The path from my office to the microwave bank in the kitchenette takes me through each of my office’s departments like the “It’s a Small World” conveyor at Disney World. Every tribe is huddled into its respective cluster, each with its own unique culture. For the hapless isolationist this trip affords a greater than ideal opportunity for engagement, but as I’ve been treading the same route for nigh on a decade, I’ve come to rely on my instincts to see me through. In fact there are times when I don’t realize I’ve made the trip until I’m back at my desk, hunched over my gruel.
Living an automated life puts me at a disadvantage, insofar as it sacrifices flexibility for routine. To wit, my near encounter with Gerald earlier this week. Just feet away from my goal, I was forced to break my steady pace to dance around Gerald, who was staring down at his tray as he walked. The grace of my pirouette was such that he took no notice of me. Even so, my momentum had been compromised, and where I normally arrived at the microwave on my left foot, I now arrived on my right, and had to make an additional half-step on my left just to be positioned appropriately. It’s a small matter, but I only realized the consequences as I went to enter the cooking information into the keypad. My mind was a complete blank.
Having relegated such procedures to autopilot, the better to focus my contemplations to more enlightening topics, I realized that the cooking information was no longer accessible to my conscious mind. Is a vegetable pie 1:20 on High, or perhaps 2:40 on Medium? Or maybe I had transposed one of the digits. I was pretty sure there was a triangle pattern involved, but I was suddenly too conscious of my own thoughts to be able to fall back on muscle memory.
Meanwhile, and more importantly, my finger was pointing at the microwave’s keypad, frozen, as if I were accusing it of something. Of course my most obvious fear was that I’d have to leave the kitchenette and enter again–without interruption this time–in order to cook my meal properly. Was this really what it had come to?
Alyssa approached on my left, popped a soft pretzel into the microwave next to mine, and asked me, “Forgot your code?” She understood. That, or she was tossing out the most ridiculous thought just for laughs. Hang low, creature of routine.
Now I have a new disdain for interruption, but it’s rooted in fear that I could stall at any moment. How much of what I know–no, how much of what I do–is talent, or cunning, and how much of it is a matter of cold rote action? If someone asks me a question in the middle of a presentation, how far will I have to regress in order to get back into the stream? Already there are signs that point to this happening. When someone asks me for my ZIP code I can’t respond until I’ve rambled through my entire address under my breath. I wouldn’t be surprised if my eyes rolled back in my head while this was happening, not completely unlike one of the aging automata dotting the shores of Disney’s unnerving ride.