Wednesday’s adventure

Wednesday was a fairly boring day. My coworker was out of the office and there weren’t a lot of walk-ins. It was beautiful outside, but I wasn’t able to get out of the office at all. I was thinking about taking a walk, when a lady and a young man walked up to my door…around 3:00. I said, “May I help you?”, to which there was no response. The two were talking quietly to each other, so I just sat and watched for a minute. When they had a break in their conversation, I asked again. The lady took a few steps into my office and said that she was looking for [a professor in my department]. I started to tell her where his office was when she interrupted me and told me that she’d been there already and that he wasn’t in his office. I started to tell him where his secretary’s office is located, but she interrupted again, saying “I’ve already talked to [his secretary’s name].” I asked if she was looking for his students’ office, as it is near my office, hoping that she had just wandered into the wrong room. She told me that she’d been into his students’ office and that they had all suddenly got up and said that they had somewhere to be.

She began talking about some of his research, specifically dealing with DoD/military research having to do with airplanes. She told me that this was really dangerous, that anyone could come in here and steal it, that it was scary, that the enemy wouldn’t steal the physical product…they’d steal the knowledge. I suddenly realized that I had no clue where the young man who had come in with her had gone and that the door from the back half of my office, located about three steps behind my desk, was wide open and began worrying that he had gone in there to get behind me or to try to get to the research servers sitting in the back. I was still sitting at my desk, so I quietly pulled my pocket knife out, opened it, and kept it concealed under my desk. As I was thinking about all of this, she began to switch topics. She ranted about the current state of politics, the war in Iraq, the lack of weapons of mass destruction and the lies that go along with that, the idea that we academics were researching how to replace people with computers, and how engineering was a lowly pursuit and that arts, music, and theology were much more noble and worthwhile. She seemed to have a distinct end to each rant and it seemed like she was stalling, so with my already heightened sense of security, I pointed out that she was in the computer support office, that the person she was looking for was not in my office, and that she needed to leave. She continued talking, so I calmly asked her to leave again. When she continued, I asked her to leave a third time, including that I would call the police if she didn’t leave immediately.

She continued talking, so I picked up the phone and called 9-911. While I started describing the situation to the dispatcher, the lady walked over to the desk adjacent to mine, between me and the secretary who works in my office, and started emptying her purse, stating that she wasn’t a threat and listing everything in her purse. When the dispatcher asked me her age, I responded with “I’m not sure.” I was asked to guess, so I moved the phone a little and said, “Ma’am, how old are you?”, to which I received no response. I told the dispatcher that I thought she might be in her 30s or 40s, to which the lady responded, “I’m 57.” She didn’t look 57, but I passed that information along to the dispatcher, finished up that conversation, and was told that the police officers were on their way.

After hanging up, the lady began to talk about how she had dealt with the police in the past, also listing other authority figures. I wasn’t paying much attention to what she was saying and eventually asked her to step out in the hall to wait in response to her saying, “Let’s just wait for the police to get here.” She asked which hallway, to which I responded “Any hallway out there is fine with me.” She stepped just oustide my door and asked if that was fine. I told her that it was fine with me, just glad that she wasn’t standing in front of me or ranting any longer. I finally heard her say something to the guy in the hallway, so I eased up a little bit, knowing that I wasn’t about to be attacked from behind. A few minutes passed and she walked back in the room. She said, “Let’s go talk to the Chancellor.” “Feel free to go,” I said. “No, not the Chancellor…who’s one step below the Chancellor? The President! Let’s go talk to him. Do you think his house is open now?” “If you want to go find out, you’re more than welcome,” I said. She finally retorted something about how I hadn’t asked her to leave before. I pointed out that I had asked her to leave several times before threatening to call the police.

Something seemed to click, so she walked over to repack her purse, continuing to rant about politics, Iraq, WMD, men being in power and causing problems by having their “penises serviced” (references to Bill Clinton and how the war in Iraq is really all his fault were included…a theory I hadn’t heard before), and how the world would be at peace if women were in charge. Finally, she walked out of the room while ranting about how we “academics” were destroying the world and how we were all bound to our computers. I had to hold myself back when she quipped that “Computers tell you when to check your e-mail,” as I really wanted to retort “No, I tell my computer how often to check my e-mail and it does it automatically,” or reply to “Computers tell you when to go home” with “No, I look at the clock on the wall.” I knew that saying anything would make probably escalate the situation, so I just tried not to laugh.

About two minutes after she walked out, the police officer walked into my room. I told him that he had just missed her, but he responded with “No, we ran into her in the hallway.” About this time, the other officer walks past my doorway with her in handcuffs. As I was giving the officer my information and a description of what happened, we could hear the lady yelling about the blood thinners that she was taking, the fact that she’d be bruised “tomorrow”, and telling the officer that he’d be fired. The officer talking to me retorted “You’d be surprised how often we’re fired.” I just laughed. We were both trying to not crack up, as the lady outside continued to talk.

After the officer took my information and description of the story, he went outside to talk to the woman. After a few minutes, he came back into my office with the professor that the lady was looking for. The professor told him that she goes to his church and had the officer talk to the woman’s husband on the phone. She was apparently off of her meds for whatever mental disorder she has. As the professor kept talking, it came out that this lady has been going to his house for the past few days, bugging his wife, trying to get ahold of him. His wife has apparently stopped answering the door, but this professor talked to this lady yesterday at his home, where she bragged to him about more or less destroying a wedding/reception at Allerton Park this past weekend. She told him that she got her message out and that all the people there were cheering for her…which he found to be, obviously, hard to believe. Regardless, the husband didn’t really know what to do, the professor didn’t want to do anything, in spite of the fact that the lady was obviously harassing him and his family, so the officers were left with a decision to either let her go or try to have her involuntarily committed. It sounded like they were going to choose the latter.

I think the professor is being very naive, as he’s sure that she’ll never do anything. I think that the woman’s husband is doing her a disservice, as the woman obviously needs psychiatric help and he’s simply trying to avoid that path so that she isn’t viewed in the negative way that society tends to treat those with mental disorders…though I’m not sure that letting her destroy weddings, stalk people, or go ranting around campus buildings is really preventing her from being viewed that way.

I’ve heard stories from people about having to deal with some crazy person coming into their office at work, but I’ve never been on the receiving end. All told, this situation took about an hour from start to finish. The adrenaline dump that I got from the sudden feeling that I was in trouble when I didn’t know where the guy was didn’t wear off until after I was already home…I was fairly jittery for a while. Definitely not what I was expecting to have happen on an idle Wednesday afternoon…and to think that it all could have been avoided by going for that walk. 🙂

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