People Are Strange

There I was, minding my own business just as the concert was about to begin, when all of a sudden Andre the Giant sat down in front of me with his mother in tow. I couldn’t see anything except for the back of his head. The mother was nice enough; a woman with coiffed, gray hair who seemed embarrassed. Ironically, a woman who was in the same spot just before Andre arrived had turned around and explained to me–I don’t know why–that she was moving because she couldn’t see past the guy in front of her. And so it goes.

People are strange. They do strange things. I know this, because I am a writer and have made it my business to observe people and their odd behavior. I don’t know why they do what they do, but I have been taking detailed and copious notes since 1970, when my friends and I observed an anti-war protest in the form of street theatre in downtown Manhattan. I remember a guy in a bushy mustache and combat helmet, a nude woman, and what looked like a fetus wrapped in Saran wrap. We made sure we made it onto the local news that evening by walking in front of the camera.

Know that sooner or later a writer will turn you in, especially if you have made an impression on him. By this, I mean that he will use you or an experience related to you in his writing. Most of the impressions that end up in my writing are negative ones. That is, I remember things that annoy me more than the ones that bring me joy. And I remember them in detail.

To wit, here are some of my least favorite things: slurping, swallowing, sucking, gulping, gurgling, chewing, munching, crunching, sloshing, smacking, licking, biting, belching, and yawns that are open-faced like a Reuben. In addition, I do not like maniacal clicking on keyboards and what I have dubbed “croak throat,” which affects some people, making them sound like frogs. I also do not like loud conversations in study areas. Oddly enough, I don’t mind fingernails on a blackboard.

Non-audio annoyances include people doing a cannonball onto the opposite side of the bench, nearly hurling me into the air like a seesaw; acts of private hygiene in public places (I’ll leave it at that out of respect for sensitive readers); people who put their feet up on furniture in the library; clods who fly barefoot; people who act as if I am invisible; and the Bang Family upstairs which likes to play marbles, drop irons, and wrestle alligators on the hardwood floor.

There are more annoyances, of course, but these are the basic ones. The only thing I would add are smells as in the professor who unscrewed a can of tuna fish and consumed it with Coca Cola and potato chips not three feet from where I sat in an open office. I started gagging and had to excuse myself.

The reason for my sensitivity to these annoyances? Really, it could be anything, from my need for order and harmony to feelings of shame concerning basic human functions, although I don’t think so. I have no problem with things scatological, including all of those jokes that make junior high school kids giggle.

It could be that civility is not valued anymore. Not to sound like Robespierre, but whither civic virtue? Neither Marxists, whose only rule is to undo the rules, nor free-market globalists, who turn everything into profit, care about a polite society. It is a bourgeois betrayal to the former and an anachronism to the latter. So, where does that leave me?

Sitting behind Andre. They tell me it was a good concert.

Haven’t had enough? Go to Robert Brancatelli. For my recording of “Rocky the Friggin Squirrel,” click here.


  1. since youre a writer, im surprised you didnt mention when youre typing and someone comes along and drops a 40-pound backback 2 feet away, causing your laptop to bounce off the bar/table/etc.

    or like the other day, when someone asked to borrow a seat (actually, sit at) my table, because it was next to the people she was there with and theirs was full– no problem. now please stop thumping the table with your elbow every 30 seconds, because its beyond annoying. oh, you dont even realize it? well, theres the problem. theres no nice way to say “what the hell are you doing?” anymore. i believe strongly in tolerance– and you know what they say, everything in moderation (including tolerance, sometimes.)

    1. You’ve added to the inventory. I love it. I don’t have that problem, because I write only at home in hermetically sealed conditions. I know writers like August Wilson wrote at bars, but the only thing I can do at bars is watch people and try to avoid them. You might try, “So, that’s quite an elbow you’ve got there. It’s not sore…?” Tolerance is overrated…Just sayin…

      1. i dont get as much of anything done when im out. but i get a lot of ideas there, and sometimes i start on them even before i get home.

        the direct approach is fine and all, but i think it depends on who you secretly want to be as a person. i (secretly) want to be one of those “nice people.” as long as no one finds that out, itll be ok!

  2. All of those noises you describe irritate the heck out of me. Slurping, gum cracking, knuckle cracking, sniffling, throat clearing, nail clicking, swallowing…and there is a name for it, which is good because otherwise my husband would say I am simply intolerant (or maybe just crazy but let’s not ask him): misophonia.

