punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,
punkwalrus
punkwalrus

The Little Black Book

A few months ago, I was watching, I think one of Penn and Teller's "Bullsh!t" episodes, the one with the UFOs, and they had this guy on I thought I'd seen before. Not personally, like he wasn't a specific person, but he reminded me of a specific type of person I had seen and heard about over the years.

The note-taker.

This episode has a classic note-taker. It was some guy whom P&T had totally framed up to be crazy. And I admit, he did look crazy. He was milling about the UFO convention floor, looking for aliens among us, I assume. He jotted down his notes about what he saw, his theories about them, and how they tied together all in a little black notebook. Later, I think, he wore a mustache and pretended to be a different person. A spark in the back of head went off that led me down an old path I had stored when I read children's books by Dan Pinkwater or Gahan Wilson. Some of them had eccentric people who were note-takers, jotting down what they saw in little black books.

I think I want to be that guy.

And here's why: strange crap happens to me all the time. Usually in waves. I could go days without anything unusual happening to me, and then BAM... a whole string of events that make me go, "What a WEIRD day!" But so much happened so quickly, I forget most of it. My brain can only remember so much, and it occurred to me in a coffee shop a few weeks ago I should really try writing it down, and see if there's a pattern. Is it a perception issue? Does weird stuff happen all the time, and I just notice it in waves, or does weird stuff happen in waves? And more importantly, why? When I was a teen, friends loved taking me placed because, "Whenever we take Grig anywhere with us, weird stuff always happens!" I even used to have a button that said, "Weirdness magnet."

The day in the coffee shop I only remember because I was with Christine. I think I like being with people because it seems more weird stuff happens to me when I am alone. Maybe I am more aware at these times, but there have been many times I have been with people and weird stuff happens anyway, like it's a dam that can only hold back so long before a flood of weirdness floods out. And I wonder does this happen to anyone else?

The day in the coffee shop I only remember bits and pieces of. I had this odd feeling when we got out of the car to go have coffee, and that's when the first two events happened. The first jarring event happened when I noticed that the old vacant Nail Salon place (it moved) was now occupied by one of those "We'll loan you $500 until payday" kinds of places. It was totally strange in the fact that the place had been completely remodeled to look as bland as possible. In fact, it was like the whole store had been gutted, paved over with drywall and carpeting, and the least amount of decor was put in: a small library chair, a small table with a lamp and credit application holder on it, and next to this setup was a small generic painting. The only other feature was a large counter in the back, where a bored-looking man sat. It kind of looked like a place where one rents a car, with the huge CashAdvance logo behind him, and a door that led to some back room. There was nothing else. A tiny island of home decor on a sea of bland carpet, the counter, the man, the logo, the door... and nothing else. The window and storefront had no logo, signage, or anything. It looked like one of those places that customers knew would be there, and those that didn't know didn't need to know. Like a front. I am sure it wasn't a front, but the very second I thought, "Heh, like a front... maybe cash laundering?"... the gypsy lady showed up.

She was short, like child-short. She couldn't have been more than five feet tall. She was stooped, looked very Mediterranean, and was waving an index card in front of me. The 5 x 7 card was laminated, and the text was written very boldly, like it had taken a long time to write in order to make all the letters look the same. "Help me," it said, "I am 80 years old, and taking care of 4 grandchildren. We have just come to this country, I do not speak English, and have no money for food or clothing. Please help God Bless America by giving whatever you can spare..." or something like that. I shook my head no, even though I immediately thought, "Gypsy scam."

When I worked in malls, we had security seminars where the topic of gypsies would come up every so often. There would usually be a policeman with some slides, or a small video of gypsies in action. These aren't your stereotyped wooden caravan, dancing with tambourine, playing the fiddle, owning goats, and telling fortunes kinds of gypsies. These are large reclusive families, almost like tribes, who live all around the East coast. Many are being watched by the Feds because they operate huge theft and scam rings. The gypsies we were taught about were those kind. They operated in very sophisticated pods, were experts at decoys, and fell under the term "professional shoplifters." They often came upon a mall in a wave, usually starting off with scamming customers, but their main target was the anchor stores: particularly clothes and jewels. I won't digress how good these people were at robbing thousands of dollars of merchandise from stores in less than an hour, but I will add that one of their biggest scams on "marks" (people they think are easy to steal from) is the "I am a poor orphan" type of thing. They want you to get to your wallet, which they have a second person watching not far away who notes where you keep it. The "poor orphan" then makes hand signals to the other person as to whether the wallet is worth stealing. Then pick pocketing might shortly ensue.

