I think there is something wrong with me. I’m not talking about a hypochondriac type of thing like my-left-toe- is-going-to-fall-off-because-it-hurts-when-I-wiggle-it; I’m saying that something is seriously wrong. I am absent of any and all skill necessary to survive in a social setting. And anyone who knows me will most likely agree. Courage-in-a-bottle worked great for a few years but inadequacies glare in its absence.
I can handle interactions with good fiends (in groups of one or less) perhaps because I know (or knew at one time) that they like, or have liked, me. New people though? Forget it. I’m not good at small talk. I’m a horrible liar. And I don’t drink. These skills, absent from my persona, are crucial for most social situations. So, either, I attend an event and tolerate an expected amount of uneasiness, or I don’t go and experience the same feelings to a lesser degree.
Within the confines of a fire contract, the people to eat with and places to dine are limited. Last night I sat amongst a table of five while we waited for dinner. These four characters are a few of my favorite here in John Day. Normally, the more I enjoy the company the smoother my interactions. Such facts should sooth my social awkwardness; but instead of feeling free, vocal and entertaining, I felt uncomfortable, distracted and boring. And the more I thought about it the quieter I became. Escaping to the solitude of my hotel room couldn’t occur soon enough.
Walking out of the restaurant after dinner presented another challenge as we met three more people who work at the fire base. We are all fire fighters--to some degree, but the only thing I have in common with them is the four square feet of concrete in which we stand. I shift my weight back and forth desperately wanting to be anywhere else. I navigate my way to the back of the pack where, hopefully, I go unnoticed. It was then that I spotted my savior tethered to a post out back. Those fuzzy ears poking up between giant paws, and a faint outline of a snout in the absent light of the night challenged my priorities.
My excitement to pet the pup overpowered the anxiety created by the humans. The thought of the inevitable interaction with the dog brought - to my lips - the first genuine smile of the evening. And I guess I’m not totally absent of tact because I waited for the/their conversation to end before abandoning proper etiquette. Next time, though, I’m going straight for the dog.
Out of a slumber, her eyes opened and her cropped tail began to shake her entire body. I leaned down to verify the softness of her ears. Yep. Puppy soft. She sprang up for more. Considering her sweet disposition and the dark lonely ally, I wanted to give her tons of attention. We traded love until I felt the awkward pull of people again. My hotel neighbor was waiting to walk with me. He said hello to the dog too, but not like I did. Nobody does.
I walked back to the hotel accompanying my neighbor and plotting my return to the dog. After a few minutes of wearing out the carpet in my room I'm reasonably convinced that others have settled into their own business. Moments later, the pup and I reunite. Received by an uncontrollable amount of energy, a bloated tummy, and hypodermic teeth made my return well worth it. Conversation was easy, my actions appropriate, and I was totally engaged. It isn't possible for me to have the same enthusiasm for my two legged brethren. I could have stayed there most of the night if it weren’t for watchful human eyes.
I'm sure there is a name for this sort of ailment. And if there isn't a name for it there most certainly is a drug for it. Oh yeah! It's called more animal interaction.