  3. I share your your immunological response to such unwanted intrusions, the sensory cacophony of mechanical human behavior that crowd interior space. This is why I don’t live in NYC or the bustling, buzzing madness of other high-people-density places. I think the rebellion from such intrusions is more than pet peeve, but has a far deeper significance related to the evolution of life and consciousness. It also has powerful additional connections to being a writer, and especially a novelist.

    I have come out of deep writing sessions into a relatively quiet house to find that the compressor of a refrigerator turning on seemed as loud as a tractor engine. It seems like listening to inner voices and seeing inner alternate realities turns the gain way up in my brain so that ordinary sensory inputs become magnified to an almost unbearable extent while I am in the liminal state of transitioning from intense interiority and into the external world.

    The evolution of life on this planet is largely about the growth of interiority. Molecular biologists say that the formation of lipids, which made cellular membranes possible were the beginning of life. The very first thing that the very first cell had to accomplish was some sort of boundary, an ability to enclose interior space for the metabolism of this individual life form to occur without just diffusing into the environment. There is no life without interiority.

    From the cellular world, we moved toward cephalization, the tendency for an organism to have an asymmetric concentration of nerve tissue. Cephalization increased as that central nexus of nerve tissue folded itself into a head. When that head grew portals into the exterior world in the form of an array of sensory organs, it began to create an inner simulacrum of the exterior world.
    A whole new dimension came into being on this planet, the dimension of inner worlds that existed in association with the processing power of ever more complex and differentiated nerve tissue. The complexity and differentiation of nerve tissue, and the complexity and differentiation of inner simulacra have reached their ultimate on this planet, so far, with Homo sapiens.

    I’ve heard it said that up until the time of Homer, about 2800 BC, people did not have private emotions. A dog, a baby, a toddler do not have private emotions. They perform every emotion with their bodies. The narrator of the Odyssey marvels that Odysseus is able to feel one way while acting another. We take duplicity for granted, but in the Odyssey this all-too-familiar trait is perceived as a paranormal super power. More recently, I think it was a friend of Saint Augustine who others perceived as having as having a super power because he read silently. “It’s like he’s reading aloud in his head!” people would exclaim.

    The invention and development of the novel was, and continues to be, an evolutionary milestone and event of incredibly novelty—a powerful manifestation, catalyst, realization and portal into interior space.

    No other mammal seems remotely capable of sub-creating such complex and interior artifacts. A novel is an inner simulacrum, that weaves, out of a lattice of words, an unfolding alternate reality. Novels are artifacts of the main line of a teleological evolution aiming at greater interiority/self-awareness/ability to generate novelty from within outwards.

    No other animal has the need for sovereignty over expanded interior space as a novelist. Proust needed to retreat to a cork-lined study. The random intrusions of the external world can be like burning dumpster trash falling into sacred space. Novels, and especially the highest order of fantasy novels (LOR, Dune) are artifacts of the leading edge of human evolution pushing the envelope inward to expand interiority. Fantasy (which is not a mere genre, but the mainstream of story telling) is of particular significance for many reasons, but in this context it is a further rebellion from the dominance of external reality. Other fiction writing technologies, especially the ability to render the internal monologues and visions of characters are both artifacts of, and catalysts for, the growth of self-aware interiority. So do yourself and the mainline of evolution a favor and get some wireless Bose Q-35 state-of-the-art, noice-canceling headphones.

    See also:

    1. Novel as “alternate reality,” as you say, is dependent upon (1) a given state that is recognized as “reality,” even if only to some degree, and (2) an option that somehow resonates with that given reality and deviates from it in some way that is capable of being shared. If not shared, that alternate reality (i.e., novel) can become too discrete and particular. You mention fantasy, but I also think of comedy, which has to be based in a shared experience (e.g., suffering), so that we can step back and see the experience as helping define and unite us. This is why I like absurd comedy, since it reaches toward far out places. But, of course, it has to “work”…Also, I appreciate the tip on headgear, but I don’t like cancelling noise with noise. I use Clear Armor Safety Ear Muffs 35db during the day and Peltor Shotgun ear muffs to sleep at night. They’re slimmer and easier to use with a pillow. I should probably write a blog about ear muffs some time.

  4. Cool but:

    Free market globalist is a misnomer. That’s like calling a criminal a love making rapist.

    Globalists are not for the free market.

    Free market is not for globalist Neo-con agendas.

    Pardon, sent from phone


    1. Globalists would not survive in closed economies, even in ones with just a few trade barriers and gov’t subsidies for failing markets. They thrive on de-regulation, open borders, and centralized banking, which they control. Why? Profits are that much bigger and easier to control…Don’t you mean “rapist a love-making criminal”?

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