Friday, October 14, 2005

People Watching at the Buffet OR OCD at the OCB

This is the first in a series of articles about the people who you see at buffet and all you can eat restaurants. Amongst the usual diners that one would see at most restaurants, buffets tend to attract some of the oddest people that you will ever see.

I will start with the story of one of the oddest diners that we have encountered. Now, before I get inundated with complaints from people with mental illness or the mental health community, let me establish that I am a mental health professional. In no way am I mocking or making fun of someone with an emotional illness, but let's face it - the guy that I am going to tell you about is odd and in fact he developed quite a reputation at the two buffet restaurants that he frequented. It seemed that anyone who is a semi-regular to these restaurants knew about him and he was dubbed "Napkin Man".

Napkin Man has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. If you have seen the movie, "As Good As It Gets", the character that Jack Nicholson so aptly portrayed had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder - popularly called OCD. Napkin Man dined nightly at one of two buffet restaurants - an Old Country Buffet (OCB) and a Chinese buffet. Going back about two years ago when he was first noticed - and you could not help but notice him, he would cover his table and his chair - and all of the empty chairs at his table with paper napkins - LOTS of paper napkins. When he ate he would pick up the utensils or hold the fried chicken leg with a paper napkin. When he went up to the buffet bar he would bring a number of napkins to pick up and hold the serving utensils. If anyone was near the buffet bar that he was going to he would stand back and wait until he would be the only one there and then take his food. If anyone approached him he would step far back. One night we were there with our three year old niece and she walked toward him, I thought that he would have a stroke. He never said anything to anyone. He also never removed his baseball cap or his jacket. Basically, he did not bother anyone and he minded his own business. Children avoided him - he was kind of frightening to kids. People would stare and comment under their breath - but actually, that was their problem.

Had he continued this way he would have just remained an odd poor soul with a problem that he seemed to be adequately coping with. As my wife will say about the infirm or the elderly - he is out and he is having a good time. Unfortunately for him and everyone else at the restaurants who had to share the buffet with him, his disorder increased to a point that it did interfere with others' dining. He became even odder and now he was a problem. Now he would go to a full buffet serving tray and fill a plate with everything that was in the tray. All of the fried chicken was on his plate. All of the tomatoes were on a plate at his table. He would take two of three plates full of all that was available of that item and bring it to his table. He would not start to eat it right away but seemed to ritually wait. When he did start to eat he would eat one of the plates-full at a time and not always in the order that one would normally eat. All of the cake first, then the chicken, then the tomatoes. Then he was up for more, and more trays would be emptied. He would be in the restaurant for hours and ate more than any thin man should be able to hold - and he is a thin, small man.

Not only did this annoy the other customers who would have liked to also take some chicken, fish, whatever, but this put a strain on the restaurant that now had to rush more of that item out - if there was any more of that item to put out. When there was no more to put out this enraged the other customers even more with calls for the manager and direct and vocal complaints to management about him, often made in front of him at his table. The restaurants were good to him - they made it clear to their other customers that he had a right to dine there and to take what he cared to take as long as he ate it - and he did eat it. He now became notorious and the target of dirty looks and loud comments. Of course, none of that seemed to bother him and he went on eating.

We would see him at the OCB when we went and, oddly, when we went to a particular Chinese buffet (that has been reviewed elsewhere on this blogsite) he would be there. Just the same, and doing the same thing. What has interested me (being in the field) was that at the Chinese buffet he would eat crab legs. Someone who is obsesionally clean - and this was something that he seemed to be, what with the napkins and all - should be concerned about eating shell fish with shells that have been in the ocean and the mud and the gunk before they got out of the boat and onto the table. There are entire religions who do not eat shell fish for these reasons, but here was this OCD guy eating crab legs directly from the shells (held in napkins, of course).

About four months ago Napkin Man disappeared. He has not been seen at the OCB or the Chinese buffet. Perhaps he has found a buffet that I do not know about - though I doubt that can be. Perhaps he succumbed to the onslaught of comments and stares. Perhaps the restaurants - both restaurants - could not take it any longer and kicked him out - he was a problem losing them other customers and eating more than $10 should buy every night for 7 days a week. Perhaps he ate himself into the hospital. Or perhaps, just perhaps he is on vacation somewhere eating at buffets somewhere in America... or Europe. Never the less, he is gone.

If anyone spots Napkin Man out there, leave a comment. It would be nice to know that he is ok.

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Anonymous said...

I am a regular at the OCB in Levittown, NY and I may be able to shed a little light on what happened to the "Napkin Man".

He was kicked out of OCB because he became a danger to the children (and possibly to himself).

Several months ago, there was a little girl who wanted to go to the drink bar and get a soda, but the "Napkin Man" threatened the little girl with a spoon. (He lunged at her as if he was going to try to stab her with it.) He would not let her walk past his table. Her father, (a rather large man), stood up as if he was going to attack the "Napkin Man". The father only backed down when his wife convinced him to sit back down.

I saw the whole incident, and realized that it would not be long before someone got hurt. I spoke to manager that night, and the manager did nothing.

I called the corporate office the next morning, and the "Napkin Man" was kicked out that night.

As far as I know, he has not been back to OCB since then.

I hope that he is okay somewhere, but I was not going to let other people be put in a dangerous situation, (especially young children), just because he has a mental problem.

firstbass said...

Here, I thought I was clever to invent the phrase "OCD at the OCB", but I see you used it more than two years ago. It came to mind for me because a group of local hobbyists (geocaching), myself included, meets at Old Country Buffets occasionally.

I use the phrase in jest, but I understand the very real suffering that takes place. I hope everything worked out for the Napkin Man.

Robert A said...

The Napkin Man has never been seen again at the OCB or the Chinese buffet that he also would frequent.