|I'll take the next one|
Some old curmudgeon I saw waiting for the elevator at work yesterday has seriously got me thinking. He provoked the widest range of feelings towards a stranger that I think I’ve ever experienced, all in the course of an elevator ride.
I should explain. I arrived at work, like most mornings, freshly caffeinated, meaning I had about an hour-hour and half period of absolute thought clarity, then its all mush from there. I’m not kidding, my bosses know it, and my employees know it. If you need me to do something of any import, and it has to be done that day, you need to ask me promptly when I get in, and hope that A) I don’t have other things already planned to get done, and B) I’m not deep in some philosophical thought cycle that started on the ride to work, or in the case of y yesterday, on the ride up the elevator.
So I arrived at the elevator bank with a clear mind, and saw the aforementioned old curmudgeon. I describe him as this, because he had white hair and old man shoes (Rockport’s), and also, because he was clearly perturbed that I’d decided to join him in waiting for the elevator. Gave a short roll of the eyes and the slightest shake of the head…Blatant ageism if you ask me. What, because I don’t suffer from the symptoms of ED I should be expected to walk a few flights of stairs to work? Bullshit.
So I was a bit miffed. What the fuck old man? How big of an asshole could this guy be? Did he have big plans for the elevator once it got there? Going to break out some personal phone conversation for the 30 second ride discussing his bucket list and living will? I was really ticked off…it’s not like I’d broken protocol and snuck into an elevator at the last second, we were just waiting there in the lobby for the next available one.
Then we got on the elevator, his grumpy demeanor did not change, but a thought occurred to me; that’s Me. That old man, presumably beaten down from years of working at some job that he never liked but paid well enough, is me. I think I’ll probably react the same way he did some day. Hell, I think I’m already there, I already rush into the elevator and smash the close doors button as rapidly as I can, like I’m trying to pull off a finishing move in Mortal Kombat. For whatever reason I crave that 30 second ride of privacy, in that one moment each day, the thought of sharing a 5x4 metal cube with some complete stranger seems like absolute torture.
The problem is I never know where to look; do I look down at my feet like some kind of simpleton? Do I pull out my phone and pretend to be looking at important things (yes), stare straight ahead like an asshole pretending you don’t even exist (sometimes)? I know the polite thing to do would be to make some quick eye contact, and perhaps a nod of the head, I know this. But I’m not going to do it. In my mind that’ll lead to this person thinking we’re elevator buddies, it’ll escalate to us having to say hi, and then after a couple of weeks just saying “hi” will seem short, so we’ll both start having bullshit one line conversations about the weather or “how it’s going” (standard response at my office: “I’m still here, right?” It’s really sad). Next thing you know they’re showing me pictures of their niece or something, and Facebook friending me, writing “happy birthday” on my wall once a year, compelling me to have to do the same, less I break the bonds of our society’s social norms.
And I think there in-lies the problem. I hate a good deal of the social norms when it comes to the office. I work with about 700 people. It’s impractical and an inefficient use of time for me to attempt to befriend or be cordial to all of them. If I don’t know you, don’t want to know you, or can’t potentially see myself needing you for something in the future, why do I have to do the whole niceties thing with you? Can’t we both just walk past each other in the hallway like two strangers would on the sidewalk in the city? Because we’re confined to the same building we have to act like someday we’ll be BFF’s? Take the token head nod and “hey how’s it going” which is always met with the same, illogical response of, “hey what’s up?” I say illogical, because if someone asks you how it’s going, the logical answer would be to tell them how it’s going, but we don’t. We answer the question with a slight variation of the same question. In no way does this make sense, but we all accept it. And we accept it because, frankly, we don’t give a shit how it’s going. We’re just asking because social norms tell us it’s the polite, human thing to do, even if it makes no sense and we genuinely don’t care what the answer is. It would be refreshing to see some complete stranger catch someone off guard and be like “oh, horrible, I just had an abortion this weekend, I was only in the first trimester so I didn’t think I’d have this strong of an emotional reaction, but I’m an absolute wreck right now, thank you for asking. How’s everything with you.” Not only would I pay to see that happen for comedic purposes, but I think if a few people answered the “how’s it going” question honestly once in a while, it might spark a change in society. No one wants to know the details of a stranger or loose acquaintance's life, yet we continue to ask on a regular basis. I think actually getting the answers would shock some people and stop this practice, which would benefit me greatly.
For one thing, I’d no longer feel like a social pariah when I borderline snub someone that I don’t really know. I won’t full out completely ignore someone if they initiate communication, if someone says hello as we pass by it’s not like I turn my head the other way. I have a go-to move in those situations, a simple nod of the head down ward, and I mouth the word “hey.” Note that I said mouth…I don’t actually say it; I just move my lips in the same manner that you would if you were to actually say “hey” (I’m completely serious). I will snub you if you don’t initiate the pleasantries. I’ll never be the first to exchange a greeting or salutation with some complete stranger walking through the halls, if you’re not going to make the effort, then I’m not going to make the effort, which actually makes me happy.
Which gets me back to the guy on the elevator, as I was realizing that this was the future me (I actually age pretty well apparently, aside from the Rockport shoes, I’ll never wear a pair of Rockport’s), I began to like the guy, until I realized how illogical that was in itself…If I like the guy, a complete stranger, then he’s no longer future me, because there is no way in hell that future me, the old curmudgeon with Rockport’s, would come to like a complete stranger during a short elevator ride. No, I can’t possibly like the guy (and if I’m being honest, what’s to like? It’s not like we had anything in common, he’s old. What would we talk about? Metamucil and shoes that provide good support? AARP benefits?), it just wouldn’t make sense.
If anything what I felt was a begrudging sense of respect for the way this guy goes about life. This might seem odd if you just read this entire, multiple page, ode to being anti-social. But, if you feel that way, then you genuinely missed the point of this entry, because I’m not anti-social. I have a tight nit group of friends, and if I know you, and feel comfortable around you, it’s about all you can do to get me to shut up. I have an opinion on anything and everything, I enjoy debating, and if you get a few drinks in me, look out, I’ll ramble on about everything from the intricacies of Mario Kart, to the meaning of life. So what I’m advocating here today is not anti-social tendencies, and cutting yourself off from others. I’m just pleading for all the nonsense of forcing myself to be social towards people who I have no real desire to get to know, and won’t possibly need later in life, that’s all. If that makes me and that old man in the elevator, asses, it makes us asses.
And that’s all I’ve really got to say about that.