I had the worst anxiety attack of my life at a poetry reading. I was sitting near the back in an attempt to conceal the fact that I was alone. Generally speaking, being alone in public freaks me out, but t hat feeling is nothing new. It’s garden-variety anxiety, so to speak. I was fine until a pretty artsy girl came in late and sat down in the chair directly to my right (Next to me! When there were like thirty other seats for her to choose from!).
Pretty artsy girls absolutely fry my motherboard.
Now, occasionally, people in life-or-death situations speak of time slowing to a crawl. Extreme amounts of adrenaline can cause one’s perceptions to become so keen that everything seems to move incredibly slowly in relation to a racing mind. I shit you not, this happened to me within seconds of Pretty Artsy Girl’s decision to sit next to me. Like sprinter coming out of the blocks, uninvited adrenaline rudely coursed through my veins, and the rest of the reading unfolded in bullet-time. The poet (an older woman with white hair and a pleasant, grandmotherly tone) suddenly sounded like James Earl Jones, with each poem resembling a guttural heavy metal 45 being played at 33 1/3 rpms. I spent the remainder of the reading sitting bolt upright and staring unblinkingly at the front of the room, breathing in deeply through my nose and exhaling through my mouth as quietly and slowly as humanly possible.
It is truly a mystery why I have difficulty meeting women.
The second the poet finished her last poem, I speed-walked to the door, made haste for my car, and drove home at a mildly-unsafe speed. I finally stopped sweating and began breathing normally once the door was safely closed behind me.
Social anxiety is helluva drug, and I am constantly tripping balls. Unlike most people, who are able to feel “at-ease” or “okay” or “chillaxed,” I am constantly in fight-or-flight mode. My neurons are always on pins and needles, ready to go to DEFCON-1 at a moment’s notice. I’ve been dealing with it ever since the first day of sixth grade, when, confronted with a teeming mass of faces I didn’t recognized, I ducked into a bathroom to take an unnecessary piss. I sought solitude in this manner so often that one day my English teacher asked me in front of the entire class if I had a bladder infection.
Thankfully, I got more skillful at dealing with my rogue nervous system as time passed, mainly by dint of sheer repetition. The cerebellum, wonderfully adaptable mass of noodles that it is, is always trying to troubleshoot itself. Unbeknownst to me, my subconscious was toiling away deep within the bowels of my brain, wearing a white lab coat and observing every interaction while making notes on a clipboard. High school presented lots of opportunities for trial-and-error, and, by virtue of being jammed together with the same people for eight years, I was able to develop oodles and oodles of neurological algorithms that helped me control my anxiety. Weirdly enough, I even became rather popular. By the time I graduated, I had high school figured out.
But, as I hunted for a summer job, I quickly realized that life, at the height of its rudeness, would often place me in situations without giving me eight years to get comfortable. My course of action was clear: subscribe to Netflix, purchase several dozen cats, program Jimmy John’s into my speed dial, and become a hermit.
Unfortunately, this plan didn’t pan out because, as a human, I am hard-wired to seek out other humans. Living in community is nice, even if it’s terrifying. So, I was forced to engage in one of the most singularly unpleasant, nasty tasks known to man: coping. There are many ways to cope with anxiety. Some well-established pathways to peace-of-mind include meditation, medication, and the old stand-by, drinking heavily. However, I eschewed these tried-true-methods and confronted my anxiety using the most ancient, revered method of them all: by making enough guacamole to choke a herd of medium-sized elephants.
I didn’t consciously set out to achieve enlightenment through guacamole-production. It just…happened. After graduation, several of my best friends began working at an overpriced tapas restaurant called Casa Bolero. At Casa Bolero, enough idiots were willing to pay $8.95 for table-side guacamole that the waitresses were unable to keep up with demand. My friends were promoted from dishwashers to guacamole-makers. After they put in a good word for me, I sat through a one-question interview (“When can you start?”) and became an official Guac Boy. That was my official, 100% real, honest-to-goodness job title that I put on my tax return.
On my first day, I showed up wearing black pants, black shoes, a black shirt, and an expectant smile. Within an hour of guac-making, I regretted my decision to not become a hermit. Making guacamole is second only to landmine-diffusion in a contest of being the most nerve-wracking thing ever. It seems relatively simple: load a tray with ingredients, carry it out to the customer, guac the customer’s world, and then head back to the kaleidoscope of colorful square plates, white chef shirts and carefully plated Spain-ish food in the kitchen.
But things, in general, are not easy. Simply getting to the customer was a nerve-fraying experience. I have remarkably poor motor skills, so I was never able to get the hang of carrying the heavy trays. The dining room was also very cramped, and it was always a challenge to navigate the maelstrom of customers, chairs, and little children. I never dropped a tray, but I also never stopped feeling like a complete guacatastrophe was one misstep away. Also, numbers confuse me and I have the memory of a goldfish, so it was a complete crapshoot as to whether or not I would make it to the correct table. A word to the wise: there are few things more awkward than attempting to make guacamole for people who do not want guacamole.
