We’ve covered the fact that I’m socially-disabled.
I went into a sandwich shop for a turkey sub and the professional sandwich maker said she’d gone to high school with me. I’m terrible at remembering faces, so I asked her name. She said, “Remember? I’m so-and-so, from over by the junior high?” The name jiggled my memory slightly, but I had no recollection of ever interacting with this person.
(Graduating quality folk for several years.)
Because I suck at small talk, there followed an uncomfortable silence while she waited for me to regale her with tales of our past friendship, and I struggled to subtract 30 years from her face. The silence grew longer. I whispered, “No mayo, please,” hoping she’d drop the staring contest. She obviously wasn’t going to construct my sandwich until we’d had a meaningful reunion, so I turned to my handy-dandy list of ways to handle an awkward conversation.
Step 1: Fake recognition. “Oh, didn’t you live near the whatchamacallit by the whosamawhatsit? Right! That’s where you lived!”
Step 2: Find common ground. “What have you been doing since high school?” (The answer is, obviously, attending culinary school.) “Do you have children? Grandkids? Pets? Allergies? Aversion to strange conversations? Me too!”
Step 3: Inane smiling and head nodding. Once I got her talking, I could just smile and nod as she regaled me with everything from her recent hysterectomy to her jail time and divorce from her third husband. Not necessarily in that order. Smile. Nod. Smile. Nod. (After a while, my smile faltered and I could feel my cheeks trembling.) That’s when it’s time to move on to Step 4.
(Once I stop smiling, your life is in danger.)
Step 4: Back away–slowly. By this time my sandwich had been assembled, paid for and was sitting on the counter waiting to be devoured. Unfortunately, she was still reliving our tenuously-existing relationship. I’m smiling and nodding like a mental patient but slowly retreating to a far corner. We’d covered Obamacare, the price of gas, climate change and the renovation of a local school. I’m trying to be polite, but I’m also hungry and out of general topics.
Step 5: Bring in the closer. “Wow, it was great seeing you after so many years. I hope your parole hearing goes well! I sure am looking forward to eating this delicious sandwich you made for me. You are great at your job. Wow, just wow. So good to see you.”
Because I’d already made the mistake of getting my lunch to stay, I had to do a follow-up (and optional) Step 6. After finishing my lunch, I stood up, waved to (insert name here) and told her again how great it was to see her.
Mission accomplished. But now I can never return to that sandwich shop. At least not until I’ve studied my high school yearbook to relearn everyone’s name.