Thursday, 26 April 2012

What do you do?

My local coffee shop is filled with the same people every morning.  They all seem to know each other's names.  Despite the fact that I go there every morning, no one knows mine.  I'm happy with this arrangement, but sometimes, like this morning when the barista's off-sider raised an arm to the woman behind me and called out, "Where've you been? We've missed you!" it bothers me. 

When I went in this morning, I was returning from a three week absence. The reason for my absence was partly a school holiday issue (I usually pick up my coffee after dropping my kids at school) and partly a 'too much information has been imparted now I must run away' sort of issue.

Like most people, I am a bit autistic about my morning coffee routine.  I've been getting the same coffee from the same coffee shop, at the same time, every morning for about 10 years.  The coffee shop has changed hands in the last year.

The previous owner was a quietly discomfited man who made consistently great coffee.  His off-sider was a chatty middle-aged woman who dressed slightly too young for her age and talked too much if you made eye contact.  As I am an expert at avoiding eye contact, it took them about five years to recognise me as "Small Skim Flat White No Sugar."  We were all happy with that level of intimacy.  Apart from a few awkward times when the barista attempted to challenge himself and move out of his comfort zone (and mine) by engaging in some 'witty chit-chat while I froth the milk' banter, they never asked me what my name was or what I did for a living.  I was supremely happy with that. 

Then about a year ago, they were body snatched.  In their place stood two fit younger men, who called women, 'darling.'   The switch happened over a school holiday period so again, I hadn't been there for a week or two. I made my way to the door like a homing pigeon and it wasn't until I was inside that my autism alarm bells began ringing. Something was different. I didn't like it.  Things had changed.

Change not good. Me like routine.

Where before there were brown chairs and tables and plain brown walls, now there were bright orange "poofs" (the seating kind, not the human kind) and a very busy and elaborate coffee bean pattern stencilled over the lower half of the walls.

My instinct was to back out quickly before anyone noticed me and just run. Change not good. Run, run away! But the off-sider caught my eye.
The eye contact was intense: it was like being hypnotised and I stepped forward to the counter.
  "What can I get you?" He smiled at me, as though he really liked me personally. Some people can do that. I find it disconcerting; but only because I'm such a sucker for it.

I placed my order, they were very friendly. The coffee was good.  They seemed to like me personally. My life went back to normal. I kept going there every morning.  I continued to announce myself as Small Skim Flat White No Sugar when I approached the bench.  I tried not to think about the fact that they seemed to know everyone else by their coffee name and not me.

 So recently, three weeks ago, when the off-sider looked at me and said, "Small skim flat white, no sugar, right?"
It seemed we'd made the required breakthrough. I no longer had to say my order, but neither did I have to tell them my name. I had become, once again, Small Skim Flat White No Sugar.

But before I could move away from the counter to take up my neutral 'waiting' position, the off-sider took  in my casual attire and said to me,
  "Not working today?" 
And then I made a fatal mistake. (I think it was his hypnotising friendly-face eyes.)
  "I work from home." Idiot!
  "Oh! What do you do?"
   What do I do? I ask myself the same question every day.

The truth is, it's a bit of everything. But not one thing can really define it. It's complex and can be embarrassing. For instance, sometimes I write real estate marketing copy. That's not something you want to tell people.  They'll laugh at you and go, "Oh, I know: Renovators Delight!" And really have a great old time jollying it up and spouting all the real estate cliches at you. Cue: fits of 'I can't believe how funny I am being!' laughter while they go on about how stupid real estate copy is. I get it. We all know it's dumb.  Call me hypersensitive but it makes me feel like a hack. I'd rather not tell people about it.

(For the record, I have tried to single-handedly raise the tone of real estate writing and make it more factual and elegant, but it was at my own peril. I didn't get work for a few months.  As a test I went back to  "Renovator's Delight!" and "Stunning Contemporary Haven!" and like magic the phone started ringing again.)

Other times I make videos for Kidspot. They're mostly craft videos. So that makes me sound like a weirdo who fusses around with glitter and toilet rolls all day, (which some days is an accurate description - see video below) Sometimes I work with my sister, a comedian. We sit around and try to write funny songs (because I used to be a musician and that's a whole other story.)  Sometimes we just sit around and spout what we call "edible garbage" (ideas that are just ideas and may be complete lunacy but you've got to say them out loud just in case they aren't)   It's all part of the process. But it doesn't seem like a job. I tour with her as well, but it's also difficult to describe how I fit in: musical stooge would be the best descriptor. (see video below)

Sometimes I try to write my own stuff.  I've had two books published and that's how I'd like to define myself so I said,
  "I'm a writer." 
That piqued his interest. I began to feel a rising panic. But then I was saved by the barista sliding my coffee across the counter in a "you're done" gesture. I took it and ran but as I did, the off-sider called after me:
  "Next time you come in I'm going to have to ask you about what you write!"
It seemed like a threat.

I didn't go back for three weeks. 

After three weeks I was half hoping he'd forget but some small part of me was looking forward to finally coming clean about what I write and who I am. (Who are you?)  A small part of me was hoping I might become part of the gang.  So as I entered, I braced myself for the inevitable imparting of personal information, I resigned myself to it.

Oh well, people want to get to know me, what can I do but oblige them? 

He raised his arm jubilantly.
  "Where've you been? We've missed you!" 
It took me a split second to realise he was talking to the woman behind me.

After she'd talked at length about what she'd been up to and had her order placed telepathically, he looked at me blankly, pen poised to write on the cup lid.

It seemed I had to remind him.

  "Small skim flat white, please." I said.
  "No sugar."

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