There are plenty of horrifying situations for a socially awkward person out there (I've mentioned them before), but most of these situations can be avoided. I can cut my own hair, or avoid massages, or never leave my house, and then everything will be fine.
But some places, as soon as you enter them, are awkward as all hell. These places are nightmares for the socially awkward human.
#4. Dog Parks
Regular readers of this column may recall that I recently ran into some trouble trying to rescue a dog (because Los Angeles is ridiculous). Since that column, and thanks to the West L.A. Animal Shelter, I'm happy to say that I've found my lifetime adventure companion in Jackson President O'Brien, the most feared Jack-Weenie in the continental United States.
Don't let his aggressive cuteness fool you; he was at the shelter because he burned down the houses of his last two owners.
He's a good boy, and I know that every idiot always brags about how smart their dog is, and I'd hate to be one of those morons, but I'll just say that Jackson typed up this entire column while I dictated it to him, so draw your own conclusions.
Jackson the Puppy
His Photoshop skills are less than spectacular, but we're working with a trainer.
Anyway, dog parks.
I didn't know what I was getting into when I started showing up at the dog park. All I wanted was a place where I could take Jackson off his leash, a place with a wide open space where he and I could race each other and do wind sprints in the morning.
I had not anticipated dog park culture being a thing. See, when a new dog shows up, every member of the pre-existing dog gang will immediately swarm to sniff, investigate and meet the new member. It turns out owners of the dogs do the exact same thing with new owners.
"Hi, hey, hi, hello! Are you new? You smell new! Do you love this park we love this park! I love you. Hello!"
My very first day at the park, I was bombarded by a team of dog owners who wanted to meet and evaluate me. Dog Park People are perfectly nice, but there's just something immediately personal about them that makes me uneasy. They decide that, by virtue of the fact that you have a dog and brought it to a park, you're already part of the same special fraternity. They're instantly familiar, and they want to know everything about your dog and tell you everything about their dogs. They want to ask lots of questions, which is terrible, because questions are scary.
Why Awkward People Hate It
These all sound very innocent, but for an awkward guy, few things are as intimidating as being interrogated on all sides by a bunch of grinning strangers who are already at a comfort level that you're not OK with. I came to a dog park to play dog-cops and robbers with my dog, not to get super familiar with a bunch of people. People are weird.
Also, as soon as you enter a new place where there's clearly an established culture, like a dog park, you know right off the bat that you run the risk of doing something that breaks the code of this new social order. I don't even know if there is a code, but I assume there's one, and I assume that I'll find some humiliating way to break it.
"I'm sorry that bad man tricked you into thinking he threw a ball when he really didn't. He won't be allowed back here, I promise."
All I can do is take solace in the fact that everything's fine, because Jackson's just as socially awkward as I am. He's also only there to hang out with me. Dogs will approach him and say "Bark" and he'll just be like "Oh, uh, yes, bark, and so forth, I'm- We're on the same page, there. Did you need something?" and it's clear that he doesn't know what to do with his paws.
We're such a good team.
#3. Apple Stores
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm shockingly inept at technology despite being a 20-something in the present who works for the Internet. My phone doesn't give me my email, my computer speakers are from a company that hasn't existed in about 15 years (and they're not cool and retro, they're just shitty) and words like "router" scare and confuse me. It's embarrassing.
"You want to install a doorbell? I don't know. Do I need a router? Sounds expensive ...
But I decided to stumble into whatever year this is and buy an iPad 3. I'd never been to an Apple Store before, and frankly I knew very little about the company. I know people have made jokes about it in the past, about how it's futuristic and oddly cultlike, but I never really understood them because I don't pay enough attention to, like, things in the world. I'd just always hear jokes like "Steve Jobs this" or "Apple that" and I'd laugh along, because "Ah, yes, I'm familiar with some of those words." I was caught completely off guard by how absolutely terrifying an Apple Store can be.
I walked in and asked the first woman I saw for her finest iPad machine. She asked me a few questions (what color, how many gigs or ... RAM, or whatever it is that iPads hold a lot of. Pokemen?) while typing on her iPhone the whole time. She was still asking me questions when another Apple employee I'd never seen before (having received messages via the first employee's iPhone) appeared out of nowhere and said "Congratulations, Daniel, here is your iPad."
"While you were talking, I figured out what you really wanted and prepared it for you."
Then the first employee took my credit card and just, like, showed it to her phone, and suddenly I'd paid for the iPad. No cash register, no receipt. I was then taken to an additional employee who was there to help me set up my iPad in a strange Apple ritual.
First, he took a small needle and made a thin cut in the wrapper of the iPad box and instructed me to remove the wrapper. Then he took out the iPad and instructed me to "Peel the protective plastic off of the iPad screen by peeling down and back." And then just more orders and commands after that. "Press this button. Click next. Insert this information." I found myself asking stupid questions that I'd otherwise never ask. As technologically backward as I am, I know how to turn on a new piece of equipment, I know how to read an instruction manual and I know how to Google any answers I can't figure out on my own. But because this guy had me convinced that I needed to turn on and set up my iPad with and only with his supervision, I was reduced to a child, asking questions like "How does my iPad know where I am all the time?" and "Wait, this isn't also a phone, right?"
Because I already have a phone, thank you.
It was so bizarrely ritualistic that I almost forgot that all I was doing was turning on a fucking computer.
That's how Apple Stores work, by the way. Right from jump street, they operate differently from every other store: There's no cash registers, employees are communicating with the Apple products they're all armed with in accordance with store policy, and weird training rituals and constant Apple classes are happening in the store. Everything about the Apple Store is designed to convince you you're somewhere new with different rules and customs.
Why Awkward People Hate It
Being awkward is about feeling alienated, and ultra-alienation is inevitable when every Apple employee is part of a weird hive mind.
Also, new things are terrifying for an awkward person. New things are poisonous. I don't want someone who already knows my name handing me a product before I ask him for it; I want to quietly shove items into my shopping cart in a way that attracts as little attention as possible. And I hate the idea of being in a place that doesn't operate under the same rules as my usual places.
Which is why I also can't stand ...