Friday, April 04, 2008

The Strange Case Of Monsieur Le Peep

One of the things that can make the workday bearable is having a co-worker around that you know is just as fed up with the place as you are.

With my most recent job, I got lucky in this by being assigned to assist Monsieur Le Peep, a strange, talkative gentleman who hailed from Peeperia and whose country was only now beginning to heal from the ravages of a painful civil war.

A naturally enthusiastic person who engaged anyone who passed by in conversation, Monsieur Le Peep liked nothing better than to debate. He would always do this with extreme delicacy, though, prefacing any statement that he thought capable of giving even unintentional offence with an apology, which I really wasn’t used to.

Having lived through a savage era in his country’s history during which unspeakable atrocities were commonplace, he tended to be more conservative than I when it came to subjects like the death penalty or criminals who’d plead insanity, and he enjoyed nothing more than teasing me about my liberal opinions.

“Your excellency,” he would say by way of greeting in the morning. This mock humility was a running gag of Le Peep’s, sort of his version of “No, you the man!” If anyone asked him how he was doing, the answer would invariably come back, “Just tryin’ to be like you, man!” in his distinctive Peeperian accent, “Just tryin’ to be like you!”

But there was no one quite like Le Peep. In some ways, it was a little like sitting next to 9/11.

By which I mean he was able (and eager) to give me an idea of how America was seen from outside its borders. He’d talk about the disappointment other countries felt over America’s lack of moral leadership, something they always felt they could depend on. He’d discuss how he thought American parents were far too lenient and that this lack of discipline was the cause of much of our current trouble. He’d insist that mental illness was purely cowardice practiced by those individuals who were too lazy to come to grips with their lives.

Needless to say, we had some lively chats.

“In my country, we didn’t have time for depression or suicide because we were too busy trying to survive,” he’d say. “These were luxuries we couldn’t afford.” Indeed, you could imagine Le Peep triumphing over any obstacle with good humor as a result of having been forged in that crucible. That was the thing about him. If you lifted your head high enough above the cubicle horizon to survey the landscape, it would mostly seem to consist of a mix of the lost and the soul-dead, gazing silently at their well-named “terminals.”

But there in the middle of it, like a shoot of grass making its way through concrete, was Le Peep, moving, talking and always smiling. If I had lived his life I doubt I’d ever talk to anyone, but here he was smiling almost constantly and being consistently positive about practically everything.

Maybe, I figured, it was because he had a truer sense of the value of life than most of us did, having seen what he’d seen.

The other peculiar thing was that he spoke the best and most proper English in the place, albeit in a sometimes difficult-to-decipher accent. I was so used to hearing language being debased and simplified that I was a little shocked at first, not to mention that it appeared that the most well-spoken person in the room was someone who’d spent most of his life in another country.

I remember once saying something to him about “a light in the darkness” and without looking up he said “Lux in tenebras.” Let me assure you that he was the only person in this establishment that I ever heard breathe even a hint of Latin.

It turned out that Lux in tenebras was actually the official motto of Peeperia University, which seemed appropriate considering the ludicrousness of attempting to educate yourself under these kinds of circumstances.

It also described Le Peep himself, a seemingly inexhaustible warehouse of decorum, knowledge, and humor.

When we weren’t at loggerheads over the penal system, Le Peep would sometimes share stories from his native land with me. These were allegories that usually featured various wild animals arguing with each other over some fine philosophical point. Similarly, he would sometimes respond to my opinions by bringing up a popular expression he’d grown up with that I’d never heard before.

I remember him once saying to me, “Well, Screwloose, it’s like we say back in my country.”


“You can’t fight an old lady with a big penis.”

Doubtless this was true (or, certainly, should have been), but I never managed to figure that one out.

Better off, I expect.

Next: Le Peep, C'est Sheep! or: Who's The Boss?


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