The Office Poet

There was this otherwise quite guy in the office where I worked a few years ago who was a poet. He made sure to let everyone know this by frequently reading his poems aloud. What he liked best was to catch you off guard in the office and make you stand there while he recited his latest poem.

So while your face was turning every shade of red, you’d be stuck there listening to this guy read you his poetry–in front of everyone.

After his reading he would lower his paper, proud smile plastered on his face, and await his compliment.

“Uh, that was very nice. Perhaps you could just allow me to read it myself next time”, I said more than once. It never worked. He relished in the attention of the public recital.

Worse still was when someone I didn’t know would walk in half way through one of his recitations. Did they think I asked him to read me poems? Maybe they thought it was some really strange office romantic we had going? My face would grow hot, practically begging that he would hurry and get it over with. Instead he kept is eyes steadily on his paper, even though he clearly knew the words by heart, and continued on reading it like a painfully slow oration.

I wanted to tell him to back off, but I also didn’t want to hurt the feelings of someone who clearly had some emotional need to wear his heart on his sleeve. I’ve never been good at setting boundaries with these sort of people because the thought of hurting their delicate feelings makes me want to lose my lunch. Probably because on some level I’m scared someone thinks I’m weird and awkward, but has ever told me because they don’t want to hurt my feelings.

 I was so relieved one day when I walked in and he had trapped another girl and made her listen to his poems! Knowing it was mean, I still couldn’t help but shoot her a “haha!” look as I quickly exited the room before he noticed me. The glare she shot back making it clear she wasn’t amused.

I’m not sure his whole story or why he sought after this sort of attention. I knew he was a competent office worker–the only other one in the office, actually. I also knew wore the kind of cologne that makes your eyes water and your throat burn, he had an obsession with a female singer I never liked, and that had a dated taste in ties and accessories. Like those those black leather shoes he likes to wear, that I have only ever seem old church-goers and Italians sport–the kind with the black fringe hanging in a row along the top of the shoe where laces would usually end on a tennis shoe. The softened leather and rubber soles always left me wondering how something that was once clearly modeled after a moccasin, had been transformed into popular Sunday shoe apparel.

Really, he was a nice guy. Polite and always helpful. If it weren’t for the awkwardness of the poetry readings, I probably would have gotten on with him just well. And looking back, maybe I encouraged his awkwardness by continuing to stand here, giving him the impression that I was listening. But, how exactly do you say to someone, “look, you’re a nice guy, but you’re kinda creeping me out here”, without hurting their feelings?

A few months later he spread the word that he was going to try out for American Idol. I heard he was singing for other people in the office, but I managed to escape being becoming a member of his audience. The following Monday he came back with a look of defeat on his face. A broken man, moping and slouching at his seat, avoiding eye-contact with the rest of us because he couldn’t deal with the fact that he didn’t win. Or maybe he couldn’t deal with the fact that we knew he didn’t win. Of course, everyone was polite, but none of us really understood what the big deal was.

Until then I had actually thought those people you saw on the show were putting on an act, appearing shocked when they got sent home after croaking out a off-key love ballad. But, apparently there are some people who actually believe it when their mommy says, “you are the best singer in the world!”, and never think to ask for a second opinion.

He was a strange character, but I can’t deny, I envy something he seemed to always have–a innate belief in his ability to succeed and a fearlessness in putting himself out there. I’m willing to bet that some of his stuff wasn’t half-bad, either. Perhaps, if it weren’t for the awkwardness of the impromptu office poetry slam for one, I might have been able to realize this.

Or maybe he really was terrible. Honestly, I don’t know, because in truth I rarely listened to a word he said. I was always too busy scanning the room for the nearest exit, planning my escape in case I saw his hands reach towards his desk drawer to pull out that crinkled notebook he was always scribbling in.

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