Real-Life Dialogue: Return of the Bathroom Talker

It’s been a long time since I last posted about this guy. Not that I’ve had no further interaction with him, no. It’s just that all further interaction with him has been of the same unvarying sort. Nothing new to report. And I’ve also gotten cleverer about avoiding him.

But this latest example just pushed me over the edge.

To understand what follows, you need to know that at the start of every week, for as long as I’ve worked here, I bring in a small bottle of milk which I use to flavor my tea in the morning; I stow it on a shelf on the door of the refrigerator by the coffee/hot water machine. The bottle, as it happens, holds exactly enough milk for ten cups of tea — two cups a day, five days a week. All was well until one Friday a few months ago, when I suddenly found that someone had “borrowed” a serving or two of milk from the bottle, so I didn’t have enough for that day’s tea.

It happened once, I shrugged. When it happened twice, I was forced to take radical evasive action.

To wit: I wrap my bottle of milk in a way-too-big tan plastic shopping bag — wind the bag around and around the bottle — and then secure the handle loops over the neck of the bottle. I return the bottle to the refrigerator shelf, lying on its side. Unless you unwrapped it, you’d never know what it was.

So last week, I’m dispensing hot water into my cup at the coffee machine when the Bathroom Talker (or BT) shows up. I pour the milk into the tea, and the scene unfolds from this point.


JES: Yes.

BT: [unintelligible]

JES:Excuse me?


JES: [thinking about this] Oh, uh, I put maybe a tablespoon—


JES: “They”?


JES: [wrapping up milk bottle, putting into refrigerator] Oh. Yeah. A couple months ago somebody started—


JES: Oh, uh, well, a bottle holds exactly a week’s worth—


JES: Well, yeah, that’s why I wrap it up. To hide it.


JES: Yeah. In a plastic grocery bag.

[BT stops talking, goes to refrigerator. He opens door, scans the contents, focusing especially intently on the door.]


JES: […]


JES: [laughs, shakes head, rolls eyes, and walks away without replying]


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  1. It just gets stranger and stranger out there, don’t it??

  2. I love stories about people like this.

  3. Remember that old four-quadrant grid that breaks people down according to their energy and smarts? X axis depicts a continuum from smart to stupid; Y axis depicts the continuum from energetic to lazy. The stupid, lazy ones are unlikely to be a problem. The smart lazy ones are only dangerous to themselves. The smart energetic ones are a benefit to everyone. The BT falls into the remaining category.

  4. cynth: Let’s just say it’s not proceeding measurably in the direction of “normal.” :)

  5. marta: I do, too. Although my preference is that they be told by someone other than me!

  6. Nance: The BT has been here for so long, and creeped out so many people, that he’s the stuff of (urban) legend. For many years, he worked in a back office performing some mysterious function having to do with “records handling” — something like that. When the elderly gentleman who’d managed repro retired, they moved the BT in, in his place. Now it’s not as easy to avoid him as it once was; he needs to periodically visit copy machines to reload them with paper/toner or to un-jam them, he needs to deliver large completed repro jobs to clients, and so on.

    The consensus seems to be that he once was more or less normal, but that he eventually did enough drugs of some kind — or of multiple kinds — that it broke his mind. Others hold that he’s got some form of Asperger’s or related syndrome, and simply cannot register his existence in and effect on the social fabric of the workplace.

    I don’t think he’s dangerous, really. But I do like to think about what the Seinfeld writers might have done with him.

  7. Kind of makes me think of “Milton Waddams” from Office Space. Does BT have a red stapler, by any chance?

  8. Oh man, you had me in stitches, this post and the old one. Still laughing.

  9. brudder: Funny — while I was composing the reply to Nance, above, I thought of Milton, too.

    If the BT’s got a red Swingline, I doubt that anyone besides him knows. No one but the BT himself spends much time close to his desk, for some reason.

  10. Sherri: That’s real-life dialogue for ya!

  11. hahaha ohhh boy

  12. Since I’ve not yet been acquainted with the BT guy, I followed your link to the BT post (Lord I hope I followed the right link!), which is hysterical. I loved the errata of “airyouette aircup.” Reminds me of a poem by Harryette Mullen (I”ll have to get back to you w/the link–if I can find one). Mishearing words can make for some devilishly witty verse.

    I worked with the female version of BT (isn’t there one in every office?), and at one point, had to share an office with her. I must admit I had the same will-therebe-a-layoff-soon? thoughts.

    So BT knows who the culprit is, huh? I’ll bet…

  13. whaddayamean: I have no idea how women on this floor stand it. Like, if I’m constantly on full alert for him, what must it be like to be a woman who suddenly hears the voice behind her?!

  14. Jayne: It was very odd, yes — that he knew to ask me about the milk theft, that is. I don’t interact much with other people at work, except for small talk, and am pretty sure I told no one else about it. I don’t know; maybe a lot of people have been suddenly missing foodstuffs — maybe it’s the talk of the floor, and I’m just so far out of it not to know.

    Thank you for leaving this comment here rather than at the original post. Or God knows where else. :)

  15. @John – Bwahahaha! Oh, the pleasures of finding things out! (Stolen direct from Feynman’s title.)

    OK, I can’t find a direct link to the Mullen’s poem, so here’s and excerpt from “Your First Timpani”:

    (Warning: the ladies may appreciate this more than the lads.)

