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Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 2: The Olive Garden and Video Game Store

I broke a rule of mine today; I went to the Olive Garden by myself. To know the rule you should read this entry.

My goal at The Olive Garden was to try and sustain eye contact with the waitress when I ordered. It was a simple goal, but a multitude of obstacles got in the way.

As I drove there I was going to take along a small notepad to take notes. When I sat down and got my drink I realized I had left it in the car, and because my mind was thinking of the notepad I was preoccupied and made no eye contact when I ordered my Cherry Coke and manicotti. In fact, my eyes had the natural reflex to look away as she looked my way.

I ran to the car to get my notepad and when I returned I saw a look, a look of dismay as if to say something was wrong. I am hyper-sensitive to that type of look and I was fearful.

In my presentations I use the Olive Garden as an example. I have a saying that states, "whatever happened first always has to happen" thus meaning whatever I ordered, or was ordered for me, the first time I go to a restaurant I will always get that. Manicotti was ordered for me when I was five and it has been the only thing I have ordered since. I joke that Olive Garden's name in my mind might as well be Manicottiville because to me it is the only thing they have besides the great salad and amazing bread sticks.

Last week at a presentation some people asked me what I would do if the Olive Garden told me they were out of Manicotti. I stated I would drive across town and go to another one because it has to be ordered.

The look of dismay was frightening. I had no idea what, but as I sat down in my booth I heard the grim news, "Um, sir, we just got new menus and we no longer carry Manicotti".

Heart-broken is the only way to describe my emotions. I was there to carry out my experiment, and instead I get dealt this extreme blow. Before you say that there are more important things in life you should know that I have an associative memory system. Manicotti is more than Manicotti. It represents the time my grandma and aunt came in from Gordon, Nebraska when I was nine years old and I ate five bread sticks that day (I was quite proud of myself). Manicotti is wrapped up in so many memories, like my first "official" date with Emily (read my book Finding Kansas for that story) and it also is going to the Rumble in Fort Wayne race with my mom. Each time I ate Manicotti those memories would be refreshed, but now, they will lie stagnant. How could you do this to me Olive Garden? Bring it back!

My disappointment aside I decided to stay because I had no choice of other places to get Manicotti. It is gone, and if I weren't doing this experiment I probably would have stood up and left silently, but I have a job to do.

The menu was returned and I struggled. I had no idea what any of those Italian sauce names were, or what I would like. I decided to go with something the waitress said was like Manicotti.

While I waited for my bread sticks and salad I watched the family that was right across from me. I was amazed and astounded at how much eye contact they made with each other. It wasn't short spurts like I give, but this was constant unabated eye contact. Furthermore, they showed no signs of discomfort. I have never looked at eyes for more than a few seconds and I could not believe that other people just sustain it like it is nothing. I wanted to stand up, walk the few feet it was to their table, and ask them, "Excuse me, how exactly do you do that?" I hope by day 30 of this experiment I can get close to what they did.

If removing Manicotti from my life wasn't bad enough the waitress brought out the lasagna before the salad and bread sticks (I have a distinct order of how I eat food.) and I was simply livid. She apologized and as she walked off I thought about complaining to the manager, but then it struck me that I still had not even looked at my waitress. The reflex to avoid eye contact with waiters or waitresses is so strong I didn't even know I had done it.

Avoiding eye contact for me must be like making eye contact for others, such as the family that was across from me. Because the order was messed up I realized this revelation so I wasn't as mad, but when I got done with my food I was at the mercy of my waitress to ask me if I was done because I didn't know one physical attribute about her.

She came, got my food, and took another 10 minutes for the ticket and I was starting to get irritated, but I kept telling myself that this is all for the experiment. Everything happens for a reason and perhaps someone out there may relate to this, or perhaps understand their son or daughter a little bit more so that calmed me down and I did not cause a scene, although secretly I wanted to because I have never done so.

