Introverted: Hell Really IS Other People
You know I’ve had a rough day if I’m agreeing with a Frenchman. Just kidding, Frenchies. Your culture gave us great kissing AND great meat. Seriously, have you guys had Chateaubriand? It’s steak that practically melts in your mouth….Hm? What was I saying?
All joking aside, I am an introvert. Not in that quirky ‘I just like my space’ kind of way. I really have trouble dealing with people in the real world… I blame the Internet. 😉 Just kidding, Internet. Your culture gave us the best… and worst… and waaaaay too much stuff that shouldn’t be mentioned in polite company… or blogs. No, I’m the kind of introvert that breaks down with a panic attack from simple interactions if I haven’t had the opportunity to warm up to the idea and mentally prepare myself to be around other people. My wife surprised me one day with a conference call to my cover artist (great guy, very talented). I wasn’t expecting this and this was my first call with him, so naturally, I had a full blown panic attack. That’s the kind of introvert I am.
I used to make excuses about not wanting to go out or why I couldn’t do whatever it was people wanted me to do. Why go out when inside was devoid of other people?
Because sometimes, I have to.
Perhaps the worst thing in the world for me? Grocery shopping. It’s the one chore that I really can’t escape from. Food has to come into my house and the days of grocery stores delivering food seem to be gone. So I have to journey into The Outside.
The Outside World
I get into my car, swallow my fear, and drive to the store. I can normally tell what kind of day it’s going to be based on the drive there. The parking lot is especially bad. Sure, it’s my fault for going to the store on a Sunday afternoon, but the way people drive in parking lots is insane. Once I find a spot to park, I do a quick calculation to figure out about how many people I’m going to run into inside (Distance from door * Time to find a spot). The car is my last refuge before heading out to do battle.
The shopping cart. The chariot of the grocery warrior. Behind this mighty aluminum chassis, I’ll make my way through the throng and hopefully acquire the supplies I’ll need to keep me out of this cesspool for at least another week.
I generally have a list and a very systematic approach to shopping. I want to be in and out with the least amount people in my personal space.
Of course, my best laid plans mean nothing once I make my way into the first aisle. It starts out simple enough, more than one or two other people in the aisle. And those people? They drive carts worse than they drive cars. It was bad enough in the parking lot when I almost got hit six times trying to find a parking spot, but now I don’t have a horn or the courage to use rude gestures. I also don’t like to speak up to ask people to move out of my way. So when six people are standing around the soup mixes and a clerk is restocking shelves, I’m forced to reroute around this mess and wait for a lull in customer flow before I can get the items I need in that aisle.
By now, I’m really rattled. But then comes the next annoyance. Kids.
Yes, I’m a parent and sure, the first couple of kids swarming around the store like wildebeests is almost cute. Almost. But then it happens more… and more. Most of the lanes are congested like a rush hour expressway thanks to the adults, but now kids are running loose everywhere making it even more difficult to get around. It doesn’t matter if someone’s kids are running wild through the store like a bunch of coked-out ferrets, if I run one over with my cart, that’s sure to lead to a confrontation I don’t want.
For those of you normal folk, this type of annoyance is best expressed if we go back to the crowded expressway metaphor. Have you ever been stuck in rush hour traffic after a hard day at work, barely creeping along, wanting nothing more to be back home relaxing? It’s bad enough, but then you get a couple of motorcycles that don’t feel like waiting it out, so they start using the gaps between cars as a way to get through everything. You get mad and think about opening your door on them when they come through, but you don’t want to risk a lawsuit. Well, kids are like motorcycles– Loud and obnoxious when not properly controlled.
After fighting my way through the deadly pygmy swarms, I’m shaking. Physically shaking.
If it’s been an especially bad day, I’ll make my way to Sanctuary. What is Sanctuary? Pet food aisle. No one is ever there (heck, I don’t even buy my pet food at the grocery store), at least not for long. So if you’ve ever wandered through a busy grocery store and seen a guy curled into a ball on the floor of the pet food aisle, that’s me… or at least someone like me. It’s really the only place in the store where I can begin to feel normal. The only other place that comes close is the greeting card aisle—provided that there’s no major holidays near the shopping trip date.
Once I’ve been to Sanctuary, it’s only a matter of seconds before I’m back on edge and ready to run screaming from the store.
It’s right about then that I’m hit with the third vexation. The elderly. At their stage of life, they just don’t give an eff, flying or otherwise. Sure their generation took out the Nazis, but when they deliberately cut me off as I’m trying to pass a mother with four kids blocking most of the yogurt display… Well, it makes me want to write to my senator and tell him to legalize mandatory euthanasia. A bit harsh I know, but by this stage of my shopping trip, I’m losing my calm quicker and quicker. In fact, I’m almost stressed enough to mutter an annoyed “excuse me!” as I pass by these people. Did I mention that I have trouble with people?
So you would think that after all of this, I’d be ready to check out and GTFO. Well, you’d be wrong. The checkout lines are awful. If I have 15 items or less, I get stuck behind the person that starts out with 20 items, but then their shopping partner shows up with 15 more items just before they finish checking out. If I’m in a regular lane, well, then I get the new cashier, the only cashier that doesn’t have a bagger, or the cashier that just wants to chat.
This is a task I have to really concentrate on. First I collect myself while placing all the items on the belt. It’s like a game of real world tetris. These boxes get stacked like this, these like items have to be arranged just so… That actually calms me. I know, I’m weird. I’m also a gamer, so game stuff helps me soothe my brain. But now I have to face the cashier. It’s not their fault. I know this deep down. That’s why I’m always bright and cheerful to them. I’ve worked retail, I know how this goes. But therein lies another problem. I’ve worked retail and this person acts like I don’t know that I need my shopper card. You’d think after they saw that my shopper card says “employee” on it that they’d understand, but no. Before you ask, it’s the employee card I got from a company owned by this grocery store back in 2003 when I started working for them. It’s seen really rough times, but it’s still able to be used, so I use it. In addition to that, I have to make small talk with a stranger who won’t remember me the next time I come through their line, if they still work there by then (I have a tendency not to repeat cashiers very often. Familiarity breeds contempt or something… it actually just makes me really uncomfortable.).
Once I finish checking out, I weave my way carefully through the check-out crowd (the ones that think it’s swell to stand at the end of the register and chat with each other about their shopping trip or something.), and out into sweet, sweet freedom. Fresh air has never smelled as good as after an hour or longer trip to the store as an introvert. Of course, there’s still another annoyance.
Parking lot predators. They stalk you on your way back to your car, hoping to score a good parking spot without having to traverse the parking lot vortex of doom. If they determine that your spot meets their needs, they’ll park and stare at you while you unload your cart into the back of your car. WHY CAN’T YOU PEOPLE LEAVE ME ALONE?! By this point all I really want is to be able to climb into my car and sob uncontrollably for the next ten minutes so I can deal with the drive back home, but noooo. No, now I have to deal with this jerk mean-mugging me for a friggin’ parking space! Why? Seriously, why? You can’t just go three spaces up and park there? Nope, you don’t even want to look any further than my spot because it’s easier to just wait me out. If it wasn’t for my crippling issues, I’d be tempted to unload my stuff, lock my car and go back into the store. Or get into my car, start it and finish listening to my audiobook.
But I can’t. Nope. I have to quickly throw my groceries into the back of my car and race off to the only place these people can’t bother me anymore. Home. When I get there, I collapse onto my couch, shaking and trying not to vomit.
That’s the kind of introvert I am. MY hell is other people.