Peter Griffin: You sound terrible, all right? You’re doing this thing, which is just… you know, what the hell is that? And you look like, if I touched you, you’d be sticky, and frankly, you smell bad. You’re pretty much offensive to all five senses.
Christina Aguilera: That’s only four.
Peter: Well, actually, you know when you smell something and it gets stuck in there and you can sort of taste it? Yeah, well, I’m tasting you right now, and it tastes awful. Truly disgusting, like salty garbage.
Christina: (licks armpit) Yeah, I totally taste it!
—Family Guy (S2E4, “Peter’s Got Woods”)
I’ve been re-reading all my Isaac Asimov novels lately (as you know, I’m planning to downsize my stuff, and these will be going to a library just as soon as I enter the e-book world), and it occurred to me, as I read The Naked Sun on the Northern Line one day, that I’m becoming a Solarian: I’m perfectly happy to interact with people virtually, but I really, really can’t stand people in the real world. It’s not reached the stage where I can’t function at all, but I’m fast sickening of public places, especially public transport — and today’s hideousness at the crowded Excel Centre, oh boy…
I’ve already mentioned my problem with sound in these hallowed pages; maybe I’m on the autistic spectrum, but sounds I can’t control really pee me off, especially when they’re coming from humans (which makes it seem somehow deliberate, or at least wilfully ignorant — can’t they tell they’re annoying me, dammit?!). Today I had one of the worst ever: waiting for “best mate” at Willesden Green Tube station, I had to dodge to avoid a fat man who was making the most disgusting coughing sounds I’ve ever heard! (A terrorist spreading a bioweapon?)
As for the other senses, well, I’m sure sight speaks for itself: my personal bugbear is piercings, especially those huge hoops people put in their ears nowadays… at least no-one in London seems to wear low-riding jeans, although I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. The mere sight of a crowd also tends to put me off going somewhere (especially after today).
In addition, I grew to loathe the touch of other people during the summer, when I habitually went around in a T-shirt and found it unpleasant to feel someone else brush against my bare arms on the Tube… well, certainly if it was a bloke. It’s not for nothing that there’s a blog called “Men taking up too much space on the train“: it always seems to be a bloke with his arm hogging the armrest, possibly because he’s reading a newspaper and hasn’t heard of folding it in half, or unnecessarily spreading his legs like an old lady on a park bench. (Me with my novel? Not likely to be appearing any time soon!)
Mind you, at least on the Tube you get armrests to divide your seat from that of the next person. On the bus, however, I generally find myself crushed into a window seat as I try desperately to avoid any physical contact with the person who has crowded in next to me. Since I generally only use buses to get from work to the Castle (either for climbing or a session with my personal torturer), I tend to have a backpack with me; I leave it on the aisle seat for as long as possible, in the hope of discouraging people from claiming the seat until it’s unavoidable. Unfortunately, by the time I’m forced to admit someone, it’s almost always some bloke who smells of alcohol, sweat or cigarettes, like the sweaty middle-aged man in T-shirt and shorts who made me cringe one afternoon during the summer… or today, a guy who reeked of tobacco on the Jubilee Line as I joined “best mate” for a journey to east London.
Ah yes, today’s glimpse of what Hell would be like if it existed: after the coughing man, and the smelly man, I had to endure queuing at the Excel Centre in London for a comic convention. Shuffling forward in a massive, crowded room divided into switchback lanes, jostling with strange people, frequently stopping for ages, having people behind me sounding like they were talking directly into my ear… eventually I decided to leave (since I have to study for another A+ exam on Monday, and I’ve got a new computer desk to assemble and the old one to dismantle), but even getting out of the building proved to be an ordeal of dodging around slow walkers (and people coming the other way — which also grinds my gears on Tube station staircases during the rush hour). It’s also perhaps lucky that I eschewed the rail “replacement” buses (naturally they put this convention on a weekend when the local branch of the DLR was suspended), which would doubtless have been crowded… walking to Canning Town in the open air was eminently preferable.
(No, I won’t complain about sight in this instance: it was rather nice ogling loads of young women in cosplay outfits!)
I’m not claustrophobic as such, because I don’t mind enclosed spaces when it’s just objects in my way; but when it’s people who are blocking me, well, I get annoyed, anxious, or even close to panic sometimes. Maybe I am some kind of high-functioning autistic, because I should appreciate that most people in the world (me included — I was hammering and playing Gwar this evening when I got home!) are wrapped up in their own stupid world and pig-ignorant of everyone around them, yet I always somehow feel that they’re doing it on purpose.
Don’t worry, though: I at least overcame my fear of heights by riding the Emirates cable car across the Thames, which made the trip somehow worthwhile…