I was waiting for the bus outside of Chapters, when I noticed a shabbily but neatly dressed man rooting around in a garbage bin. He was clean and tidy, his hair short and even under a ball cap, his clothes layered and worn, but seemingly quite clean. As I watched, he reached into the garbage bin and picked out paper coffee cups, one after another, with a bird-like quickness and dexterity. With each coffee cup, he performed the same series of actions, in exactly this order:
1. Poured out the coffee (into the bin)
2. Removed the cardboard sleeve, if there was one
3. Flattened the coffee cup and folded it in half on the vertical, so that it was a thin rectangle
4. Threw this back in the bin
5. Flattened the cardboard sleeve and tore it into four equal parts
6. Threw this back in the bin as well
At some point, a friend came up to talk to him. The cup man threw the last bits of cardboard into the bin and pulled a rag out of his pocket, briskly cleaning his hands while greeting his friend with a cheerful smile.
Was there some greater purpose to this that I cannot fathom? I can only assume that the man suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder to an extreme degree. Watching him, I had the spine-tingling feeling we get when we witness something that absolutely does not make sense – something that no rational human being would do, as far as we can tell. It is a touch of the other, a brief glimpse into an alternate universe where perhaps the cup man is the one who makes sense, and we are the ones who do not. In our ignorance, we continue leading utterly irrational lives. Who’s to say?
There’s still a chance, I suppose, that there exists a perfectly reasonable explanation for his behaviour (though I doubt it). But even if there is, that moment of total disjoint – of seeing something utterly removed from everyday experience, whether it’s a misunderstanding or a trick of the light, or a true flash of the supernatural – is the spark of a creative thought. To see something different, no matter how it comes about.