From “Tools of Survival in the 21st Century,” Chapter 18.
Another possibly soul-decimating experience is seeing someone from some distance away. Assuming you know the person, how do you go about filling the time from the point you make eye contact to the point where you might engage them in a witty exchange without rupturing the eardrums of the people in your immediate vicinity?
There’s no escaping it now–your fate was sealed at the point of eye contact, when you unwittingly acknowledged them by meeting their gaze. This is tantamount to entrapment, of course, but the burden remains on you to maintain some semblance of social grace, even though you are quite aware that they’re watching how you walk even now.
Are you a loper? Do you swing to and fro like an orangutan when you walk? Do you bob your head like Gomer Pyle, or shuffle your feet? Or maybe you shuffle just one foot. Perhaps you’re completely lopsided. You can feel invisible forces of realization tugging you to the side even now, and this person is witness to the entire humiliating scene.
But these thoughts alone aren’t what keep you from maintaining eye contact throughout your journey. Rather, it’s because you don’t want to present yourself as predatory. No one maintains eye contact while they’re walking except for certain types of cats who weigh more than you do, so it’s an acceptable social behavior that you would look away as you continue. That’s well and good, but the burden remains to be addressed.
As you approach your comrade it is essential that you do not look at your surroundings, for the danger exists that you will make eye contact with yet another acquaintance, and that might very well destroy you. Instead, allow your face to go slack as if you are somewhat lost in thought, and look down at the ground in front of you.
Caveats: First, do not think too hard about anything. If your face is frozen in a wince, or if you cave in to the pressure and begin to weep, then why bother even trying to fit in? Why did you leave the house this morning? Why even clean the vomit from around the empty coffee can next to your bed? And second, be sure to tilt your head down when you engage in facial neutrality, and not just your eyes. You are aiming for contemplative, not besieged by inner voices. Only one type of person forgets to move their head: a psycho. So look down correctly.
Now, when to reengage? No peeking! A psycho peeks, because a psycho sees things that aren’t there. Your goal, in contrast, is to not see things that are there, and to do it in a way that seems natural even though you planned it all out weeks ago, and have been practicing in your basement using the trusty doll-head that you stole from your little sister in grade six.
You’re coming up on the person a little too quickly, so slow down. To convey a laissez faire demeanor, manufacture an itch, even if you don’t have one. Scratching an itch has been shown to be a social disarmer, as long as you’re not scratching incessantly at your eyes or tongue.
And at last you’re close enough to them that you can see them in your peripheral vision. Now it’s up to you: you are free to engage them in friendly conversation (as covered in Chapter 12). Remember that it is not always possible to come off as a “normal,” but you should always strive to keep the choking, gasping sobs at bay for as long as possible.
Good job! Later on, as you squeegee the last of the Crisco from the can with your tongue, you can look back on your encounter as a successful step in your ongoing, pathetic quest for social integration.