Thursday, August 27

the lostest of them all

I'm manning a table at work for a few hours this week. My main job is to direct lost students in ways which make them less lost. I'm not always successful. My secondary job is to listen attentively to crazy people.

I should've known about this one guy yesterday. He'd been hanging around in the general area of my table for more than an hour. I thought he was probably waiting for someone to come pick him up. He had no books, no bag, not a single pencil as far as I could tell. But he didn't look crazy. He even smiled at me a couple times, so I wasn't too worried. Usually if they're crazy, they begin talking to you the first time you make eye contact.

Finally came the fatal moment. He had walked down to the road and was now walking back past my table. "Hi," he said in a friendly, undisturbing sort of way. "What are you doing here?" So we talked for approximately four seconds about what I was up to, and then he became distraught. Zero to distraught in four seconds. Apparently I, a person he had met only four seconds before (although to be fair, we'd known of each other's existence for over an hour at that point), struck him as someone to whom he could vent his rage. He began talking. I have no real idea of what he was saying, but it was angry and it went something like this:

"I had this class and I went there and, you know, it's been thirty-seven years I've been working on this thing, and so I went there, and after all this time, and what am I, too old? And then the teacher called me over and told me you have to leave and I don't know what, I guess I'm too old. What am I, a million years old? How old are you? How many millions of years old are you? How many past lives have you had? I guess they think I'm just too old -"

And the whole time I'm nodding and making sympathetic noises and trying to work out how old he is based on the "thirty-seven years" comment, because frankly, he doesn't look that old. Certainly not old enough to get kicked out of a school that regularly admits people in their eighties.

And then a lost student of another kind approached and I politely said, "Excuse me," and turned away, and he wandered away and kind of hung out silently behind me for another half-hour, muttering to himself in a bitter sort of way now and again, and then eventually disappeared, and I wondered if he was kicked out of class on the first day because he wasn't actually registered for the class or because he spouted off crazy talk in the middle of the lecture or maybe because he forgot to bring his pencil. But it never crossed my mind that he was kicked out because he was too old.


Melinda said...

I had a somewhat similar experience at work; happened to answer the phone to a woman who was obviously off her meds. After about 20 minutes of circular conversation I had to hang up on her. I felt bad, but it could have gone on for hours.

Dr. V (Wingal) said...

I had a student come to my composition class, stay for the whole thing--even do the in-class writing assignment--and then come up to me at the end and say, "I think I was supposed to be in Latin." This school is not big enough to warrant direction-givers like yourself, and yet... I wish you were here.

Well, of course, that last phrase is true for lots of reasons. Did I mention the pink bicycles with white baskets that can be found all over campus? So us.

Jenny said...

A guy called me once at work to tell me that a.) he had a couch that he was pretty sure was a historical artifact that he wanted us to come pick up from the sidewalk outside his house because the museum wouldn't do it, b.) he also had a rock that was definitely a prehistoric missing-link sort of fish that maybe we could look at for him because the museum wouldn’t do that either, c.) he used to be an alcoholic but now he had medicine so he was totally sober, oh, and also incidentally d.) he'd never forget my name because his friend’s daughter who was a prostitute even though he advised her against it (because clearly he’s a person you would take advice from) was also named Jenny. And then he alarmed me by telling me that he was going to take the bus to come see us the following day. (Thankfully, he never actually showed up.)