Friday, June 29, 2012

The Gas Station Inquizition

Since I moved last October I have quit going to the grocery store in the early mornings to pick up carrots for breakfast. What has replaced it has been the daily trip to a gas station to pick a protein bar. Nothing of any relevance has ever happened on these trips because the clerk who has always been there is a quiet one and he runs the store with an almost alarming effenciceny. So yes, nothing ever worth writing has ever happened up until my experience this morning.

This morning there was the same new clerk as yesterday. Yesterday he was on the phone, but today, as I checked out, he right away asked, "You look tired, do you work nights?"
To that I said, "No, just got up."
"Oh" he responded, "Where do you work then?" Whoa! Where do I work? My mind instantly went to DEFCON 1 as every ounce of mental processing went into analyzing what was going on. This has never happened and I was fully taken aback as to why this was being asked.

Several awkward seconds passed and I must have looked like I saw a ghost while also watching pigs flying during a complete solar eclipse. With no deviation in tone from the first time he asked the clerk once again asked, "Okay sir, what do you do?" I was now at a junction. I had to think about what to say and with each possibility I had to estimate what the response would be.

It's moments like this that Asperger Syndrome really shows in me. I may have looked somewhat confused on the outside but on the inside my emotions and thoughts were a contorted mess. What was going through my mind was this, "If I say Autism Ambassador he will have no idea what that means and if he doesn't know what autism is then this will be a much longer conversation than I have time for. But, I am an Autism Ambassador so isn't this the place for that? If I say public speaker then he will ask what it is I speak about and then I have the same problem as before. If I say blogger then we will once again have the same problem. So, what if I say writer?"

So that's what I did, I just flatly said I was a writer to which he said, "The internet is killing you, right?" Once again the response he gave me was nothing that I was expecting in my calculations so I once again had the shocked expression as if I just saw Elvis walk into a building. The thought game of DEFCON 1 once again began anew and I tried to piece together what he could have meant. I wanted to sound intelligent but at the same time the internet is not killing me as, well, you're reading this, right?

Maybe five seconds passed when I had had enough of being torn apart internally so I looked at him and went, "Huh?" to which he said, "Yeah, the internet! Who reads books anymore? They always say movies are made from books but who has read them? That and books on iPhone and the like." I felt it best to say nothing as my estimation skills on what the responses would be had been way off and if I said anything I'm sure another question would pop up and the last thing I wanted was another shot of adreniline to start my morning. Mercifully, he finally checked my items out and I rushed out of the store holding my breath as I prayed he would not ask another random question.

In these moments of random questions I feel at a loss. I so dearly wish I could just plow through the questions as if they're nothing, but my mind has to process and analyze EVERYTHING; what is the intention? What's the purpose? What do they want? Is something bad going to come from this? When I answer will there be a follow up? If so, how many questions can come from this? Am I taking too much time to answer? If so, what do I say? Is the answer I'm thinking of perfect? Do I need to answer with the path of least resistance?

Imagine having all those questions in your brain all at once. I think this is the time to point out that when I'm in Kansas (see my book, Finding Kansas or the glossary on the right hand column under the pages section) and I know the answer instantly this processing game is averted because the information is known instantly.

The end result of today's inquizition at the gas station has left me tired. It was such a slam to my system to wake up with such an anxiety provoking situation and that's the thing; to most people an idle conversation like that would be forgotten as soon as they got back into their car. For me though I am tired, a bit shaky, and fearing the next time a random conversation arises because, after all, will I say the right thing? How long will it last? Why is the person asking...


  1. I am so thankful that you write this blog. As I read your post this morning it gave me an "AH HA" moment into my son's reactions when we are out some place.He gets very nervous when he knows we will be in a situation where he will have to speak to a stranger (he does just fine with us, his parents). Placing an order at a restaurant I can see his anxiety go up and his relief when it is done. You help me to see inside my son's thoughts. I never realized so many things go off at once when he is in a new situation......Thank You!

  2. I have two teenage sons, both with Asperger's. As I read your blog today I can see the resemblance to many situations for our family. But something about random questions has made my wonder why my boys love to ask me very random questions. Many "what if" senarios are asked especially in the car. Can you shed any light on why they would love to ask such things but not be the one being questioned?

    1. I can identify too! I always ask my parents 'what if...' questions (I have Asperger Syndrome). It's exactly like Aaron says: I'm the one asking, I'm not the one having to process an answer. Also, the question is to be prepared for those 'what if...' situations, so I will have to do less prosessing if that type of situation would suddenly happen.
      To help explain this it might be good to point out what happened to Aaron when the sudden questioning happened. He started thinking about all the possible scenarios. In other words 'what if...' scenarios. Only, you can't ask the person who caused the scenario what the answers to those what-iff's are. You can ask your parents/friends in advance just in case though.

  3. Oh yes! My dad has heard questions that start with, "What if..." at least 1.5 million times. The difference is that when asking a question I am not processing the answer. If anything I am asking so I know what will happen if...

    If I remember it and nothing odd happens this weekend I will blog about this on Monday.

  4. I usually just answer these questions honestly, as to avoid an arguement, and conclude with 'but, I'm really sorry, but I'm in a hurry somewhat, since I need to get to me job. I'd love to stay and talk, but I simply can't.', even when I'm not actually in that much of a hurry. Just to conclude the conversation without being rude. Most people understand that you're unable to talk when you're in a hurry.

    I must say though... I'd be a bit shaken if I got that question too. Not just because it's unexpected, but I also think that's a weird question in itself. He barely even got in a conversation with you and already entered with quite a personal question. But still, I'd answer with the above answer.
    But then the second answer... About you probably hating the internet because you're a writer... All the prejudices this implies! Like all writers hate the internet! In fact, I'm following this Dutch writer on Twitter who is promoting eBooks, had a game made from his book and made a few apps for children with characters from his children's books. I think he actually makes great use of the internet/technology and all the new ways it brings to promote your book and in what form to read the book.

    I think, if I had your job and I didn't cut the conversation after the first question already, I would respond here with 'Actually I write articles on the internet' and then suddenly end with the 'I'm in a hurry' speech from above. Watch him be startled because he was wrong in his prejudice. :)

  5. Again, this is where more exposures to socialization could have helped you.

    Ever since I started OT school, as I said in previous comments, I really made myself socialize. In doing so, I picked up a few tricks I can use in the community when I don't understand what someone is saying. Also, in certain situations, you have to be clearer in giving your responses to people... otherwise they will be confused, which will lead you to be confused.

    This time I will use my experiences as research subject for a couple OT research projects 1.5 years ago. There were two different girls asking me different questions about my lived experience with AS. For questions I understood, I would give them as direct an answer as possible. For questions I didn't understand, I just asked them to rephrase the question or break down the question if I felt the question was too vague. Doing that bought me time to think.

    A lot of individuals with autism need to develop this "instinct" because that will help them function better in the community socially. If you want proof, some of my OT instructors said to me, "Bill, you may not get the highest grades in my class. But one thing I really appreciate about you is that aside from giving everything a genuine effort, you always seek clarifications whenever you are not sure of something. This shows me that you know your needs very well."