“My god, you have the weirdest walk ever,” a co-worker remarked the other day as a group of us headed outside for a cigarette break. He and another colleague tried to imitate it: sort of like a shuffling Frankenstein’s monster, but with the feet always crossing over themselves, on the verge of tripping.
“I have a joint disorder,” I mumbled. Since my speaking style is limited to two settings—yelling and slurring, or mumbling and trailing off at the end of my sentences—I had to repeat myself.
“I said I have a joinorder!”
“I. Have. A. Joint. Disorder. That’s whyIwalkfunn …” I trailed off again.
There was a beat.
“Well, thanks for making me look like an asshole,” my wounded co-worker replied, as if I had been the one mocking his gait.
The thing is, it wasn’t just my walk, or my voice. (I used to get comparisons to that Will Ferrell Saturday Night Live character who couldn’t stop yelling. “I’M SORRY!” he would scream during a segment. “I SUFFER FROM VOICE IMMODULATION! IT’S A MEDICAL CONDITION!”)
It was everything. Once, when my boyfriend asked my sister about some of my stranger habits—why I didn’t shower very often, for instance, or couldn’t clean my room—she explained that I had “problems recognizing ‘human cues.’” Like I was an alien from another planet. Or was somewhere on the autism spectrum.
As a writer, you tend to be pegged as a “creative,” which means your eccentricities are given more leeway than in normal society. So what if I didn’t want to sit in my chair at work, but rather perch on it like a bird or a tiny Velociraptor, pecking at the keys? At least I got my stories in on time. (Except for those days when even my four alarm clocks failed to wake me up, and I’d run to work half-dressed in what I was wearing the day before.)
Yes, literally half-dressed. I’ve been known to show up to an office wearing only a shirt and shoes, positive that I could pass for wearing one of those trendy dress-shirts. Those occasions were referred to as “Drew forgot to put on pants again” days, and treated like a bimonthly holiday. Then there was the time when I wore a dress backward and inside-out all day, until I happened to see myself in a mirror around 5 p.m.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?” I asked the women I worked with.
“We thought it was a new style you were trying to make happen,” they shrugged.
The list goes on: I can’t make eye contact. I eat my food in a way that has made friends sick. I punch people when I am drunk—to show affection. My face, at rest, apparently looks so miserable that I am constantly asked “What’s wrong?” or “Are you tired/hungry?” When I am forced to smile, it looks like the rictus grimace of an insane person. I don’t have many friends, since I can never remember people’s faces or names, no matter how many times we’ve met. I especially don’t have a lot of girlfriends, since I am convinced all women are simultaneously judging me for my sloppiness and incredibly jealous of my stellar looks/personality.
Careerwise, this method of living has worked with surprisingly little impact for several years. In spite of being a tattooed Eliza Doolittle (but with worse posture), I’ve somehow managed to hold down several jobs.
But I’ve now run into a problem: in my new position, I have to start mingling with the upper-crust of Manhattan society to find stories. Of the few times I’ve gone to galas and other nice events, I’ve made better friends with the catering staff (free food!) than with the people I’m supposed to be covering. I don’t understand on a basic level how strangers just go up and start talking to one another. At the age of 27, my lack of understanding “human cues” has finally become a real issue.