certain just because it was there now. 

On the drive home I kept chewing on it and finally realized what he reminded me of. This is one of the shorts from The Fantastic Animation Festival that I first saw back in the 70s. The video quality is very Very poor, slightly and annoyingly out of focus, but there isn’t another copy of this out there I can find. It’s called “Oiseau de nuit” which translates into “Nightbird”, and it’s by director Bernard Palacios. It is hauntingly grim. The artwork is pitch perfect for the story it’s telling, 

Warning: this is a Very Dark, Very Grim short.

I think I just sat next to this guy. Maybe there was something up about his needing to sit next to me out of every other seat at the bar, and keep ever so slightly invading my space at that bar. Maybe my subconscious added him up and gave the alert for a reason.


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