I was walking my dog Max a little while ago, because he’s a good boy when he’s not eating everything in sight. I got to a crosswalk, and as I waited for the light to change I saw a girl walking down the street, dressed in that “retro ‘90s” style.You know what I’m talking about: mid-level socks with frilly tops, tennis shoes from some weird-ass, extinct brand like Avia or Etonic, purple nylon windbreaker with an elastic bottom that makes that swshh-swshh-swshh sound when you walk, hair in a scrunchie. The retro ‘90s fashion trend is as bizarre as the one we just finished with the ‘80s, but without any of the charm.
Anyway, there she was, dressed like she was about to go play with a Skip-It in the park. I took notice, but I’ve seen enough people dressed like this that it’s not a particularly strange occurrence. What was strange was how she was walking: she had her arms straight out from her sides like she was about to engage in some light calisthenics. In fact, she wasn’t even walking; she was strolling. Ambling, even; in fact, I daresay she was meandering.
Her arms stayed out for a little while longer, and just as I was getting accustomed to it, she added a new wrinkle: swinging her arms. Not in a rapid, flailing way, but in a calm, ain’t-I-just-a-free-spirit way. I was perturbed by it, as was Max — she was walking so slowly that we were gaining on her much faster than I would have liked. It’s potentially awkward enough coming up behind someone on the sidewalk when they don’t notice you, and even more so when you have a big dog. (I’m nothing if not considerate.) And while Max is usually good with new people, he kept looking at me, then her, then me, as if to say “What the hell is up with this one?”
I could tell she was off in her own little world, so I slowed down so as to avoid getting too close and startling her, but even at my most leisurely pace I was gaining ground with every step. I couldn’t even speed up to go around, because the concept of walking in a straight line was apparently too much for her to bear. Just as I was starting to get irritated, she bent down and picked up…an old rubber band. Not for any particular reason, mind you — she just seemed to want to hold a dirty-ass piece of rubber. She shot it lazily ahead of her, then slooooooowly wandered over to where it landed and repeated the process again. And again.
I had encountered a “quirky” person.
* * *
Back in the day, “quirky” was a polite substitute for “That person is a goddamn weirdo.” It was a nice way to explain or downplay erratic behavior, kind of like “They march to the beat of their own drum” or “I find them deeply unsettling.” That changed in 2007, when Nathan Rabin coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” (or MPDG), a “bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”
Though Rabin meant it as an insult (and later apologized for coining the term), a lot of people — men and women alike — have embraced this trope. It’s not uncommon to hear someone giggle about how “random” they are, like it’s awesome to spend an afternoon taking pictures of bus stops, or practicing your handstand skills in the middle of the goddamn sidewalk, or playing your stupid ukulele loud enough for everyone to hear.
What bothers me most about it is that people who claim to be quirky usually aren’t at all; anybody who’s that flighty generally isn’t paying attention to what’s around them. The people who make a big show of being quirky are just doing it to justify their obvious ploys for attention. They go out of their way to do weird (yet ultimately harmless) things so people will say “That guy’s making balloon animals…on a skateboard?! What a character!”
On one hand, I’m probably just being negative; they’re not harming anyone, and what’s so bad about reminding everyone about how simple things were when we were kids? Life is a gift! On the other hand…bullshit. Cut it out. You may be whimsical and full of wonder when you’re a kid, but eventually life takes your sense of wonder, grinds it into a fine powder and flushes it down the toilet like Karen Hill in Goodfellas. Children can afford to be flighty; adults can’t. We have shit to do.
You want to smile all day? Offer people flowers? Leave baskets full of bead-based jewelry on strangers’ doorsteps? Play a glockenspiel on a subway platform to communicate the simple beauty of music? Fine. Go join the Hare Krishnas. Otherwise, keep your arms at your sides, walk at a reasonable pace and worry about money like the rest of us.