Archive for June, 2010

Straw Faux Pas

Sometimes, a simple, and incorrect, idea can get lodged in one’s mind, so strongly and persistently that one can make a fool of oneself rapidly, repeatedly, and with increasing severity. The experience is kind of like a snowball of embarrassment. This happened to me recently.

My wife and I were out to dinner at Pei-Wei. I was out of my element because we had never dined at this particular establishment before. I am largely a creature of habit, and I have huge issues figuring out local protocol; in other words, how does it all work? Whom do I approach? How do I speak to the staff? What is the appropriate sequence of ordering, paying, and accepting delivery of ordered goods? How does the menu work: do I have to go through raw assembly, a la Subway and Chipotle, or do I begin with one of several predetermined “combos,” making small adjustments as needed? Is it proper to make said adjustments?

I think most people answer these questions for themselves (usually without realizing that they ever needed to ask them in the first place) by observing those around them. I’m really bad at that.

With my head swimming from all those recently-answered questions, I attempted to reassure myself with a familiar activity: I filled our drink. As this eatery offered free refills, and I am of a somewhat penurious nature (I’m cheap), my wife and I were sharing a beverage. I returned to the table and placed the still-fizzing soft drink on its surface.

“Why didn’t you get us a straw?” my wife inquired.

“What do you m—oh.”

I had peripherally seen cups on the tables, filled with cylindrical objects wrapped in flimsy white paper. They were chopsticks. This made sense in an Asian-themed restaurant… even more so when I realized that cups of drinking straws are not common anywhere. As I considered this, I recalled that, upon entering the restaurant, I had noticed the chopsticks, and recognized them for what they were. But mere moments later, I had put myself on autopilot, and Autostrafe, for some reason, had thought “No, those are straws.” Apparently, Autostrafe is culturally stunted—he doesn’t need to deal with chopsticks, so he doesn’t acknowledge their existence.


Autostrafe: Like this, but the racist version

I wandered back to the soda fountain area, and returned with two wrapped drinking straws. Yes, straws, plural.

“Why did you get two?”

I looked down at the single drink on the table. Autostrafe doesn’t earn my paycheck and sucks at math, so he thought we each had a drink. I muttered some response as I sat down, dropping one straw on the table while beginning to unwrap the other.

I’ve lately developed a new method of unwrapping straws, wherein I use my fingernail to make an incision running the entire length of the wrapper, so I can open it wide and let the plastic parcel within roll out. This all-engrossing challenge allowed me to temporarily drown out my surroundings. Once I had finished, I went to plunge the straw into the drink.

“Why are you putting in a second straw?”

I looked into the drink, and the first straw was already there. My wife employs a more practical method of unwrapping straws, and thus had beaten me to it by several seconds.

“Um… I wanted each of us to have our own…” I said with no confidence. I really didn’t care if we shared a straw, but my actions called for justification. Our food arrived, and I made an earnest effort to stick to the “his straw, her straw” paradigm.

A few minutes into the meal, I picked up the drink and took a sip. Upon putting it down:

“So which straw is yours now?”

It was clear at this point that my wife was mocking me. Frustrated, I picked up the drink again and drank out of both at once. In this action I had hoped to convey my complete and utter surrender of the situation: Autostrafe marched out of my head, waving a white flag in a very Loony Toons-esque fashion.

After dwelling on this largely forgettable event a few days, and delving into my own inner workings when trying to blog about it (upon suggesting of my loving wife), I believe my behavior during this episode can shed some light on careless behavior in general. This whole affair stemmed from a disconnect between reality as it was, and reality as I saw it (or rather, perceived it—my eyes saw correctly). I was so attached to a simple wrong idea, that even when presented (several times) with my error, I would try to justify it—both out loud to my wife, and retroactively to myself. I ignored wrong and clung to the direction Autostrafe was leading me, with increasing ferocity.

Thankfully, it was only a straw. But how else could similar careless behavior in seemingly-familiar situations manifest itself? How will our perceived reality affect how we treat strangers, or perform our jobs? We can’t get rid of our Autoselves, and in many cases they are useful (I think Autostrafe is a better driver than me), but they are slow learners, and quite sneaky. My personal challenge to me (and to any interested readers) is to live with greater lucidity; discipline myself to be more intentional. It takes more energy… but life should feel richer that way.