Tales of frustration: Huggers

“Oh, I’m a hugger,” she says in her cutesy, affected voice, spreading her arms and tilting her head, while closing the gap created by our personal space.

I raise my outstretched right hand, palm out, and have just enough time to bring up my left hand up as well, halting her advance with a firm block to her shoulders. Shock and affront paint her face, followed by a display of more hurt than could actually have been physically suffered by my denial.

“What the hell, man?”

“I’m sorry, but we’ve only just met and I’m not much of a hugger.”

“Well, you didn’t have to be such a dick about it. I’m just being friendly, you jerk.”

She steps back, setting her stance to convey disapproval.

“Once again, I apologize for your shock, but I don’t much enjoy hugging someone I’ve only just met.”

“Whatever, I’m just trying to be nice and you push me. What are you, some kind of germophobe?”

“No, I just think that hugging is a bit intimate for a first encounter.”

“Yeah right, so you’re, like, autistic or something? You know, you can’t just treat people like that.”

A disdainful sneer disfigured her face and with it, my composure.

“You don’t really know what autism entails, do you? But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m not a hugger and I don’t like hugging someone whose name I’ve only just heard seconds earlier. I don’t appreciate you forcing your habits on me, just because you are a hugger.”

“Look, asshole, I was being nice and you’re being a piece of shit, shoving me back, when all I wanted to do was give you a hug. I mean, seriously, what kind of social reject doesn’t like hugs? And you implying I don’t know what autism is, is totally offensive. I have a nephew with autism and you know nothing about what he has to go through every day.”

“Besides your demonstration that you need to go have a good chat with your nephew’s doctor, you’re failing to understand what is ‘nice’ here. You intended to be nice by doing something I don’t like. You were disregarding me entirely. You think it’s nice to hug upon meeting someone, I do not. I had my hand out to shake yours and you chose to step forward and wrap yourself around me without my consent. If I had the time, I would have told you not to hug me beforehand, but I didn’t. I acted on impulse and stopped you; I did not shove. –“

“Oh, whatever! I –“

“No, no. You have shown you can’t be trusted with words, so you will shut up and let me finish. You tried to engage in physical contact of which I do not approve. And I can see by the look on your face that you still disagree, so let’s consider this: you like to hug. You think it’s nice to be hugged, thus you think it is nice to hug. You know people you like to hug and all think it’s nice, so you label yourself ‘hugger’ and try to bring everyone into your warm embrace. I like to fondle and kiss. I think it’s nice to be fondled and kissed. I know people who like to fondle and kiss and all think it’s nice. Should I then introduce myself saying “Oh, I’m a fondling kisser” and proceed to massage your breasts and lightly bite your lower lip?”

“What the fuck, dude, are you fucking seri-“

“That’s right, the answer is no. I don’t know whether you would enjoy intimate physical contact right off the bat. Maybe you do, but I don’t know. So I keep it safe and extend my hand for a friendly shaking. Do I reach out and grab your hand? No. I wait, hoping you will extend your hand, so our hands can meet in the mutually agreed upon middle. You decide whether you reach out or not, I do not make that decision for you. You need to think about more than what you think is nice when meeting someone.”

A perfect picture of disgust looks me up and down from behind a crossed-arms barrier.

“You can just fuck off, because I’ve got pepperspray and I’m not afraid to use it. You’re not going to touch my breasts no matter how much you want to and I’ve got half a mind to press charges for sexual harassment.”

“Fine. Well you and your half a mind can go hug themselves. Just quit hugging people that don’t want to be hugged.”

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Mind-numbing

This past summer I worked at a mail distribution centre. I wrote this piece during that time.

Sorting mail at a large mail distribution centre entails putting very large numbers of letters, postcards and advertisements from an automated sorting machine into crates and then putting full crates on crate-carts. No difficulty. No multitasking. No thinking beyond ‘blue coded crate goes on blue coded cart’. It is the definition of a mind-numbing job

Since I’ve been working there, though, that definition has become much clearer and a lot more salient to me. The definition has changed somewhat as well. I previously thought that a mind-numbing job numbed the mind; that it dulled your thoughts, made you less sharp witted. Made it so that if someone asked a question or made a comment, it would be more difficult to respond than before. And I thought this would come about because you would be thinking less; you would no longer be honing your mind.

But this is not the case, at least for me. I can’t stop thinking while I work. And yet I do feel like my thoughts are dulled. To run with the analogy, you might say that as I work, I think so much about things (mostly my life at that moment) that I’m beating my sharp mind blunt. As if I’m wailing away on a wooden post, never re-sharpening my blade. And then, when faced with an opponent, my fencing skills come up short and my blade doesn’t cut as deep.

However, this is not what drew my ire. I can have discussions with people and read books away from my job, thus applying a whetstone to both my skill as my steel. No, there seems to be something more insidious about mind-numbing jobs. It crept up on me and I didn’t immediately notice what was happening to me. And then it hit me. It filled me with revulsion. It scared me.

I was caring less.

I was caring less about everything. It starts with simply caring less about the job. You have to work, because you have to pay rent and eat. Every day you go back and the thoughts that rage around in your mind become less focused on how much you hate the job. You dismiss them with an easy ‘whatever, just gotta do it’. It becomes easier to wave away your discontent until you coast through your shift thinking about anything but what you ‘have’ to do for the coming hours. It becomes more defeatist and then you find yourself calming the thought ‘what has become of my life, this was not the plan’ with an increasingly easy ‘this is how it is’. Followed by that most insidious of all: ‘it’s not that bad’.

Now the steel of your mind has rusted fast in its scabbard, slowly becoming increasingly immovable as well as wasting away. Someone lunges a witty remark straight at your face. You’re slow to respond, or don’t respond at all. You saw it coming. You just don’t care. You might attempt a weak parry, but let him land his attack. Whatever. It won’t really change anything. It is how it is. And it’s not that bad.