Another story, or: Why I don't bother lying to ye ballroom instructor anymore:

I do not remember exactly what was going on, but I was having A Day. I was sick or in pain and hadn't had one or more of the normal meals, I was probably behind on the dishes or the laundry or something, and possibly I hadn't slept. I was definitely staring down the barrel of a five-hour shift running a theater. I do rather like that job, but it involves a lot of running around setting things up and standing at a lectern selling tickets, so I was not looking forward to it just then.

I'm not fond of passing out, so I picked up something that could be mistaken for food if you didn't look at it too closely, and hid in the studio office to eat it. I didn't expect to find anyone there, but in fact ye ballroom instructor had had the same bright idea. He's not normally in on weekends unless he's in the show or running it, but apparently he wanted to see that one, and decided to get some work done while he was there.

"How are you?" he asks.

He asks that every time he sees me. You are all looking quizzically at the screen right now, wondering why I've even noticed this, much less why I've mentioned it. Of course he asks that, you idiot. That's what you do when you greet someone. Yes, I know. This is exactly why the question made me grind to a halt, on this particular terrible day. Because sometimes "How are you?" means 'I am curious about how your existence progresses when I am not looking right at you and would welcome a 1-2 sentence summary', and sometimes it means, 'I recognize you are a hominid that I am on friendly terms with and see on a recurring basis.' And I could not, at that moment, figure out which one it was.

When I'm really feeling crap, I have to devote a surprisingly large chunk of my brain to not crying or throwing up or limping or whatever. I doubt most people notice -- a 20 IQ point hit to 'genius' still comes out as 'smarter than the average bear' -- but I notice, because the first thing I have to sacrifice to keep functioning is the borderline-prescient ability to read moods and microexpressions in real time.

[You know how when there's a kabillion things moving on the screen in your FPS, the game starts dropping the frame rate to keep up with the rendering? It's like that. It still works, for a certain value of 'work', but if it gets too bad, your aim goes all to shit.]

On the one hand, my default is to lie to people and tell them I'm fine. Most people would be nice if they knew, but by that point I don't have the spoons to explain how to be helpful, so I just avoid the conversation. On the other hand, I suddenly really wanted to tell him. It's an unusual impulse for me. It means I for some reason want sympathy from that specific person. It's also a dangerous impulse, because the degree to which I want sympathy from someone has surprisingly little bearing on how likely they are to give it to me. Read the above about how all my social skills evaporate when I'm cranky and hurting, and you probably understand why this is one of those things I automatically stifle until I can think it through properly.

On the gripping hand, lying like a cheap rug is a poor way to respond to someone who seems to be going to a lot of effort to be WYSIWYG at you. Especially if it came on all sudden-like. That usually means they had to give themselves a push to get started. Big push or small push, it's still flattering.

I ground to a halt for a moment and finally defaulted to, "Are you looking for the polite answer or the real one?" It's not the first time I've asked someone that; I don't even particularly care if their answer is a lie, I just want some data to make a decision on. If they say 'totally real' even when they don't mean it, then it is their own goddamn fault they have to sit through yet another story about a rat.

For some reason, this broke ye ballroom instructor's ability to make sentences. He got out about six words, none of which went together in any way. Sputtering was not technically an answer,  but it did tell me he did not think that was a question. I felt terrible for implying that his efforts to be nice might be disingenuous and changed the subject before I kicked myself in the uvula any harder.

The night did not get more pleasant as it progressed. The staffer running the show was very new, and as this happened before my previously-posted anecdote, we didn't yet know that none of them had had any useful training whatsoever. House staff was going bats because we didn't know what we were supposed to be doing, and the staffer was going bats because she didn't know what to tell us. There was a huge crowd -- good -- and the girl tending bar was on her second shift ever -- less good -- and she was getting swamped. so I jumped in to help her.

By intermission, I was on the cusp of breaking down. I was tired and I didn't feel great and clearly I could not go home yet. I stood in an inconspicuous corner and closed my eyes for just a second. I didn't think anyone was watching, inasmuch as I was not handing out booze just then, but when I opened my eyes again ye ballroom instructor was staring dead-on at me from the customer side of the counter. I kind of went oh shit, and gave him my best no, it's okay, I'm working, give me a sec apologetic look.

He jumped, as if I'd caught him at something, and immediately started waving his hands, no no, don't.

Huh, went the part of my brain responsible for letting me know when social interactions have veered off-script. The usual responses to that are 1) immediately pestering me to explain what's amiss and trying to coddle me, or 2) sympathetically pretending not to notice for a second while I reset my customer service face, because that's the way you are supposed to present yourself while working, and they don't want to hold the slip-up against me.

This was clearly not any kind of premeditated plan; no no, don't was just his knee-jerk reaction to someone who was obviously running low on reserves trying to use the last of them to put on their game face for his benefit. There weren't even any words involved. It is not a common reaction, and to be frank, it demonstrates a very basic comprehension of how much that costs that I get so rarely I have stopped expecting people to be capable of it.

I bought him his drink. He seemed puzzled by this. That's fine. I decided a long time ago that people do not need to understand what prompted me to be nice. Most of them not only don't care about the full explanation, they actively don't want it -- I've started in a few times, only for them to look increasingly alarmed when they realize I actually think about shit like this. They can assume I'm acting on orders beamed down from the mothership for all I care. As long as I've correctly guessed that the gesture I'm making will be taken as kindness, and that it will make their day slightly better, then I'm good, we're done. There are worse reputations to have than, 'that one girl who does nice things at irregular intervals, for no apparent reason.'

I told him it was because "you don't drive me crazy," and left it at that. But I also learned that it was not worth it to try and convince him I was okay when I wasn't. Mostly because it didn't work very well, but also because if I kept giving out vibes like I was trying to hide it, he was probably going to get awkward when he couldn't stop noticing it anyway.

Comments