Close encounters of the Asheville kind

Our story begins in a McDonald’s. I don’t usually patronize fast-food places — at least not since I read a hard-hitting expose of the meat-packing industry — but in a moment of weakness I was willing to overlook the reports of feces-ridden meat. So I parked, walked in the door, saw who was working behind the counter and walked back out. I was hungry, but not hungry enough to be served by Quicksilver.

My acquaintance with Quicksilver dates back two years, to when we worked together for a brief stint at a corporate restaurant. Quicksilver earned his nickname because he rolled silverware for waiters too lazy to do it themselves. He didn’t last long.

I saw him again at a movie theater, a few months after he’d quit.

“Quicksilver!” I said, raising my hand in a high-five. “How are you?”

He gave me a suspicious glare.

“Could I have your ticket, sir?” he asked in a bored monotone.

My hand, which had been raised, dropped dead to my side. My companion chuckled at my humiliation.

I handed my old friend, who didn’t remember me at all, my ticket, mumbled “Thank you,” and staggered off to nurse my wounded pride with a $4 Pepsi.

The next time I saw Quicksilver, he was in a pretzel kiosk at the mall. This time I was ready for him. I introduced myself, reminded him of our connection, and said hello. He didn’t miss a beat.

“Would you like to come to my birthday party?” he asked. “It’s in February.” This was July.

I in no way mean to imply that Quicksilver is dumb. He’s a remarkably intelligent guy who graduated from college and just seems to have bad luck with employment (I can relate). It isn’t his fault that he’s spaced-out. Maybe if we lived somewhere normal, like Kansas or Indiana, I’d think it was. But in Asheville, unusual behavior is commonplace.

Maybe all the talk about vortexes has some basis after all. Perhaps it’s the altitude (which, according to the Chamber of Commerce Web site, does in fact affect attitude — though somehow, I suspect that the Chamber and I aren’t entirely on the same page here). Or maybe, as folks are prone to say, there’s something in the water.

Whatever the cause, anyone who’s driven on the I-240 bridge in rush-hour traffic knows that a sizable percentage of Asheville residents are oblivious to their surroundings.

Case in point: I was late-night shopping at Ingles last month when I was nearly run over by a casual acquaintance who barreled around a corner bouncing an oversized rubber ball. I had no time to speak as I leaped out of his way, but he did mutter a “hey” before disappearing into the frozen-food section.

No explanation. No “I know it seems weird that I’m running through Ingles at 1 a.m. while bouncing a giant purple kickball, but really, there’s a reasonable justification for this.” Instead, all I get is a half-swallowed “hey.”

The next time I saw the rubber-ball bouncer, he didn’t even wait for me to open the conversation.

“I bought that ball,” he informed me.

To paraphrase (and censor) an old punk song, if you live in Asheville, you live in a spaced-out place.

I bumped into a former neighbor a few weeks ago at a downtown restaurant. He works in the kitchen. Once again I said hello, as any normal human being would, and once again I got a bizarre non sequitur in return.

“Hello,” I said.

He stood in the middle of the restaurant floor, repeatedly tossing up and catching a jar of organic blackberry preserves.

“Flippin’ the mad jam yo!” he shouted in my general direction as he continued past me into the kitchen.

Maybe “Flippin’ the mad jam yo!” is a polite greeting on Mars. And I think we would all agree that if an alien life form wanted to find a place on Earth where they could blend in with very little makeup, Asheville would be high (ahem) on their list of cities to visit.

[Asheville resident Sam Wardle is managing editor of PrepAlert.com, a Western North Carolina sports Web site.]

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