He lived all alone, within a house, within a room, within himself, a most peculiar man. — Simon & Garfunkel
So what was that all about?
I recently ran into a former coworker while walking up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, which is pretty amazing given the size and population of this city.
But what I find even more intriguing was the strange relationship—if that’s even the right word for it—that I had with this man while we working together.
Most of the time we’d pass each other in the hall and this guy would cast his eyes to the floor and walk by me as if I were invisible.
But every so often this very same man, who took such great pains to avoid eye contact with me most days of the year, would suddenly start a lengthy and enthusiastic conversation with me.
He’d talk about movies or something that was happening at work as if we were old friends.
And then the very next day this fellow would jump right back into his old routine of refusing to acknowledge my existence. It was like working with Hailey’s Comet.
I’m notoriously thin-skinned and I can take offense faster than a speeding email, but for some reason this dude’s behavior didn’t upset me. I was more fascinated than annoyed by his actions.
I didn’t see him as rude or standoffish; he just had a different way of doing things. And while this may be hard to believe, there are actually some people who think I’m a little strange. Shocking, no?
I didn’t pester the guy and try to force him into a conversation because I knew that approach would fail. The man would talk when and if he was ready.
And He Wasn't Like Them...
I just wonder what made him drop the silent treatment on those rare occasions and start speaking with me.
Was it the changing of the seasons, the cycles of the moon, the alignment of the stars? Why did he become so talkative after months of silence?
Usually people at the office speak to you or they don’t. I prefer some semblance of civility on the job—even if it’s just a quick nod—as opposed to the straight ahead zombie stare, but not all people are like that.
I’ve made some great friends on various jobs—people I still keep in contact with to this day—but I’ve also been surprised by former coworkers who abruptly delete me from their lives as soon as one of us gets a new gig.
I have since left that job and started another, only to have that position yanked out from underneath me in August when the publication shut down.
But now—big news!--the magazine is being revived under new management and I’ve been offered my old job back. So the bears didn’t get me after all.
Naturally I am thankful and quite relieved as I have some big bills heading my way. Under the new arrangement I’ll be working from my home, something I’ve wanted to do for years.
I hate commuting with a passion. It’s time wasted and that’s on a good day. On a bad day it’s a blueprint for mass murder. So now I won’t be dealing with traffic, office cafeterias, or coworkers—talkative or otherwise.
My family has warned me about being isolated in this new arrangement and I will do my best to get out and away from my desk. And I have to clean up my computer room because I’m going to spend a lot of time in here.
I never did get to speak with my former coworker when I saw him that day on Fifth Avenue.
Our eyes met for a second and I know I saw a flash of recognition before he looked away and kept on walking. And so did I.