4 Fun Places That Are Terrifying for Awkward People
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
I had some extra cash from a pyramid scheme that Jackson came up with, so I decided to give myself a vacation, and I thought, "Hey, I've never been to Disney World as an adult. I bet it would be neat to see the Hall of Presidents and then get absolutely shitfaced."
Just like the Apple Store, Disney works very hard to convince you you're in a different world when you're there. When I arrived, the bus driver who picked me up at the airport handed me a single card and said, "This is your bus pass and hotel key. It also gets you into every park, and you swipe it when you want a meal or a snack, anywhere in the park. It is literally the only thing you will need to get around for the next three days." He hands it to me and it makes me forget that I already paid for all of those things in advance as part of some Disney package. I just think "Wow, what an impressive card. That's not like the other cards I own. This Disney sure is a special place."
That's Disney's whole game. They want you to follow rules that you wouldn't need to follow in the real world so they can trick you into forgetting that you're spending money. When I swipe a card at some stand run by a guy in a Mickey Mouse costume and he hands me a corn dog, I don't think of the money I'm spending, I think "Hey, magic, that's neat."
It's not just the fake money trick that Disney uses. If you walk down Main Street, you'll get the smell of candy being pumped into the air by one of the fresh candy shops. And the architecture is designed to keep the outside world out. In Disneyland, for example, there's not a single spot in the park where you can see outside buildings. It's also been designed to be to so large and mesmerizing that it's physically difficult to locate exits. Because Disney doesn't want you to leave.
Disney has us convinced we're in an enchanted fantasy world where the rules of real life don't apply.
Why Awkward People Hate It
Know how to make a socially awkward person want to kill himself? Stick him in an enchanted fantasy world where the social rules he's spent his whole life memorizing no longer apply and convince him there's no way out, and maybe surround him with a bunch of giant freaking mice while you're at it.
The Company Party
(I'm going to take a wild stab in the dark and guess that not only awkward but in fact all people have trouble with big work parties that involve alcohol. Just know that awkward people feel it harder. Also, I tried to think of an artful way of combining "awkward" and "hard" to punctuate that joke because they share the right amount of letters in the right places, but I only ended up with "awkhard," which is stupid. I'm sorry.)
Awkward people don't hate all parties. Everyone has friends (even awkward people), and everyone can cut loose and bond over the big game, or celebrate someone's birthday, or make funny jokes about one of those Amazon women from Kardashia, or whatever you do at parties.
There it was, folks. First, last and only joke I'll ever make about a Kardashian. Soak it up, I guess.
But company parties are a special kind of hell. You likely have plenty of friends at work, and you like partying with them, but there are also a lot of people at work that you'd call "Elevator Friends." These are people that you only really talk to if you happen to share an elevator randomly at work once in a while. We all have them. You see the same pseudo-stranger a few times a week, and you always share one to two minutes that will be filled with either small talk or silence.
For all my awkwardness, I can generally nail these relationships. I have four or five standard conversation bits stored in my head. They're all pleasant, and most of them have a joke. After I deliver the first sentence, there's very little room for the person I'm conversing with to steer me off topic, so I get to stick to the prepared script that luckily lasts exactly as long as it takes the elevator to get from my floor to the floor where I keep my bike. Ironically, people who leave these conversations can walk away thinking "Boy, that guy sure wasn't crazy; what an enjoyable few seconds we shared." I realize that my determined over-obsession with controlling idle chit-chat probably makes me seem like a robotic small-talking nightmare, but all of these conversations are fun and stress-free for everyone. I get results, dammit.
Pictured: Robotic Small-Talking Nightmare.
A company party is a place where Elevator Friends become real people, and they're drinking alcohol, and you're drinking alcohol, and this is terrible, because the robot only works for like two minutes and then he needs to recharge, and alcohol just makes him sweaty, aggressive and loud.
Why Awkward People Hate It
Here's the biggest problem with a company party: You're bound to spend more than two minutes with your Elevator Friends. And in those two minutes, it's probably going to become abundantly clear to your Elevator Friend that, even though you've been engaging in charming conversations a few times a week for three years, you don't actually know what they do at the company.
"Wait, you're an accountant? I've been telling people you were the sheriff. Like the office sheriff. Do we not- Is that not a thing?"
Alcohol can often make social situations more tolerable, but not for awkward folks, and not when surrounded by strangers and, holy shit, bosses. That's a brand new minefield, because you don't want your boss to see you at your drunkest, but you definitely aren't comfortable seeing him at his drunkest. The best thing to do is to make sure you're both constantly at the exact same level of drunk throughout the night, so no one ever has the edge on the other. Only then can you share either a pleasant night of mild tipsiness or the lifetime bond that comes from two people blacking out at the same time.
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked.com's senior writer (ladies) and is horrified that some of his Elevator Friends will read this and know the truth (you know who you are ).
For more from Dan, check out How to Talk to Women (According to the Internet) and 4 More Things You Love to Discuss that No One Cares About.