Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Do I Know You?

I feel conflicted about people. On one hand, I have a terrific circle of family and friends. We support each other and help keep each other (relatively) sane, and I don't know what I'd do without them. On the other hand, the thought of speaking to people I don't already know fills me with dread, fear, and disgust.

I try to get to work about 20 minutes early. Just in case I get stuck behind an accident or hit the traffic lights in the wrong rhythm, I like to have a time buffer to make sure I'm not late. With my few extra minutes, I'll generally sit in the car and read a book.

On a recent day, I sat reading my book and got a tap on the window from a total stranger. First, I nearly soiled myself. I mean would it have killed the guy to stand in front of the car first and maybe wave to get my attention? Do I need to keep underwear in the glove compartment now, in case of random window knockers? Second, do I look like I'm asking for a conversation? My windows are up. I'm focused on a book. The book should be a clue, but I've learned over the years that people think reading is a last resort. They assume if you're reading, it must be because you can't find someone to talk to, so it should be okay to interrupt you for a conversation about nothing at all.

"Hey, can you tell me where Suite 400 is?"

"Sorry, man, I don't know. I just work in this building behind me in the sales department. I don't really know all the addresses around here."

"But I'm looking for Suite 400. Do you know where Suite 400 is? I'm driving a truck."

"No, I -- I really don't. I just work in this building. I don't know the addresses of the other buildings around here. I'm sorry."

"I'm looking for Suite 400, though. Do you know where Suite 400 is?"

"Look, dude, I can't help you. I don't know where you're going, and I don't know the addresses arou--"

"Fine," he said, as he stuck his hand, palm out, in my face. "Whatever. Have a good day, SIR. Thanks for nothing."

Wait, why am I the asshole?

I didn't walk up and start banging on some random stranger's window. I didn't assume he knows all the addresses and business names of the buildings in the area. I didn't ask him the same question over and over, even after he told me he didn't know the answer. I didn't interrupt him, stick my hand in his face, and treat him like he'd just ruined my day. I was polite. I used an apologetic tone to answer his question and told him I didn't know the answer. As far as I understand it, I followed social protocol, but I'm the jerk.

And this is why people suck. Even when you follow social protocols and pretend to care about whatever crap they're talking about, they act like you owe them something. I mean, am I supposed to get out of the car and walk around with you, helping you search for a building? You're getting paid to find the building -- all I'm doing is missing out on my book. If I'd known where the guy was trying to go, I would have told him. But I'm not going to tell him to hop in the car and drive around with me until we find his place. I may be antisocial, but I don't make people's lives harder just for the fun of it. Well, not unless they deserve it.

Even when people are polite, I don't like talking for the sake of talking. Walking down the hall at work, I see people who work in other departments all the time. I don't know their names; I don't know anything about how they spend their days. I'd rather just look the other way, but instead there's this social pressure to nod and say hi, or even worse, converse about their weekend or whatever the relevant small talk for the day might be. I hate those interactions.

Look, I don't know you, and you don't know me, and we've lived our entire lives pretty content with this state of affairs. So why don't we just stick with the status quo? I've overheard your conversations with other people. You talk about sports and cars and fishing. I hate sports and cars and haven't fished since I was 10, so unless you read Neil Gaiman or J.R.R. Tolkien, or unless you play World of Warcraft or watch Star Trek, I don't think you and I are going to have enough in common to maintain any kind of friendship. Why don't we skip the nod and the smile? Why don't we skip the hello and the small talk? Why don't we just go about our business as though we don't know each other? I've got things I like to think about and work on in my head. When I have to stop and waste time with people I don't know, I lose track of those things. So keep your distance from me.

I've learned over the last few years how little time we get on this planet. I, my friends, and my family are all reaching a point where we really don't know on January 1st each year who won't be with us when the day rolls around again. There's so much I want to do. I want to learn blacksmithy. I want to read all the books on my growing reading list. I want to learn to brew alcohol and distill liquor. I want to watch my kids grow up to become (hopefully) happy, well-adjusted adults. I want to eat better and get back in shape. I want to spend time laughing and drinking singing bad karaoke with the people closest to me. I have so little time.

I need to learn rudeness. Instead of sneering and saying, "Do I know you? No? Go away," I tend to try and help the guy who needs directions or pretend to care about someone's fishing trip or find something nice to say about whatever sports team someone likes. Like I said a couple weeks ago, I'm a liar. I'll even pretend to like you.