There are about seven billion humans on the planet. Chances are you’ll have to meet someone once in awhile. If only the apes would hurry up and rise against us, thinning our numbers, maybe I could finally avoid encountering strangers ever again.
A guy can dream. I’ll take a tapir uprising if that’s all that’s available. Just get it done.
Anyway, until that happens, you’d best learn the right way to introduce yourself. Read on and be amazed. Or slightly impressed. Or confused. I’ll let you choose.
So, you’re meeting someone new. Maybe someone is introducing you to each other at a party you’ve been dragged to, or it’s a new face at work and you have managed to avoid them most of the day until a shared lunch break. What to do, what to do? Do this.
Keep your hands at your sides and hope the person doesn’t go in for a handshake.
It seems like the older I get, the more likely it is that the people I meet are the handshaking type. I’ll probably have to shake everyone’s hand once I’m a senior, even people I know. That’s going to suck. Maybe I can lose my hands before then and get them replaced with lobster claws like Dr. Zoidberg. Anyway, maybe you’ll get lucky and manage to avoid touching a stranger if you just don’t move your arms.
Crap, they’re reaching out to you. The expectation. The pressure. Fine, shake the person’s hand, but make it as unpleasant for them as you can.
How can they expect a firm handshake when they come at you like that? A guy needs time to prepare! Just put your hand in his and let him do all the work. Don’t squeeze, don’t pump. Work up some defensive palm sweat. It will be over soon. Oh, and if they’re a “hugger,” throw down a smoke bomb and run. There’s something wrong with people who hug strangers.
When the awkward silence falls, and it will, keep it going as long as you can and ruin all attempts at small talk.
Don’t ask question. Don’t you dare. It’s your job to minimize chatter until you can escape. Aim for monosyllabic answers, grunts, and vague hand gestures. Forget anything interesting about yourself and share the boring and generic stuff. Don’t worry, it’s almost over. Light at the end of the tunnel and all that.
Forget the person’s name and face as soon as they are gone.
You’ll probably never see him again, so don’t waste brain power memorizing any of his details. Congratulate yourself on making it to the end of the ordeal. Treat yourself to a piece of cake. Oh, hell, have two, they’re small.
Encounter the person again in the future and make it obvious that you’re forgotten everything about him.
*enters the room riding a Galapagos tortoise because he is stylin’ and in no hurry*
Hey, nice to see you guys. You good? Any problems you want to talk about? I’m a good listener.
Not much of a talker, though, which is the key point of this post. My current shape is…
*knocks on the tortoise’s shell*
A kangaroo! No, it’s a tortoise. What’s the first thing you think about when you think of a tortoise? If you said “great on the dance floor,” then you are right, but off-topic. Let’s talk about the shell instead.
A tortoise is a good shape for the social me. He can be out and about when it suits him. When it doesn’t, zip, into the shell he goes. Lately, I feel myself withdrawing, seeking that safety. It’s actually more common than the opposite. I’d think all my talk about social awkwardness would make that obvious.
But there is good news for this little tortoise. A blog is like being able to yell out to the world without having to direct it at anyone in particular. Imagine a tortoise with a megaphone poking out his neckhole. Like that. It’s not dialogue, but it will do in a pinch.
Let me take a moment to be almost social. Just wanted to say hello to all the followers and likers (it’s a word now) that I’ve had since resuming this blog. It’s good to know the things I post here are somewhat interesting to people other than myself. So, hello, and thanks.
One last thing before I sign off and take this tortoise home (he lives in a penthouse apartment downtown, lucky bastard). I have a Socially Awkward Guide for tomorrow, but that might be the last creative post for awhile. I kind of feel like I’ve been forcing it with those lately. Plus, now that I’m working on my story again, my brain gears are all set to “fiction.” If I think of an interesting idea for a creative post that I get excited to write, then maybe you’ll see one sooner than I think. Until then, I’ll keep posting little stuff here and there, so stay tuned. Later.
*rides the tortoise into the sunset, trumpet music blaring*
If everyone walked in the same direction all the time, as only makes sense, this wouldn’t be an issue. However, fact is that there are troublemakers out there who walk the wrong way, and this leads to eye contact on the street, in the mall, wherever walking happens. Eye contact with a stranger. My dear god. I need a moment, excuse me….
*takes a swig from a flask, shudders*
Now, my preferred solution is to sic my cyborg wombat on them (I call her the Womborg, and she’s really just a big sweetie). Most people just pretend to look at their cellphone in this situation, though. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s simple, it works.
