There is no situation that I cannot make uncomfortable. It’s a special talent I have, one I cannot turn off, and one that will probably eventually drive me to live in a cave outside of town, chased there by a horde of uncomfortable torch-wielding villagers.
Take lunchtime, for instance. The most relaxed and carefree part of the workday. Freedom from the hell of cubicles and conference rooms and crying under the desk, wondering where it all went wrong. Surely, you say, there’s no way to ruin lunchtime. Who could possibly? Get outta here, already.
Here’s the thing.
I go out of my way to keep lunchtime normal and enjoyable for all. I do. I eat at my desk — or sometimes under it; see above. I usually have lunch a few minutes early, the better to avoid awkward hallway interactions or frightening small children. I only step out, in fact, to go down the block to buy my lunch.
“It wouldn’t be long before I was sucking on uncooked pasta and dry tea bags in the office, and what would that make people?”
(Oh, theoretically I could bring my lunch, sure. But I’m no good at cooking or food shopping or putting things in little brown bags, so that’s not really a long-term solution.
It wouldn’t be long before I was sucking on uncooked pasta and dry tea bags in the office, and what would that make people? Uncomfortable. Any plan involving culinary effort on my part is a total non-starter.)
So I walk to grab food. And the walk there is fine. It’s a few minutes before noon, not so many people are out. There’s no one to laugh and point, or to ask me directions to places I should have ever heard of, or to shimmy back and forth on the sidewalk as we both try to get out of the way. The walk to food is a relative delight.
The problem is walking back.
Now, I don’t know from directions. You could give me a compass, a map and a chart of the local constellations, and I could still get lost in a glass-walled elevator. But I know this. In the part of nearly-Boston where my office is, walking to food at midday means walking away from the sun. And walking back to the office means staring that flaming hunk of skyball right in the kisser the whole way in.
(That might help some people with finding their compass direction, of course. But all I ever learned was that at noon, the sun is directly overhead. So unless I’m walking up an effing ladder into the sky, then facing the sun at lunchtime tells me dick all about which way I’m heading.
Woodsier people than me would deduce something about how we’re above the equator, and it’s not long after the winter solstice, and probably look for trees around to see where the moss is growing.
You want to know where the moss grows, Grizzly Adams? It grows on trees that aren’t buried in three goddamned feet of snow for eight months out of the year, is where. Run along, Eagle Scout. I’m telling a freaking story over here.)
So what’s the problem with walking back to work essentially blind? Besides the high possibility of lurching off a curb into a double-parked Corolla, just this: by the time I start my return trip, it’s lunchtime for normal people, too. Many of them are now walking past me — and I can’t see them well enough to know whether or not I recognize them.
This is all sorts of bad juju. My boss might walk by, or the CEO, and I could cruise past without so much as a nod — and soon find myself without so much as a job. Coworkers on whom I’m depending to cover for me when I’m not at my desk — or crying under it; see above — and maybe sleeping in the toilet stall. How snubbed would they feel if I sauntered past as though they were so many moss-deficient trees?
Or look at it the other way — what if I hedged my bets, and smiled and said hello to every random jerkwad on the street, whether I knew them or not? This is New England, people, not some bucolic Alabaman burg. They’d toss me in wacko jail for public disturbance. That’s no good, either. And now we’re making strangers uncomfortable, which I’d ideally like to avoid. I’m on enough shit lists already.
So what’s the solution? I’ll tell you. Every weekday, I walk back from the lunch place with my sandwich or burrito tucked under my arm, and I practice The Look. It’s an expression as complex as it is noncommittal. The Look starts with a modest grin — not too big, no teeth showing — from a few steps away. Then, at close range, a glance over, a small head nod, and a subtle and enigmatic change in the smile, as if to say either “see you back at the office” or “have a nice day, whoever you are; I’m thinking about something else right now“.
The Look is the perfect solution. People I know would take it as recognition; people I don’t as the briefest acknowledgement from a passerby. No one feels slighted, no one accosted, and above all, no one uncomfortable. There’s just one problem:
I suck at The Look.
I don’t make a lot of facial expressions, because that involves interacting with people and see everything I’ve ever written here if you’re under the unfortunate impression that would be a good idea. So I’m out of practice a little with the finer points of facial muscle control, and The Look is challenging enough for the most emotive among us. Blue Steel has nothing on The Look, is all I’m saying. You have to have cheekbones this high before you’re even allowed to try it.
And as I said, I’m sucky damned bad at it. So I walk back to work every day, not putting people at ease and placating acquaintances who might be passing by. No. I walk back to work making faces at people like some sort of duck-billed hyena with the detox shakes, because I can’t see them for the stupid sun. People cross the street to avoid me now. Not all people, because that would be useful. But some. Children weep as I approach, knowing what’s about to happen; frozen mothers are powerless to stop it.
(Technically, I mug at the kids because there’s that one really short guy at work that they could be, for all I can see.
But mostly, it’s just fun to scare children. I see what that Scrooge guy was on about now.)
So that’s my lunchtime. Blind, puckery and bringing discomfort to all those in my wake. An unfortunate consequence of the confluence of office location, food preparation ignorance, social protocols and solar migration. It’s the way of the universe; there’s nothing I can do about it.
Well. I could always buy a pair of sunglasses, I guess. But where’s the fun in that?