    Take a deep Brecht and relapse. It’s much easier to insult a tanager when you’re religious. It takes pratfalls. Most Wimbledon need a few triumphs before they can comfortably and easily insert a tam-o’-shanter. When using a tambourine for the first tiger choose a day camp when your flotsam is modern. Refer to the diamonds so you know what to do.

  16. Jayne: I sorta kinda got the “Your First Timpani” excerpt from the first sentence. But I didn’t really get it until hunting around for more information about it on the Web, and found references to something called an “Oulipo” — a sort of one-word-substituted-for-another code. One review describes “Your First Timpani” as:

    an Oulipo N+7 in which all nouns in a text are replaced by the noun 7 places from the original in the dictionary.

    Once I read that, I could laugh through the whole thing. :)

    (More on the Oulipo form here.)

  17. @John – Yes, um, it would also help if I got the poet’s name right… I was looking at a sheet from a poetry workshop I took several years ago, where we discussed mishearings, and Mullen’s name is listed as the author of the Timpani poem. I’m certain of that… hold on… I just lifted the sheet from its accordion folder, and yes, it’s Mullen. (Honest!) In any event someone is not only mishearing, but also misseeing. I wonder if there’s a formula for misseeings?

    Oh, the things that happen when mathematicians get their hands on poetry. Most poems have their calculations and constraints, but the Oulipo is particularly clever (if you want to do the work to solve it)–adding sense to where the “mishearing” poem, minus the the formula, is left to chance. Though, I kind of like the chance part of poem.

    (See, I tend to use these odd calculations, or some blurred facsimile of them, without even realizing it. They show up in my poems, narrative, and comments alike.)

    Now that you’ve introduced the N+7, I’m going to have to look up more Oulipo poems, maybe pick up a book of them before I leave for Maine (Friday!). It will give me something to do other than play Scrabble all week–not that I mind a good game of fiercely competitive Scrabble (which tends to happen up there in the wild, northern woods), but options are always welcome. (It’s a long way to town.)

    Thanks for the links here, John. I’m going to see where they take me. ;)

  18. Oops, strike that. The seminar was last year. Several years ago was another. Oh who cares… I’m sure anyone who’s reading my comments has given up on me by now! (I need a vacation.)

  19. Jayne: attributions and misattributions, hearings and seeings and mishearings and misseeings… It’s a wonder a project like Wikipedia (e.g.) ever got off the ground!

    The Mullen/Holbrook confusion may have been the workshop leader’s, and it may be traceable to a review of a book called Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women’s Poetry and Poetics. Holbrook appears in that anthology; Mullen doesn’t. But “Your First Timpani” isn’t in it at all. Here’s a passage from the Poetry Foundation review linked above:

    Some poets need more of an apparatus or unveiling to get at the work, others such as Susan Holbrook, are easier to enter. Hear her read “Good Egg Bad Seed.” Lovers of Harryette Mullen’s Sleeping With The Dictionary will appreciate Joy Is So Exhausting, an unabashedly joyous and playful text. Here’s an excerpt from the poem “Your First Timpani”:

    Take a deep Brecht and relapse. It’s much easier to insult a tanager when you’re religious. It takes pratfalls. Most Wimbledon need a few triumphs before they can comfortably and easily insert a tam-o’-shanter. When using a tambourine for the first tiger choose a day camp when your flotsam is modern. Refer to the diamonds so you know what to do.

    A day when one’s flotsam is modern, indeed. My flotsam is all over the timeline at this point. (And please don’t take any of the above as argumentative. I almost never know what I’m talking about!)

    I like chance in poems, too. I have no first-hand knowledge of this, but am guessing that poets (like other writers) love those little moments when they almost (or really?) did what they did by accident.

  20. Your Real Life Dialogues also brought to mind one of my favorite Village Voice comic strips back in ye olde college daze (followed closely by early Matt Groening “Life In Hell” doodles): Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies. Find at least some of that here:

  21. brudder: I remember Real Life Funnies! Didn’t the National Lampoon carry that strip for a while???

    There are also a few Web sites where contributors post scraps of things overheard in various cities. The granddaddy of them may be Overheard Everywhere. Currently at the top there is this snippet, from San Antonio:

    Girl: And I was all “his mom is a slut” I mean, she sleeps with everyone.
    Boy: Don’t talk about my mom that way.
    Girl: Why not? I mean, she’s my mom, too.
    Boy: No, she’s not.
    Girl: Well, you never know! You weren’t there!

    I don’t always wish I had perfect hearing, but sometimes…

  22. @John – Oh, I like the way you forage. No argument taken (that is a confusing passage). And look what you’ve come back to the table with? A new book (I wonder if I can pick up Prismatic before I leave early tomorrow morn), Mechanical Forest Sound–a gem of a site–and the great pleasure of listening to Holbrook recite Good Egg Bad Seed (w/musical arrangement) while having my morning cup of joe.

    Mangoes are definitely worth the hair in your teeth. ;)

  23. Jayne: Mangoes Are Worth the Hair in Your Teeth definitely comes across as the title of a diet book! (Or a memoir by someone who once survived someone else’s diet, ha.)

  24. @John – Ah, yes! But it’s a variation of a line in Holbrook’s Good Egg Bag Seed poem. Maybe we should tell her about your diet book idea–A Poet’s Diet? ;-)

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