Come on, seriously. Doing what everyone else does — are you a robot, a sheep, or a robot sheep? No! You must stand up and say, “I am a MAN!” Or “I am a WOMAN!” Or “I am OF INDETERMINATE GENDER BUT AM STILL A VALID HUMAN BEING!” So, in the interest of more varied self-expression, let me offer some suggestions on interesting ways to avoid eye contact while not appearing impolite. These have a certain dramatic panache that elevate social awkwardness to an art.
When I first encountered one of these devilish devices, I couldn’t get free for almost two weeks before I figured out the solution: plunging my hands into a vat of acid. Now I can remember how to do it by looking at the scars. It’s the perfect way to avoid eye contact, because really, who is going to interrupt someone fighting for their very life? Horrible things, finger traps. Should be outlawed, really. But since they’re not, make them work for you. Don’t forget to stock up on acid.
Knitting is exciting to watch — I send daily letters to the International Olympic Committee, suggesting with no hint of threat whatsoever that they should add it to both the Summer and Winter Olympics. Somehow, most people don’t agree with me. So, it’s a good way to keep your eyes on your hands, as well as make yourself some nice things.
Just don’t make anything too interesting, like a machete cozy. People notice stuff like that. Freelance knitters are in high demand, too, so you may get job offers if you’re too good.
This is an advanced technique. Do NOT try if you are not ready. If you have the heart of a beast it takes to pull this off, read on.
Surely you’ve seen those street performers that paint themselves to look like statues, or at least have heard of them? Or perhaps you belong to their shadow organization that pulls the strings of all the puppet governments (all of the governments)? You didn’t hear that from me. Anyway, just do like they do, except don’t have a cup or hat for tips. That’s a dead giveaway. Also, since you will have to freeze whenever you see someone, this isn’t recommended if you are in a hurry to get somewhere.
What’s that? Oh, do you think it’s easy, being a statue? Try it. Freeze right now. Don’t give me that weak “freeze tag” freeze, you maggot. If you’re going to do this, you need to be so convincing a pigeon will land on you and take a crap. If you’re not covered in pigeon excrement, sir or madam, then you are failing!
Talk to the voices
I know, I know, you’ve spent years learning to behave like the voices aren’t there. Your facial expression doesn’t even twitch when they whisper their inscrutable secrets, or urge you to perform those dark, thrilling acts. Why acknowledge them now? Because damn it, they take up room in your mind rent-free. Time they earned their keep. This works on two levels: 1) It will scare away those who have not the gift of True Hearing; and 2) Those who do have the Gift won’t interrupt your conversation because that’s a breach of etiquette.
I suppose you could do this with a friend instead of the voices, but my research hasn’t told me where to find one of those, so I can’t help you. *wipes away lonely tears*
I thought I could use another series of posts to keep me busy, and hopefully to keep readers entertained, so here’s the first of my guides for the Socially Awkward (capitalized because it is a prestigious title).
For those in the retail game, customers are as inevitable as dropping bread butter side down or tripping over a cat in the dark. The first step to handling them is the greeting. It is a first step that itself involves many, many more steps, and god help you if you mess up even one. Okay, calm down, breathe. Just do what I say and everything will be all right. Relatively speaking. I mean, the world will keep spinning, birds will keep singing, that sort of thing. Whether you will be all right is another matter entirely.
Just…just keep reading. Trust me.
1. Spot customer approaching.
As one of the Socially Awkward, you have an uncanny sense of someone approaching you. Kind of like how a spider feels a vibration in its web to let it know a fly is trapped, except in this case, it’s you who are trapped.
2. Pray they don’t come any closer.
Some save prayer for a last resort, the Hail Mary pass. But why save the big guns for later? You never know, it could work. Best to mutter aloud so people can overhear you and look at you funny.
3. Prayer fails, offer soul pacts to any nearby demons
4. Give up on divine/infernal intervention. Prepare for (shudder) human interaction.
Entertain thoughts about how you’d rather deal with the demon. Then again, remind yourself that the it might have wanted to make small talk. Nothing worse than a chatty demon.
5. Ten-foot rule.
When a customer is within ten feet of you, that’s usually a good distance to greet them. If they try to get closer, you could always step back or poke them with your ten-foot pole. You brought your ten-foot pole, didn’t you? Come on, this is standard equipment! You’d better have one next time I see you.
