The large concrete structure that smells of dust and chemicals at Oregon State University is also known as The Physics Building. It’s a bland structure adorned with slabs of metal that had been painted blue to make the wall of single-pane windows less lonely. The entryway was a good place to hide from the rain if you showed up early for class, and the Coca-Cola machine was a good way to reenergize an alcohol-soaked brain with caffiene.
The machine was new, yet still picky when it came to which dollars it accepted, so I amassed a fine collection of crispy bills in my wallet. The kind of bills that resisted being seperated, and gave off that invigorating smell of money. With a dozen of these in my wallet, I felt pretty high class, despite being a broke college student.
I briefly admired the bills, pulled out a lucky one and put it into the machine when I heard “would you like a dollar?” I would always like getting a dollar, but I doubt he was giving me a dollar with no strings attached. He must be offering me a crispy dollar to use in the machine. I turned around and saw all 250 pounds of him, starting at his chin and then looking up to his awkward dusting of blonde hair that rested on top of his huge basketball-shaped head. In his hand was a ratty dollar, and had it been entered into a beauty competition against my crispy dollar, it would have been booed off stage.
I was looking at his dollar for a bit, and then back up to his face to assess his expression and hopefully make sense of this. My dollar was already in the machine, which defeated the purpose of using his dollar. I replied to his question “I already used my dollar” and smiled. He wanted a yes or no answer, and his face took on the expression of a paper bag being crumpled up and smoothed back out, distorted in every way possible. His large cheeks began to go flush. He asked again “would you like a dollar?” and I went from genuinely weirded out to wondering if this would be the last thing I heard before being beaten to death.
However, I saw desperation in his face. He wasn’t angry nor dangerous, but he did need an answer. “No thanks”. I physically witnessed complete relief wash over him. His dollar line was rehearsed. He stammered out a improvised follow up of “none…nobody says they want the dollar. This is a class…this is for a Human Behavioral Studies class assignment. Nobody wants a dollar be..because they think…you know. Suspicious.” I couldn’t believe it. I was looking at an Autist working in the field of human psychology. I would imagine the Human Torch working at a gas station would experience less stress. I smiled and said something stupid to excuse myself along the lines of “well, I had better drink this bubbly beverage before it goes lukewarm! Fare thee well, good sir! Titherlay-titherlah!!” and dismissed myself to a wall a few meters away where I sat on the floor and ceased eye-contact.
He wandered off as soon as people began showing up for class en masse, and I didn’t see him until 3 weeks later, when
his picture showed up on the front page of our school newspaper. The article was about coping with Asperger’s. A front page fluff piece about how sad it is that his major was exceedingly difficult for him. Maybe ya shoulda picked computer science as your major, ya big dum-dum.
He would have made a great fit in the computer science program where he could get lost in code, and avoid eye contact. In fact, 80% of programmers already do this naturally. Although he would have fit right in, we had a blind girl in our programming classes. In my senior year she was in our group for a project, and she was pretty damn good at what she did, but required a screenreader and headphones to know what was happening on her screen, which made finding errors take about 10 times longer for her. It’s a good thing that she learned to write perfect code the first time. Getting her attention always scared me because she insisted that we “just to tap her on the shoulder since she couldn’t hear above the screen reader”. She would get so engrossed in the code, and being blind, every time we tapped her on the shoulder she jerked in surprise and let out a small yell. Whenever we did that in the silent computer lab, everyone stopped what they were doing and looked. She didn’t care, since she couldn’t see any of them.
Human psychology from the eyes of a man with Asperger’s, and programming from the eyes of a blind woman must be nearly impossible (literally impossible in the case of the blind woman). I often wonder why people would put themselves in positions so awkward as those. In terms of awkwardness, it’s probably on par with being Muslim and at a Tea Party rally.
That’s it for this exciting installment of my blog. Stay tuned for the next entry, which I promise will be way better than this one. I was originally writing this as a small blurb to be used in the next one, and decided to flesh it out, and now we have a full fledged ramble. Yay.