Apparently My Face Would Like to Be Seen

I may have mentioned my fear of phones. It played a bizarre role in my winding career path and continues to leave me paralyzed in the face of ordering food. (I just know they’ll ask what kind of crust I want, and I just… don’t… know!)

Wendi and I have had flip phones for years, a practical necessity for people with a long commute through sparsely populated areas. Recently we’ve been having trouble getting reception in our own home, and having long since run through the contracted service duration we started looking into switching providers.

It was Wendi who suggested getting iPhones. I never asked her why. I had never really considered one. I have an iPad, and that pretty much serves my mobile needs. I didn’t feel any particular need for a smart phone of any kind. Dumb phones are terrifying enough, frankly. But I didn’t see any pressing reason to argue against it.

So last weekend we got our new iPhones.

For several days I got to know it, and I have to say I became downright enthusiastic about the device. As an object, it’s much less scary than a phone — probably because I wasn’t using it to call anyone. I downloaded some games and quickly became addicted to one where you bake bread to control cats. I sent a number of texts to Wendi. I followed my social networking feeds. I carried it with me everywhere.

Then I used it as a phone.

There’s this thing called FaceTime, which is basically a phone call with video. I knew that it existed, but I never intended to use it. One of the few blessings of phones is that you can talk without having to put on pants. So when I was talking to my brother it was purely a voice call.

I was wearing pants anyway.

While I was blathering about something or other, the line went dead. I’m afraid it always takes me a few minutes to realize that there’s nobody on the other end anymore. A bit annoyed that our new provider was proving to be just as unreliable, I pulled the phone in front of me so I could glare uselessly at it.

The product manager of my current project was looking back at me.

I mentioned that I had pants on, but up top I only had on an A-shirt. I hadn’t shaved in two days, and my bedhead was full in its untamed glory.

The manager asked warily if I needed anything.

“Nope,” I said, already hanging up.

It seems that FaceTime is perfectly designed to reinforce my fear of phones.

In the days since this incident I’ve been rebuilding a trust relationship with my iPhone, mostly by using the non-phone features. I still take it everywhere, which I never could bring myself to do with my previous cel phones. The dread of my face dialing up a video chat with a random contact is going to take a while to get over, but I’m hopeful that I can learn how to prevent that.

It might take a lot longer for that manager to recover from seeing me in my feral weekend state.

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Hall Passing

There’s a hallway at work that is so narrow that only one person may use it at a time. It extends for around 10-12 feet and provides several daily opportunities for hilarious collisions. This constricted space was created by the installation of a large cube, purportedly to create an open work area.

A convex mirror has been placed at one end of the passage, and I don’t know anyone that actually checks it for oncoming traffic. Usually we just round the corner and discover that a Zax is already in transit. Then we back up and smile awkwardly until the way is clear.

The cube wall is about 5 1/2 feet tall, so I can see over it. I’ll sometimes see the tops of heads bobbing along, which cues me in that someone might be about to run into me. Or vice versa, to be fair.

Diagram of hallway created by cubical

Every day we have to clear Spartans out of this narrow passage.

This morning as I crept down the hallway, over the wall I noticed a thatch of dark hair approaching the intersection. This matched the scalp of a programmer I’ve worked with for a few years. Perhaps a bit loopy from my sinus medicine, I decided to spring out in front of him.

I leapt sideways out of the alley, facing my victim with my arms spread wide.

“AAAAH!” I yelled.

The release manager nearly spilled her tea as she clutched at her heart.

Sheepishly, I apologized for scaring her. She was very kind about it — even thanking me for preventing a collision — but I felt really stupid about the whole thing.

I slunk away, wondering if I’d have gotten that good of a reaction from the guy I’d intended to scare.

The Saga of the Extra Muffin

On my way to a meeting yesterday, I gave Wendi a muffin. She asked why I had it, and I told her the explanation was a bit involved.

So this is the tale of the extra muffin.

I went to a restaurant near work to get an early lunch before a meeting. The owner was at the register, and he was talking to someone on the phone. He broke away to take my order: a Mexican omelette and a muffin. He poked his head in the kitchen and relayed my eggy desires, then gave me a total cost and went back to his conversation.

The restaurant has a punch card for earning a free meal, so I handed over a card along with my payment. He set the card on the register and made change for me. I watched him talk, then glanced at my card. Something wasn’t quite right. I wondered why he wasn’t putting a punch in it.

Then I noticed that the card didn’t have any punches at all. It had initials. I’d handed him the discount card of another restaurant.

With no small degree of embarrassment, I dug out the right card and offered it along with an apology. He punched it twice and returned both cards.

“Have another punch for figuring it out,” he said.

I waited for lunch. His call ended, and he looked at me. Then he looked at the kitchen. He went back to talk to the cook, and after a few moments he returned. He apologized and told me that the order hadn’t been heard.

“Here,” he said. “Have another muffin.”

We talked awkwardly about the weather until my omelette was done. Then I thanked him for everything and scurried back to the office.

With an extra muffin.

Thing for Which I Was Unprepared

I walked into the restroom at work, and it took a moment for my brain to process the scene. There was a workman in the middle of the room crouched over the urinal, which lay on the tile.

It felt like I’d caught him doing something unseemly. I laughed nervously. He laughed apologetically.

I fled.

Surely there’s a warning sign for such occasions.

Socially Unconventional

“How are you?”

It’s not supposed to be a difficult question, but it often paralyzes me. Through trial, error, and the trapped looks on people’s faces I’ve learned that the truth is inappropriate.

“Not well, really. I couldn’t sleep last night after hearing what might’ve been a gunshot.”

“Well, my mom tried to kill herself again. I really don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

“My cat went in to have her teeth cleaned and had a heart attack. She’s in an oxygen chamber, and not doing well.”

This is more than most people want. The convention for casual usage seems to be some variation on “well”, “fine”, or “okay”. Anything less positive is met with awkwardness, if not horror.

When I first realized this, I couldn’t bring myself to lie for the sake of convention. After all, it’s not my fault that they asked without actually caring. Right? So I figured I’d acknowledge their usage of a polite convention.

“I acknowledge your greeting,” I’d say.

That worked poorly and earned me more looks ranging from concern to sympathy. With that feedback, I decided to return the greeting without actually responding to the question.

“Hey,” I’d reply. Or, “Hi.”

That worked well for most situations: passing someone in a hall, entering the small kitchen at work, or trying to get a co-worker to tell me why he’s interrupted me. (I lie, just a little. Nothing helps some people get to the point.)

It just doesn’t feel right in our grocery store. We live in a small, semi-rural town. People around here talk to each other. On the street, in line, at restaurants — it’s a little creepy to my paranoid suburban point of view. When someone here asks how you are, they may actually want to know how you are. Maybe not in detail, but they might be interested in a highlight reel.

It’s taken nearly a decade, but now I can respond appropriately to the local cashiers.

“Fine,” I’ll usually say. This is to mean that nothing in my life is abnormally positive or negative at the moment. If everything’s been coming up Atomic Zombie, I’ll hazard a “pretty well”. A broken down car warrants “been worse”, and when it’s worse than that I’ll just leave it at “tired”.

Then I turn it on them. “And yourself?” I’ll ask innocently, hoping to put them through the kind of mental anguish I’ve suffered for years over this social convention.

“That’s good,” they say. “Paper or plastic?”