6. Debate the meaning of “ten foot”.
What are you, a tape measure? It’s hard to judge distance accurately. If they’re nine feet away, you have plausible deniability.
7. Okay, okay, they’re close enough, damn it. How else can you stall for time?
There’s a display between you? Um, that breaks the imaginary ten-foot line between you, rendering it void. Yeah, that’s a good one. They’re talking to a friend or on the phone? It’s rude to interrupt. Manners give you lots of good excuses. Oh look, those items are crooked. You’ll say hello after you fix them.
8. Stalling can only go so far. Time to do this. Say “hello.”
While a more complicated greeting gives you more opportunity for screwing up and looking like a doofus (stuttering is a classic), don’t underestimate what you can accomplish with something short and sweet. Try “hello.” Now, you have to say it right. Try this: draw out the second syllable much too long. Also, make the “o” sound more like “ew.” Helleeeewww. Nailed it. You’ll know you did it right if the customer pauses before returning your greeting, as if uncertain he heard you correctly.
9. Mission accomplished. Make just enough conversation to cover up your shame, then get the hell out of there.
Pretend you have an earpiece and you’re receiving instructions to go elsewhere. Run. Don’t look back. Don’t stop if anyone calls out for you, just run, you fool! Find one of the hiding places you’ve discovered around the store (if you haven’t found them yet, or made them if you’re an advanced student of the Awkward Art, you need to check your priorities, friend) and hunker down for awhile until your disgrace becomes bearable. If you see the customer again, pretend you don’t.
Okay, here’s the first in my “Awkward Hawk” series. As I have it planned, each will be a vignette based on one of my socially awkward quirks. Afterward, in case the quirk was not made obvious by the tale (And if that’s the case, what kind of writer am I?), I’ll offer a brief explanation. Let’s get to it already!
WARNING: It turned out longer than anticipated. Advance at your own risk.
“Beware the Stare of Dr. Gorgon”
(Picture by electricbill on Flickr)
Dr. Gorgon strolls through the garden of statues clogging Main Street. She peers into cars to see stone drivers and passengers. There’s even a dog statue lifting its leg on a tree. If that isn’t proof of her villainy, I don’t know what is. That dog has to hold it in for who knows how long.
Hurts me just to think about it. Hold on, I’m taking a bathroom break before I continue this narration…. Okay, I’m good.
“Nobody can challenge me,” the bad doctor whispers with a smile, then pauses. “Oh, wait, Daring Demon would be a nuisance, being blind and everything. But he’s in New York, so it’s moot. Nobody else can challenge me!”
A pigeon, being unobservant, suicidal, or both, chooses that time to take off from a windowsill. Dr. Gorgon’s gaze swivels in its direction, and she whips off her tinted goggles. The pigeon’s eyes meet hers. Flesh becomes stone, and the pigeon statue plummets to the street, sure to smash upon impact.
That is, it would have, if Awkward Hawk didn’t come swooping down to catch it just in time. Hawk sets it down on the sidewalk. Does a pigeon count as a full life saved? he wonders. Eh, I’m going to say yes. What, is someone going to audit me? He takes out a notepad and adds a tally on the “lives saved” page. After a brief struggle with conscience, he puts a tiny asterisk next to it. Best play it safe.
“Really?” Dr. Gorgon scoffs. She has replaced her goggles. Sure, she’ll take them off again when she wants to finish Hawk off, but it’s only polite to allow for banter and/or monologuing. “Awkward Hawk comes to stand against me? Was the Gilded Grasshopper busy? Don’t you have a cave to hide in?”
“For your information, it’s being fumigated, and Grasshopper has a dentist appointment. But I would have come anyway!”
“I’m certain.” The doctor sits on a car hood and crosses her legs.
“So what’s your plan, Gorgon?” Hawk asks. “You aren’t the type for harming the innocent unless there’s profit involved. Where’s the profit here?”
“I had a grand speech prepared, you know,” Dr. Gorgon says. “Embellished the affair a bit. But since it’s just you, I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes version. Did you attend the city council meeting about the road work they planned for next week on this street?”
“I think my perfect attendance at council meetings is public record.”
“Ah, good. That’s it.”
“That’s – what?”
“I’ve clogged the street with human statues so they can’t do it.”
“Because I live right there,” Gorgon points at an apartment building just down the street, “and I work nights, so it would keep me awake.”
