Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bad Vibes

So I am working at IHOP, the graveyard shift. A guy I didn't wait on comes up to the cash register and I ring up his check. He's mostly polite. Nothing wrong with how he looks. He leaves, I drop the menus, and I'm unreasonably angry for twenty minutes. It was the guy. Bad, bad vibe. Something about him instantaneously scared the crap out of me.

I never saw him again. That would have been bad. Or maybe I'm making it up. But I remember him over twenty years later. I know what he looked like. If I saw him again I'd know.

The Guitarist
A couple of years later, I worked with young adults as a peer counselor. Some I tutored, others I talked about how to relate to parents whose trust you have betrayed in the past, and vice versa. I had one in particular that I can't forget. I was to get him to look at jobs, learn social skills, do something besides dreaming into the hole of a guitar. Because I mention the guitar, you may think he wanted to be a professional musician or a 'rock star'. But he never thought of the future. Not that much enthusiasm, either: sure, it might be nice. He could play blues guitar really well, but not all the way through a composition. Just a neatly-combed lost soul: white skin, white shirt, wire glasses, no expression. You might think it was depression. I don't know.

Working with this guy made me nauseous and fogged. He was passive beyond belief, and nothing I tried was any good, no emotional or analytical expenditure. We met four times a week and he was always late, or missing, or vacant on arrival. I got him to look for jobs, a huge effort. He was a busboy for a day. He quit because he wanted to sit down and eat, not watch other people do it. The shrink on the case thought this was the best admission ever. "Everybody feels like that," he said. "Now we have something real to work with."

That was a new one. I realized how unthinkingly normal people defer gratification.

So, more effort. All my other work was suffering, and my boss got mad. He yelled at me (he was a yeller)  and finally he mentioned my counselee's name mid-rant. After a pause, he said, "Ah-ha." I was given two weeks without sessions with the guitarist. My health, vital nature, and performance came straight back in a matter of days.

Months later, the guitarist confessed to a terrible local murder. My future husband had to go get him out. The guitarist did not commit it, alibi in full. He was not really capable, either, of anything that required fortitude of any sort.  But he looked good for it because he was full of bad vibe, the big ick factor, and of course, the telephoned, hysterical confession. It was a big pain to everyone involved and also showed the only spark of acute feeling that I learned of him. The only act he ever made toward resolving guilt wasted hundreds of other people's hours.

His mother had already written him off when I first met him. That was not from lack of trying, you understand. He came from a good home. She just finally recognized a black hole. She was angry and disappointed, and now conserving her resources. The father was not so analytical. He was spending his life force, worry and money and emotion, trying to get "growing-up" for his son. The disparate reactions wrecked this marriage for all practical purposes. 

The dad had heart trouble. He later died of it. I'm not sure it ever fully registered for him, or even a huge fear about the new difficulties that presented themselves. He was like Narcissus. Nothing to gaze at except the surface of a pool, summer or winter, starving or lonely. After awhile, I'm not sure Narcissus even needed to have his eyes open to see what he wanted to see.

I have known others who will take it out of you: some instantly, like at IHOP, some over the deadening or infuriating months we were employed in the same place, some over a lifetime. Some were evil, or whatever word you want to use. Some were desperate, and some were selfish to the bone. Most were ordinary, even boring, in how they try to take from you. But then there are the extraordinary ones.

This guitarist, I have never been able to classify. In the end, I think he is proof that Nature abhors a vacuum, that people will rush in to fill a silence or a lack. These are decent people who tried. But nothing dented the guitarist enough to form one of those internal scars we use to keep ourselves real.

I know this sounds hard, I know it doesn't have true cause-and-effect logic, but I am right all the same.

I think about this sometimes, when I hear about crime victims. I sometimes think they didn't trust their own sense of the vibe. I think about it with first responders, too, especially law enforcement and also prison guards. They spend prolonged time with people that make you sick.  I wonder if we know what they pay to keep the sickeners away from us. I want them to have a damn good health plan that includes psych support, and a culture that allows them to make use of it.


Bob G. said...

As I grew older, I got to "feel" those vibes regarding people OR even certain circumstances/events.

I liken it to what others call a "gut feeling".

Whatever it is...when you pay attention to it, you wind up a much more informed (and better prepared) person.

Good stories.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
I guess compared to yesterday, this is a depressing post. But two fellow bloggers, Momma Fargo and Slamdunks, are writing about sex offenders and I think I am reacting to that.

I think you were in the PD and the military, I bet you got those vibes all the time. I wonder how you walled them off when you would get the ick factor. That is worth discussing, how to be open and closed at the same time.

You use it all the time now, too!

Thanks for writing in.
Ann T.

Momma Fargo said...

Bad vibes happen for a reason. Listen to your gut.

Anonymous said...

There are some people who are dangerous and creepy, who lack, empathy, remorse, impulse control etc.
Or maybe they just have a lot of hidden anger or malice, even if they appear to present a bland or smiling face.
Despite what seems ordinary, they are unpleasant to be around.
Maybe it's that most of their thought processes are dark. That can be felt, even if it can't be proved. The body responds even when the brain hasn't yet had much to process.
Evil exists, even if we are expected to see good and dismiss it without more evidence.
If you are getting a "vibe" then trust your instincts, Ann.
Energy can definitely be drained by being around certain people. It's like they suck the soul right out of you just by being near them.
Pay attention to what feels bad - and what feels good - intuition is rarely wrong, except when not followed.

Gia's Spot said...

Ann T
Definitely follow those vibes! Women especially have super powers in the bad juju department! If only everyone would listen to that! I have a real heightened instinct for ick people and even when all those around me fall for the charming person, I remain true to my vibe and have never been proven wrong yet! I think the worst is when you feel this eminating from a small child...

The Observer said...

Ann T
Oh, yes. That "vibe" feeling--very important. After a book--"Fear Factor" by Gavin de Becker--sold very well, everyone kind of poo-poo'ed the "bad juju" thing, but what de Becker and you write about is still very very valid.
The Observer

Capt. Schmoe said...

Thought provoking Ann T. Sometimes when I think of people that literally suck the life out of you, especially evil ones,I think of that movie The Green Mile.

John Coffey literally sucked the evil out of people who were suffering. The film maker visualized this by symbolizing evil as swarms of dark flying insect type objects. While I don't believe that evil is like a swarm of flies, I do like the imagery that was presented in the film.

Some people, like that man at IHOP, have swarms that move at a frantic pace, spewing from their mouths, affecting those nearby. If the swarm is large or frantic enough, harm may be the result.

People with smaller, more sedate swarms usually keep the swarms inside, maybe releasing small quantities from time to time which slowly drain the joy and health from those nearby. Most people have small, slovenly swarms that only affect them or rarely effect others.

Poor analogy to be sure, but it works for me.

Thanks for the post,

Ann T. said...

Dear Momma Fargo, Anonymous, and Gia,

I DO trust my vibe. It has kept me from all kinds of trouble, I'm very sure. In another sense though, I think that sensing ability will sometimes wear you out.

Thanks for the reassurance!
Ann T.

Dear The Observer,
I had forgotten the deBecker book! I never read it but I am glad somebody put it down in a permanent form.

I may have to pick that sucker up.
Thank you,
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Captain Schmoe,
It seems you have as elaborate a sense of this bad vibe as I do. It really is palpable and nearly visual.

I imagine you run into bad vibe frequently in your work and I hope you take good care of yourself.

Ann T.