August 8th, 2010
I love quirkers. Truly. I adore weird people of every stripe and nonsense word they utter. I’d so much rather lunch with people who are strange and creatively unkempt than bland genericsons. In fact, I do seem to be one of those people who off-the-beaten-path types befriend. In college in Milwaukee, I lived down the street from a mental institution and a rescue mission (also, a few short blocks from Jeffrey Dahmer. And I’m convinced that if he ran into me at the corner grocer, he’d have confessed all, because I have that effect on people.) and I routinely came across the talk-to-themselfer, the screaming-into-the-air paranoid and the craggy, barefoot-in-snow garden variety crazy. And I loved them. And they loved me.
And at this time, I do not care to speculate on why that is. But thank you for your insight.
One of my favorite things to do in my early days was to frequent dive bars in the afternoon (also, not wanting to speculate on this habit right now, but again, thanks), because the map of humanity in there was too absorbing, too colorful for me to resist. I could think of nothing better than to engage in a conversation with Louby-Bird, the bespectacled, leathery guy to my left who could tell me a thing or two about life. And? I’m getting all excited now just remembering how he told me to “worry less, eat more beans.” From the mouths of quirks. I’m telling you: pure unexpected gold. I have yet to take his advice.
In my college photojournalism class, I chose “Bus People” as my thesis, because Bus People! What is more exciting than that? Who are these individuals? Why are they on a bus? The possibilities were endless (ah! college). So for weeks, I’d jump in front of Milwaukee’s city buses and snap photos of the behemoths two seconds away from flattening me AND my standard-issue Nikon. Then, I’d hop on the bus and take pictures of the down and out, the hopeful, the aimless, the defeated, the vibrant. And? They were all quirkers. There’s just something about buses…
Or maybe there’s something about people wherever you find them waiting, watching, being. I’ve often wondered at my fascination with quirkeys. And I know it has to do with my fondness for authenticity. Quirks are themselves — fully and without apology. Plus, it’s unexpected. How many times have you suffered through a phony small-talk conversation. And how long does it take to get real? And don’t you love that moment? Also, the myriad characters I met in the dive bars, at the bus stops, in grocery lines (see below) are flesh and blood flawed and beautiful. All is laid bare and you get to brass tacks right off. I mean, we all are flawed and beautiful, but we don’t show it much, do we? I like it when people show it. Finally, quirks reflect you back to yourself. They know you, oh you bet they do. And it’s nice to be known. (Let me also just say that maybe “quirks” and its ilk is not the right word. But I maintain that mainstream America considers anyone outside the norm (whatever THAT is), a “quirk.”)
Anyway, it’d been a long time for me and my quirkers. I just don’t run into the characters like I used to. But yesterday, my ears perked when at Trader Joe’s, the cashier said without pretense, “Hi. What do you do for a living?” Momentarily taken aback, I scanned my grocery items for what might have prompted the question. Seeing only bread, 18 bags of Pirate’s Booty and a sponge, I couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. But something about the way he asked. As if he really wanted to know. I looked up at him and a glance passed between us. A-ha! I said to myself. A fellow quirkerson.
So I told him I about my freelance writing and editing, which led to what I wrote and edited, and when I answered, “restaurant promotional copy and IT reports,” his glazed look told me he considered me not quirky enough.
“Also,” I said, “I have a mom’s blog.”
His ears perked. “Ah?” he countered. “How many kids?”
“Two girls, aged two and four.”
“Are they crazy?”
“Totally demented,” I say confidently.
“Funny.” He pulled out his iPhone. “I work part-time in an urgent care trauma clinic…”
And we’re off!
The next 10 minutes passed in an iPhone photo blur of jagged gashes, amputated fingers and chest x-rays showing the most unorthodox and disturbing swallowed items. I loved every minute of it. We were just about to get into a series of unsettling body art photos, when the line of people behind us threatened to draw us from quarter to quarter.
I left that Trader Joe’s refreshed and rejuvenated. And oh so very slightly, repelled.
I hadn’t felt so quirkified since the day The Rock came home with a note a man passed him at breakfast with a friend. Seemed the man bonded with The Rock’s friend’s dog and as he left the restaurant, he left these words scrawled on a paper napkin:
“It has nothing to do with the bark. We are telepathic.”
What delicious enigma.
Forever in peace may the freak flag wave.