“I know, right?” Dr. Gorgon slides off the hood. “Well, it’s been a nice chat and everything, but let’s finish this.”
“Good. I was hoping to get to Subway before the lunchtime rush.”
Dr. Gorgon lifts her goggles and stares at Hawk, anticipating his fate as her newest statue. It would be a good one, too, what with the wings and all. Maybe she’d sell that one to an art gallery and pretend she sculpted it. She was preoccupied trying to think of a name for the sculpture, so she didn’t notice Awkward Hawk walking towards her, not turning to stone at all. She settles on “An Angel Falls” when she finally comes to her senses and sees Hawk standing right in front of her. “You’re not stone,” she says.
“No, thankfully, I am not.”
“But how? My power is irresistible. I could turn an elephant to stone!”
“It’s theoretical, but the math supports the hypothesis. How are you doing this?”
“Wait – hey, you’re not even looking at me.”
“Um, nope, I’m not.”
“Have you even looked at me since we’ve been talking?”
Hawk fidgets. If he wasn’t already looking away, he would do it now in embarrassment. “Maybe not.”
“That’s just rude.”
“Not as rude as your stony gaze, villain!” He was already embarrassed, so he figures he can get away with that line.
“Damn it, come here and look at me, coward.” The doctor grabs his face and tried to turn it so their eyes meet. Awkward Hawk struggles, as I’m sure you’ll agree is a good idea in the situation. As they struggle, he twists away rather violently and ends up clipping her with a wing. She goes down without further fight.
Awkward Hawk hasn’t noticed yet, as he is crouching in the street with his arms flung over his face. When he finally peeks out and sees the unconscious villain, he simply says, “Well, this is awkward.”
* * *
And there you have it. So what is the social quirk this is based on? If you guessed “corny one-liners,” you’d be wrong. It’s all about my aversion to eye contact. I can make eye contact, and frequently do. It just makes me uncomfortable for some reason. When I’m talking to someone, I’ll often look off to the side. I’m sure it makes me seem rude (as many of my quirks probably do), but I swear I’m just weirdly shy.
Wow. This turned out longer than I planned. I expected just a piece of a scene – maybe a bit of comic action with some dialogue. Ended up with some bona fide flash fiction over here. As fun as it was, I’m not sure future installments will be as long. I was also considering playing around with a script format (something I haven’t done before). We’ll see. I hope anyone brave enough to read the whole thing enjoyed it.
Oh, and the critiquing was cool, too.
Last night was interesting. It was a small meetup this time around, with four other people in attendance. Rose and I bought our pizza before everyone else showed up, not knowing the dining etiquette of the group. Turns out it’s an informal rotation, with someone just randomly buying the pizza. The other members showed up, ate the pizza when it arrived, and the meeting began.
Everyone except Rose and me brought excerpts from writing projects (I didn’t have anything ready or suitable, in my opinion). One person would read aloud, and then we would go around the table and offer our thoughts on the piece. I know I said I would probably just sit and observe, and I probably could have gotten away with it if I insisted, but I ended up participating like everyone else. I wouldn’t call my critique skills impressive, but I hope I performed adequately.
Rose got to show off her dramatic skills when one author asked her to read. She’s so cute.
After the meeting ended, four of us played a game called Kung Fu Fighting. Holy bananas, it was fun, even if I was eliminated first. I want this game.
Anyway, everyone seemed very cool, and I enjoyed the evening, even if I was nervous. Will I go back? I’m not sure yet. The face-to-face aspect was a good change from my usual “I’ll pass on the social interaction, thank you, but hand me more of that surfing the net alone” habit, and the critiques seemed well done. On the other hand, the allowed page count anyone can bring is limited by necessity due to group size and amount of time each critique receives, and I feel like I would be a more effective critiquer if I had more time to analyze a piece of work and formulate my response. Also, I would only be able to attend every other meetup, at most. So, we’ll see if I continue with the group.
And now, I have several days off to enjoy.
I decided to take the plunge and go to the critique group tonight. It’s a no-lose situation, really — even if I don’t click with the group, I’m getting pizza.
This post seems especially relevant, since Rose is coming with me. Now, even though she is the right height for it, I have to remind myself not to use her as a crutch. She is there to have fun and to make me feel comfortable, but I still have to socialize. Even so, I think, since this is my first time attending, I will most likely spend the night in observation rather than actively participating. I want to get a feel for the group and how they do things.
Now, just another hour until pizza! I mean, fun with humans. Yeah, the second one.