By Dom Cioffi
I first sensed that something was awry with the gentleman standing next to me when I noticed that the conversation he was having was completely one-sided.
I had just run into a local coffee shop to grab a snack prior to seeing this week’s film when the raggedy old man next to me began conversing in a low, semi-whispering tone. At the time I thought nothing of it; I was more concerned with making a food choice and simply assumed he was speaking to the woman standing next to him in line.
However, after she placed her order and drifted towards the register, I then noticed he was still speaking to no one in particular.
Like most people, when I first sense that someone may be mentally ill, I quickly assess the situation. This assessment generally follows a specific checklist of items: Is the person genuinely unstable or just having a bad day? Is the person dangerous to himself or others? Is the person possibly carrying a weapon?
Most of the time, my un-scientific assessment reveals the person to be just commonly disturbed or simply on anxiety overload. But this time my quick assessment had me a little more on edge.
I don’t mind that my instincts get tweaked in these situations. Too many recent news stories that have turned tragic have featured unstable people. As we’ve all learned, no socio-economic area or class of people is immune to a nightmarish situation unfolding because a mentally ill person has decided it’s finally time to make a point.
So I calmly and pointedly made a personal assessment of the man next to me.
First of all, the gentleman in question looked fairly disheveled, with his hair running off in all directions and a patchwork of grey stubble populating his face. His attire also sent up red flags not so much for the quality (which was thrift shop at best), but more for the clandestine nature of his camouflage military jacket, which could easily conceal a large weapon or weapons.
I then tried to ascertain what he was talking about. As best as I could tell, he was simply mumbling on about some guy named Jeff. I didn’t get the sense that Jeff had wronged him or that Jeff was his enemy, but instead I got the impression that he was concerned that Jeff was in trouble.
It was during this moment in my eavesdropping that the man turned to me. I assumed he would acknowledge me in some way, but instead he simply carried on about Jeff and never once seemed to realize that I was in close proximity.
When it was the old man’s turn to order, he proceeded to do something highly unorthodox: When asked what he would like, he reached across the glass counter and handed the server a used paper cup that looked to be nearly full with a beverage. He then asked that the cup be “topped off” with Coke.
“Just a splash,” he said. The young man obliged and then handed him back the cup, after which the old man handed him a dollar and stated, “This should cover it. Put the rest in your tip jar.”
The man wandered away and when the server approached me, I couldn’t help but comment on what had just transpired. “That was different,” I stated. The young man shook his head in agreement and then proceed to tell me that the elderly gentleman came in nearly everyday and asked for a small splash of soda. He always paid cash and always insisted that the remainder of his purchase be donated to the tip jar.
“I’m not positive what’s in that cup when I top it off, but I’m pretty sure it’s not Kool-Aid,” the server said with a wink in his eye.
I proceeded to place my order and pay my tab and then wandered out to the front of the shop, where I stood waiting for a passing shower to clear out, when I noticed the old guy standing nearby.
He wasn’t talking anymore but was instead staring off into the cloudy sky. He had a look of concern on his face and I couldn’t help but think it had to do with Jeff.
I then walked past the old man and when I was within a few feet, I looked at him and smiled. He smiled back and dipped his head and for a split second he looked to be peaceful, but as I wandered away I could hear him talking again about Jeff.
In this week’s feature, “The End of the Tour,” we bear witness to a five-day interview conducted by a Rolling Stone writer with the novelist David Foster Wallace just after the release of his epic novel, “Infinite Jest.” Together the two ruminate on life, writing and the intricacies of surviving in a modern world.
Wallace also struggled with inner demons throughout his life as he battled a debilitating depression that fueled his impressive writing but ultimately cost him his life.
This is a limited release film that will only appeal to a small cross-section of society – namely writers, philosophers, and anyone intent on musing about the meaning of life.
Check this one out if you’re a fan of the author or if you revel in films that rely completely on dialogue, otherwise look elsewhere to spend your theater dollars.
A wallowing “C+” for “The End of the Tour.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.