Creatures of habit

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There was an old lighthouse keeper, who lived by himself for many, many years.  Just the man and his tower of light and the sea. Every morning at precisely 6am, the fog horn would sound…a long, low, sad blast; it didn’t matter whether the lighthouse was bathed in the deepest fog, or being battered by the winds and waves stirred by a hurricane, or if it was the perfect summer morning blessed by bright sunshine and a warm breeze, the fog horn sounded. Every morning.

It was the kind of sound that’d blast you out of your shoes if you didn’t know it was coming, but of course, the lighthouse keeper knew it all so well that it got to a point that he didn’t even hear it anymore–kind of like when you live near the train tracks or on a busy street in the middle of the city, you just get used to the sound, the noise.

So one morning, for some reason, the fog horn failed to sound, and the lighthouse keeper, precisely at 6:01, woke up with start, sat upright in bed and exclaimed, “What was that?!”


I dubbed him “Gordon Ramsey Guy”.  Every weekday morning, he sits in the exact same seat at the exact same desk space and as I head through the reading room that leads to the stairway to my office, I look up and he’s there.  A student, I’m certain, although what he’s studying at 7:30 in the morning, every morning, I’m not sure.

Sometimes he’s working in a notebook, other times he’s texting. More often than not, if I’m not too early, he also has his laptop open and I can’t help but look at the screen.

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This is the NY Public Library’s Rose Reading Room…waay bigger than Gordon Ramsey Guy’s space; would you notice the same person in the same place, every day? © Curbed NY

That’s how he got his nickname. I think I first noticed him last spring, and I have no idea how long he was there before that, but it was probably the image of Gordon Ramsey that caught my eye, filling the screen with redness and rage, screaming at some poor hapless chef wannabe in Hell’s Kitchen.

For days after that, Ramsey was there, throwing the chef’s creations into the trash, disgust rippling through his entire body; I didn’t need to have volume to know what he was saying.

And it went on, and I couldn’t help but glance as I went by. Always Ramsey.  It seemed as  if the student was perhaps taking a course on pop culture, or maybe how-not-to-be-a-nice-guy.  It just didn’t look like he was leisure watching–why would a 20-something  book it to school to sit and watch a cooking show, if it wasn’t a requirement?

He went away for the summer, as most students do, but this September, within a few days of being back into the regular grind, so was Gordon Ramsey Guy.

I can’t believe how happy that made me. And now, when he misses a morning–which he very, very rarely does–my entire day feels off.

Now he watches other stuff, and in the few seconds I have as I pass by,  I glance beyond his back to his screen to see what’s on.  Ramsey sometimes, still, but also other reality-type shows and the occasional You Tube video.  I have to say, he does always seem to be working on assignments. If he’s not texting.

I’ve only talked to him once, when I came through and they still hadn’t turned on the full overhead fluorescents–a moment of commiseration in the dark, and that was it. I don’t want to spoil it. God forbid he should graduate; I won’t know what to do, as he’s become part of my morning routine.

DSCN1897And when it comes to routine, the morning is when it happens. I was taught, very many years ago in another job, that humans–at least those of us on this continent–are never more predictable than in the morning (or whatever time we start our days).

Think about it–we’re always slightly hurried; we try to make the same bus or train or we leave the house at the same time, and more than very likely take the same route, day in and day out, to our places of work.

If someone was going to follow you, that would be the time to do it.  Yes, creepy, I know, but when you work for the government, sometimes you have to think that way. And you’re taught that the morning commute is the best time to vary your route-and now that I’ve made you think about this, it probably makes sense to you too.

The other thing you’re taught is to be more observant about the people around you–the ones you see every day–like Gordon Ramsey Guy, or the woman with two-tone hair (dark underneath and streaky blonde on top–by the hair on her coat, she had cats, I’m sure–and more than one) who used to ride my bus downtown 15 years ago–I still might recognize her if I saw her in the neighbourhood.

When I took the bus, I sat in the same seat every day–right side facing forward, window; seat right before the back door. I have no idea why, but that’s the one I chose. I still do, when I ride the bus.

When I use the bathroom at work, I go into the same stall.  I have no idea why, but it perturbs me when someone’s in “my spot” when I have to go.

I can’t be the only one, am I?

How do we choose these things?  The route to work’s an easy one–faster and most direct, most likely.  But a seat–bathroom or bus–why is it the one I chose? Where’s the wiring for that?

So, here’s what I plan to do about this. I’m going to shake it up–take a different route to work each day (I’ve most definitely become complacent), get my coffee at a different spot; change it up on transit and in the other choices I make in my day…and I challenge you to do the same.

Take the road less traveled.


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