I can do lunch, at home. I can even, occasionally do lunch at a restaurant with my wife.
But the ‘working lunch’ for me, is just a recipe for cruel and unusual punishment.
The build up
Regardless of whether or not I know the cullinary venue for a particular business meeting there’s always the anxiety anticipation.
- will it be noisy
- and will that be compounded by ‘music’ well into three figure decibels
- how’s the heating/air-con
- are the tables about the size of a bed tray
- what are the waiting staff like
- is there anything edible on the menu
- how long is the line
I am way outside my comfort zone, in fact for me, this is extreme sports!
I am heading into a war zone.
The warm up
As I head over to the restaurant, briefcase in hand, I’m spooling ‘Two Tribes’ (Frankie goes to Hollywood) over and over in my head, a kind of mental echolalia, as I prepare for my version of an NFL game, a business meeting ‘over lunch’
This then gives way to my usual internal dialogue about how business lunches are just (fill in the blank) and that it is all just one big (fill in the blank) NT costume party that I am being forced to endure, despite having a medical exemption.
I get there early, I always do, usually way too early because I am paranoid about being late.
It also gives me time to select the right table or booth, the correct seat and set out my office desk (I mean place setting) in preparation for my roller coaster ride.
Client arrives, some redundant noise about the traffic, the weather, the restaurant (blah, blah, blah)
I know I mustn’t appear ingratiating or worse yet patronizing, but at the same time I need to appear to be at least partially engaged and to avoid appearing….aloof.
It’s all such a crock of ______ why do people waste so much time on this and place such a high value on it and why do they force people like me to endure this?
This of course is an intellectual silent dialogue with myself, emotionally I’m getting agitated.
The waitress arrives so now he’s scanning the drinks menu like it was an autopsy.
I wait because I know that is part of the script.
He orders something inane, I order water, room temperature.
The clock is now ticking and I have about 5 minutes to select something from the menu that I don’t want to eat, because I’m not hungry, because I’m at work.
He seems to be able to talk non stop WHILE reading the menu and all without breathing.
I’m looking around at the artwork on the walls and thinking how wonderful it would be if someone would just smash him in the face with a frying pan so that I could just leave.
He orders something which I forget as soon as he says it, I order the tuna salad, no cheese, no croutons.
The costume party continues as he starts to talk about the menu, my anxiety heads North.
It arrives and damn it, the waitress just plonks my plate on top of my note case (or stands there in silence, until I move it)
My work area has now been disturbed, so it’s ‘wrong’
I grab for a Xanax (I always carry them whenever I leave the house) and try to figure out which sleight of hand to use to……….
All of the above took a split second, what follows happens in slow motion.
It’s always the same fantasy, but here’s what I would dearly love to do with my ‘order’
- Move my ‘order’ the the place next to me (or the next table) or
- Politely ask the waitress if she can take it away (so that I can have my desk back) or
- Throw my plate against the wall, in my dreams (then chug 2 Xanax)
I know intellectually AND emotionally that neither my client, nor the restaurant have any idea that I am Autistic, much less having fantasies about plate spinning.
I know that 98% of the population are not reacting how I do in a public setting and more to the point that they would never imagine in their wildest dreams that anyone could feel how I do over a simple meal (for me) and a retail transaction for the restaurant. So I attach no value judgement to any of this.
My fantasies are just an escape from a grotesquely charged anxiety episode.
I am not arrogant enough to think that my experience of this microcosm of social interaction is typical within the Autism community, but perhaps it will resonate with some.
Either way and #AskingAutistics, I’d love to hear about your experiences/feelings with work related restaurant outings.