I left The Olive Garden and went to the GameStop I used to work at (see book for that story as well). I wanted to judge how dealing with a sales clerk would be with the sunglasses on, but just like the 7-11 yesterday the clerks were all preoccupied.

There was one big difference though that I did notice and that was confidence. I had a "buy 2 get 1 free" coupon and I had found four games I wanted. I had done this in the past when I find four items I want I would take them up and the cheapest item would be the free one. This time though I stated I wanted to buy the three most expensive items and buy the cheapest separate. I felt so confident in saying this whereas before I would simply pay the extra money because spending more was easier than speaking up.

I tried to make eye contact with the employee, but he was having all sorts of issues with the computer and for once I noticed the difference in eye contact. The roles were reversed, I was the one making eye contact and he was not and it was weird because I felt offended in a way. Perhaps offended isn't the right word, but my view of the situation was different. Perhaps this is the sensation I have given other people by my lack of eye contact.

So that was my day. I don't think I am headed back out today, but tomorrow things will start to get really interesting. I will be headed to the office in the morning, and then will duplicate my trip to Taco Bell and then I will be headed to Indianapolis to flag the USAC Quarter Midget Battle At The Brickyard race. I can't wait for that event and I can't wait to bring it to you and all the excitement of the challenges of eye contact.

12 comments:

  1. In the past year or two, I have noticed that I have started to learn to use eye contact appropriately in small amounts in certain circumstances. Specifically, I have found that if I initiate eye contact, that will get someone's attention, whereas if I avoid eye contact, the person will ignore me. This is useful sometimes.

    I also noticed many years ago that I can hold eye contact much longer than usual with infants and with animals. I have no idea why. Have you ever noticed something similar?

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  2. Impressed that you stayed at Olive Garden, Aaron. Did you like the lasagna?

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  3. The lasagna was the blandest thing I have ever ate. It would have been hard to get a positive response out of me due to the disappointment, but even still it wasn't that tasty.

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  4. I used to look my cat in the eyes for hours wondering what he was thinking about and if he ever had any thoughts beside "feed me feed me..." As for infants I still have the reflex of looking away from their eyes.

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  5. I couldn't imagine you have so many problems with eye contact.
    This helps me understand my kids a lot, and understand why do they look to other places when I try to make eye contact with them for a long time.
    They are improving, but now I'm starting to feel what they feel, by reading your words.
    Bless you Aaron!
    Sending lots of positive thoughts your way!
    Keep us posted!

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  6. Due to a blogspot glitch I lost about 5 comments, so Iam manually retyping them:

    Margarids said:
    I couldn't imagine you have so many problems with eye contact.
    This helps me understand my kids a lot, and understand why do they look to other places when I try to make eye contact with them for a long time.
    They are improving, but now I'm starting to feel what they feel, by reading your words.
    Bless you Aaron!
    Sending lots of positive thoughts your way!
    Keep us posted!

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  7. I used to look in the eyes of my cats fo hours on end. I would become fixated on them, but I would also start to think about trying to figure out what they were thinking.

    As for infants, I still have the reflex to look away without even thinking about it.

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  8. I miss the manicotti too!

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  9. I have sent in 6 different requests to the Corp Olive Garden via on line asking them to bring back the Manicotti for you, Aaron. Perhaps your blog freinds will do the same.

    I am so sorry that your first attempt at eating at Olive Garden went so badly. When they bring the Manicotti back on the menu, I hope you attempt this again so that the experience does not leave "A bad taste in your mouth". Pun intended. (That was a joke :))

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  10. Awww. I wanted to try it!

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  11. Making consistent eye contact is a hard thing for a lot of people with autism. But, I can imagine it's doubly hard for you with the social anxiety that you may still be having. That said, if your social confidence improve, then a more sustained eye contact should follow. And that said of what I just said, even if you can improve your eye contact for like a few seconds each time in a different social situation, that is progress!

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