The whole setting seemed wrong. The focus I had was the fact the card was laminated, which would indicate heavy use. I suddenly became aware of all people around me, and kept my hand away from my wallet (sometimes, when you think you are about to be pick pocketed, you instinctively put you hand where you wallet is, which then marks you as having something worth stealing). "Sorry, I don't have any money to give," I said without giving any body language. I wanted to see if she spoke English. She nodded, bowed, touched her forehead, and moved on. But the lettering on the card was particularly notable. See, my mother had the exact same handwriting. Immediately, my over-speculative brain ("Where the wind of weird blows through...") worked out that the card had been magically charmed to make everyone who read it think it looked like their mother' handwriting, but then the rational part of my brain went, "Oh, whatever!" I quickly walked into the coffee shop.

I told Christine about the incident. See, she's half-gypsy. Her father's family ran several carnivals, and although she never lived with them, she has studied her lineage fairly deeply. She was very aware of the scams gypsies pulled, since she grew up with her mother telling her about them. "Yeah," she said, "that is pretty suspicious." As we sipped coffee, we watched this woman go back and forth to various people, all whom shook their head and moved out of the way. We think we identified several gypsies around the parking lot, and later, a younger women, with the same laminated card, approached Christine. Christine told me the card said the same thing. They seemed to move in and out of the coffee shop bathroom a lot, changing clothes.

But this wasn't just about gypsies. At the table next to us was a girl, who couldn't have been more than 4, wearing (in her size) a tee-shirt that had the logo for The Ramones, an old-school punk band I used to like (okay, still do). It struck me as odd that a tee-shirt came in child's XXS. I first thought it might be an adult small, or a half-doll that looked like a full shirt on a little kid, but no. The kid was very gregarious, and soon Christine had struck up a conversation with her, and then her father. I commented on the shirt, and he said it had been a gift. Then they finished their food and left.

During this time, a lot of other strange things just kept floating by. Christine and I discussed the "note-takers," and I said I wanted a little black book like that guy on the P&T UFO episode had. Since then, we have started saying to each other, "That's one for the little black book," when something weird happens.

Soon afterwards, a lot of semi-punk and Goth kids came into the store, but they didn't buy anything. Two of them seemed interested in one of the baristas, who then excused himself, and changed from his shop uniform into some sharp-looking street clothes, and then have a cigarette with them outside. I watched these Goth kids with interest, noting their social structure. Child and teen social structure is absolutely fascinating to me because it's just like adult social groups, except more exaggerated; I feel it's a good study on human interaction. The kids had split up into three groups, one of them (mostly girls) stayed in the coffee shop and bummed around. A second group went off to McDonalds, and then came back to smoke outside the cafe. One of those girls had just bought a rat at the pet store across the parking lot, which was part of the conversation in the coffee shop. One of the girls looked a LOT like a girl I used to know back when I hung out with the drama/Goth crowd in the 1980s. I focused on her, comparing her to my childhood friend. Almost as if on cue, she started searching for something, and opened her military-style jacket to expose... a Ramones tee-shirt. It was older and more beat-up than the little kid had worn (and obviously a larger size), but it was the same logo and everything. I had gone probably 20 years since I had last seen a Ramones logo on anything, and now I see two shirts in less than 30 minutes.

This kind of stuff happens to me a LOT. And now I want to start writing it down.

It doesn't seem like much, but it's pretty stark. A medicine man would call this "a sign," but a sign of what? Something about my youth? My punk past? Hell if I know. Christine also noted this coincidence. She also tried to point out something outside, but I was wasn't looking for the right thing.

The employee came back alone, changed back into his barista outfit, and continued working. I thought it was a typical "friend of those kids," but Christine told me that she was trying to point out she saw "something" change hands with that employee and one of the kids that was outside. Something that involved the exchange of money. Drug deal. I am not sure if the Goth kids were scoring or selling pot, but that's when I realized that the nagging feeling in the back of my head that a clean-shaven employee who looks about 25 probably does NOT have punk or Goth teen friends.

Side note: When I was in Jacksonville, on Neptune Beach, I saw some preteen girl staring at me (fat people always draw stares at the beach). She was wearing a Ramones tee-shirt over her bathing suit. I pointed this out to Christine. One for the black book. I mean, are the Ramones making a comeback?

More stuff happened that day, but as I said I forget stuff when it happens in too much quantity. That's why I am going to get a little black book, and start writing it down. I'll compare stuff, draw links and speculations, and then maybe blog the really active days. I am not sure why, but I feel I have nothing to lose.

Hey, at least it will help with my writing. Even if they never have any meaning, these little odd days.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000446.html
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