The Mumbling Neighbor

Loose Ends

Once I had this really strange neighbor. He would seemingly be awake at all times. I don’t think he ever slept. We had these really thing walls, and occasionally when I’d wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I could hear him next door. And there were a few times that I’d stayed out all night, either at a friends house, or at some late night party, and I’d come home on a Saturday or Sunday morning at 5 A.M. He’d always be up, with his lights on, and he’d always be moving around.

I don’t think I ever saw him go to work. While it wasn’t in the ghetto, it wasn’t a particularly upscale apartment, so I didn’t think he was wealthy enough so that he didn’t have to work. I’d always figured he had some kind of government pension, or some kind of workers comp thing going, where he received just enough to pay the rent and the utilities, but not much else.

I’d pass by him on the stairway every now and then, and we’d exchange the normal greetings (Hi, What’sup, Howsitgoing, Hey, etc), or at least I’d start off the regular greetings. He would always acknowledge me, and it sounded like he was trying to say the same thing back to me, but he’d always add on a string of indecipherable mumblings after his apparent reciprocal greeting. They weren’t angry mumblings or what you may consider the mumblings of some homeless guy who has long drank himself past the point of sanity.

These were more like running commentaries that seemed to be going on all the time in his mind, and when I’d throw out a greeting, social conditions (from maybe a lifetime ago in his case) would require he respond in kind, but these responses would always bring with them whatever train of thought that was going on in his head. Like when you are fishing in a particularly deep portion of a lake, and you reel in your lure to recast, you bring up all the stuff that is growing on the bottom.

I went on a backpacking trip once, and we were particularly after some good fishing lakes. We had planned our trip through areas that had plenty of lakes, so that whenever we’d stop for the night, we would hopefully catch our supper.

This worked out pretty good, and we caught a lot of fish on that trip. The lakes were small enough so that you could walk around them, stopping every now and then to cast out a lure, and real it in, in an hour or so.

But there was this one lake, where after fishing all day, I calculated for every fish I caught, I would lose one lure. (Good thing I brought plenty of lures). Every cast that didn’t catch a fish would get snagged in the tall growing plants on the bottom of the lake, and I would invariably lose the lure to the lake. Perhaps the gods of freshwater rainbow trout demanded payment of some sort.

Payment is a tricky thing. Especially in the west, there are all kinds of different ways to tip people. I had a couple of friends once that went on a short cruise, and they were astounded at the number of people that you are supposed to tip on those ships. They were lucky they brought plenty of cash, despite the brochure saying that the price was all-inclusive. I suppose that at the bottom in small print, they likely had something like “gratuity not included,” but unless you know what’s up, you’d likely not even pay attention to that part.

Even in most restaurants today, if you have more than six or eight people, they automatically add 15% to the bill. In other parts of the world, tipping is completely foreign, and they always laugh at American’s who feel the need to leave extra money wherever you go.

Which is why I was so surprised that one day in Starbucks.

I had just paid for my triple shot of espresso (on ice), and had received my change from the cashier.

“Don’t forget the tip.” I heard the voice from behind me say.

I nodded my head. It was if the voice knew what I was thinking. Normally when I get a triple shot of espresso (with ice) I slam it right then and there, throw it in the garbage, and I’m on my way. I don’t bother sitting down. So I’m normally not thinking in “tip” mode. Contrarily, when I bring my newspaper and get something like a triple mocha, and I’m going to be spending an hour or so there, I always leave a generous tip.

But when you think about it, the work that goes into making both drinks is about the same, and the time I’m going to be sitting there shouldn’t factor in, since they don’t bring anything to your table, or come up to you and ask if you’d like dessert or anything.

As I dropped my coins in the cup they have at the register for that specific purpose, I turned to see who this self-proclaimed tip police officer was. I was shocked to see it was my crazy neighbor, except he looked completely sane.

He was dressed in a very sharp looking suit. His eyes were completely clear, he was clean-shaven, and I swore I detected a scent of Cool Water, by Davidoff.

“Hey.” I said, not having any clue what to say in this situation. You know the one I’m talking about. The one where you see your neighbor you’d assumed was on disability due to some mental issues looking, smelling, and acting like the head sales rep for some cutting edge pharmaceutical firm.

“I know what you’re thinking.” He started. Now if I had no idea what I was thinking, how in the world did he?

“You see, things aren’t always what they appear. Some things are contextual; some things are based on structure, while others are based on content. The secret is that many things which appear to be based on content, are really based on structure, and really aren’t all that contextual.” He smiled, as if he made some incredibly and obviously salient observation of reality.

I, on the other hand, had no clue whatsoever what he meant by that.

“You’d better drink your espresso before the ice melts.” He smiled, motioning toward my plastic cup, which had been placed on the counter. I mumbled something in response, what I’m not sure. After I’d slammed my espresso, and looked back up, he was gone.

(And now for something completely different)

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