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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
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Nothing Plus Nothing Equals… Complicated

There are certain social situations that I avoid whenever possible. Like, most of them, actually.

It’s not that I don’t like people, or enjoy their company. I do. But I also like things simple. And interpersonal interactions are anything but. People are complicated. We don’t say quite what we mean, we don’t hear what other people do say, and no one understands anything exactly the same way. What are we really saying? Who gets tipped, and how much? When are we supposed to shake hands, hug, or do that cheek-to-cheek air-kiss nonsense? It’s all a mess. We’re doomed to misunderstandings, confusion and ambiguity. And above all, complication.

I know it’s what we do. It’s what separates us from the monkeys and amoebas and poodles and such. Some days, it’s just hard to find the energy.

You might think that the occasional avoidance of human contact would be a safe enough plan. A little “weird”, maybe even “sad” if you’re one of those chatty personable types I’m always crossing the street to get away from.

You might think that the occasional avoidance of human contact would be a safe enough plan. A little “weird”, maybe even “sad” if you’re one of those chatty personable types I’m always crossing the street to get away from. But still, it should be safe… right?

Right. As if anything is ever easy.

I’ve now actually found a way to have socially awkward interactions with someone I’ve never even spoken to. It’s quite an achievement. There should be an award of some kind for this level of convoluted crippling asocialness. The trophy could be a bronze bust of someone averting their eyes in shame. Very classy.

Here’s the thing: our office has a new assistant. She started a few weeks ago. Seems like a very nice girl; her name is Adele. We all got an email on her first day introducing her, welcoming her, and suggesting that we each stop by the front desk to introduce ourselves.

Yeah. That sounds complicated. Talking to a stranger? By choice? While she’s seated, and I’m standing all awkward and gangly with no good place to put my hands? No, thank you. I’m all set.

So I welcomed her, in my own personal way — silently, in my office, with no one else around, as I moved the introductory email to the archive folder — and then concentrated on maintaining the sort of relationship that this Adele person and I enjoyed before we knew the other existed. No talking. No interacting. In the case of accidental eye contact, a quick nod and then we’ll be on our separate ways. I call it the “toll booth guy” sort of acquaintance. Got a bunch of ’em. It’s like Facebook without the poking. You betcha.

So that was, like, weeks ago. I know who she is, thanks to the email. She knows… well, I don’t know what she knows, exactly. My name, maybe? Which department I’m in? That I work there, and am not actually some sort of gawky striped-shirted vagrant tolerated by the company in some sort of community outreach program? It’s hard to say. And it’s not all that terribly important.

Until I have to talk to her. She’s the office assistant. And believe me, when I’m in an office setting, I need a lot of assistance. It’s not exactly my natural habitat. We’ve covered my social ineptitude. Also, I go through a lot of plastic paper clips for reasons I don’t like to talk about in public. So eventually I’m going to need to ask her for something. Like, “where do we keep the plastic paper clips?” Just for instance.

But I haven’t spoken to her since she started. I don’t want to be that guy who only talks to someone when he needs something. And yet — I need things, in the office, all the time. So asking Adele for those things is going to be awkward. Particularly if she subscribes to the ‘tolerated stripey vagrant’ theory of my employment. I don’t like awkward. So I’m avoiding it altogether.

Do you see what’s happened here? The nightmare I’ve spun for myself? In an effort to simplify, and reduce the amount of uncomfortable situations, I’ve created potential uncomfortable situations that are even more complicated. I’m in a spiral. I’m way past the point of “Oh, hey, welcome to the office — way back in the spring — and can you point me to where we keep ballpoint pens, please?” I’m not pulling that off. I can’t.

So there’s just one thing to do. Clearly, I have to keep up the nodding and polite walking away — and fending for my own plastic paper clips — for as long as we both work in this office. I can ask for no assistance from our office assistant, because the statute of limitations on the ” ‘good to have you here’ as a pretext for getting you to perform clerical tasks for me” trick expired sometime in late May. I may have to “toll booth” this girl for months — even years — before one of us finally moves along, and the constant reminder of my awkward shame is laid to rest.

And at that point, presumably, I’ll meet another office assistant of some kind. I’ll have the chance to start over fresh, and not sour the relationship — in my mind, at least — from the very beginning. So will I take that opportunity? Will I learn from this self-inflicted ordeal, figure out that “less is more” applies to uncomfortable situations, too? And will I bite the bullet and introduce myself?

Nah. Probably not. I mean, who has the energy for that kind of thing? Social stuff is complicated.

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