In fact, the only thing that’s more awkward is making guacamole for people who do want guacamole. This is because it takes about five minutes to make a proper batch. Minus the initial pleasantries, that left me with four and a half minutes to fill. Four and a half minutes may not seem like a long time to someone, but for someone that finds basic social interaction baffling, it can be an eternity. Needless to say, things weren’t pretty for awhile.
I floundered. After initially greeting the table, I would throw out a barrage of questions (“How are you doing? Some weather, huh? Weather is good! How ‘bout sports teams? I like sports! Do you like guacamole?”). No matter how many different conversational tacks I took, I could never fill the whole five minutes. The end result was always the same: me furiously mashing avocadoes under a deathly silence punctuated only by small bits of pulp squirting up and landing on my pants and shirt.
After a few weeks of flop-sweat, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to develop a shtick to use on unresponsive customers. I looked up a bunch of Fun Facts about guacamole and avocadoes on the internet and began rattle them off to customers. I decided that this was a pretty funny idea, and decided to take it a step further, adopting the persona of crazed tour-guide/guacamole-evangelist, enthusiastically educating my customers about the health benefits of avocadoes while giving them my personal testimony about how the Power of Avocadoes had changed my life forever:
“Let me tell you folks a story: one evening, I was sitting there in this restaurant, just like you. I ordered the guacamole and it was just incredible. I applied to work here the next day, and I haven’t looked back since. I love my job. Nothing makes me happier than making other people happy with my guacamole. It’s the best damn food on the planet, that’s what I think. Some people in the food service industry get sick of food when they deal with it every day, but not me, no sir! Just between you and me, I sneak a few bites when I’m on break. And it’s good for you, too! Did you know that avocadoes are high in B, E, and K vitamins? They also have lots of good lipids and fats! There’s a lot of stigma in modern society about fats, but your body needs ‘em, and avocadoes got ‘em! They’re the ultimate superfood, Mother Nature’s gift to mankind, I tell ya!”
Usually, the customers were so taken aback by my seemingly coked-up zeal that they actually interacted with me, albeit at arm’s length because I seemed dangerously unhinged. It was also nice to see people shift uncomfortably in their chairs as I battered them with my stream of chatter. As someone who is constantly uncomfortable, I take evil delight out of making other people feel as awkward and out-of-place as me. It’s always nice to level the playing field a little bit.
As hilarious as people’s reactions were, it became exhausting to wear such a hyperactive persona. Also, weirding out customers is not the best strategy for amassing tips. So, as I grew more comfortable and gave progressively fewer and fewer shits, I developed a new, cartoonishly douchey and arrogant character. After greeting the customer, I would say things like “Not to brag or anything, but I’m basically the Michael Jordan of guacamole making, if Michael Jordan was five times better at basketball and ten times as good-looking.” From there I would continue to up the ante, bragging about everything from my ability to eat jalapenos to my own humbleness. I would close with lines like “I hope this guacamole is as good-tasting as I am good-looking,” then throw out a guacamole-related pun over my shoulder I picked up my tray to leave. My favorite was “Have a good night, and rock out with your guac out.”
I also referred to myself in the third person as Christopher Guacken.
To my surprise, most customers thought this was hilarious, and I received far more money in tips than ever before. Valuable life lesson learned: act like a huge douchebag and people will reward you with money and adoration.
I also found out that older women find nothing sexier than a confident guacamole boy after they’ve had several shots of tequila. Some confined this to a few subtle flirtatious comments, but others were more overt. One fifty year-old woman trying to pass for thirty told me “I don’t want garlic in mine. I love garlic, but don’t put any garlic in there, ‘cause I’m gonna make out with someone tonight and I don’t wanna have garlic breath.”
“Very well, no garlic, ma’am.”
She downed a shot of expensive tequila. “Would…you make out with someone who had garlic breath?”
Without really thinking it through, I decided it would be funny to answer honestly. “Yes, that would be incredibly hot.” What can I say? I love garlic.
Realizing what I had just done, I whipped up her guac at warp speed while looking at my shoes, then fairly sprinted back to the relative safety of the kitchen and informed the head chef that I was going to step outside because I needed some air.
Once the mortification began to fade, I began to notice an unfamiliar emotion swelling faintly in my chest. Triumph? The significance of what I had just done dawned began to dawn on me, and I began to grin like an idiot into the humid August night. Given my history, accidentally hitting on a tequila-addled, garlic-loving cougar seemed like the equivalent of Ahab actually catching his white male. For a brief moment, I couldn’t have felt cooler if I was riding off into the night on a Harley with a leather jacket on while smoking a cigarette and blasting ZZ Top.
So when a waitress opened the door and screamed “GUAC BOY! I NEED A GUAC ON TABLE 71,” my sense of crushing dread was lessened, diluted by a small measure of something else. Hope? Weird. It was only nine o’clock, and I usually didn’t start hoping until half an hour to closing time. There were five tickets waiting for me in the kitchen, five more trials in a seemingly-endless series of experiments. A faint glimmer of a grin caught the edge of my mouth, looking a little bit like a line graph on the rise.