Monday, April 06, 2015

Social Engineering

When I was a child, my mother took me to the playground. Apparently, I was extremely introverted and would stay happily in my room all day reading and sketching which she thought was unnatural.
She would stand at the doorway to my room watching me play Solitaire with a deck of cards. “Don’t you think you should be out there in the fresh air playing with friends?” she would ask, a slight frown forming on her flawlessly made-up face.
“It’s just not natural!” she insisted to my father. He told her that he was like that as a child and that she should just leave me alone.
He might as well have told her to give up shopping. My mother is like a dog with a bone. Once she’s sunk her teeth into an issue, she won’t let go.
So, going to the playground was part of her campaign to socialize me and make me more ‘outgoing’. From the start, it was a lost cause. Everyone, except my mother, could see it. I resented those stupid swings that went nowhere. I hated the sand that got into my shoes. I couldn’t see the point of all that running around in the hot sun and I especially loathed the horrible metallic smell on my hands after fifteen minutes gripping the monkey bar.
But Mother insisted. “You might at least pretend to be grateful,” she told me. “I could be playing mah-jong right now!” Which made me even more resentful.
Then, one day, I watched my six year old cousin Peck Lim blow his nose into his hand which he then carefully wiped onto the handlebar of the see-saw. I marched up to my mother who was gossiping with her sister and told her in ringing tones that if she didn’t take me away from that playground immediately, I was going to run away. Or tell everyone the number to her Swiss bank account.
The colour drained from her face. I was bundled into the car and that was the last anyone ever said anything about the playground.
Years later, I recounted this story to my therapist who said it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Peck Lim Incident as we now called it was the catalyst for my lifelong hypochondria.
“But don’t you think that’s quite disgusting?” I asked. “Had he not heard of a tissue? His mother was a doctor, for goodness sake!”
“He was a child,” she said. “You can’t expect…”
“Oh please,” I interrupted, “he’s still doing it, except he’s got it all down to a fine art now. I went cycling with him once and he just calmly turned his head to one side, placed a finger on one nostril and blew! Right there on the road. I remember there was a downwind at the time and I thought, well, that Mercedes Benz back there just got a souvenir from Peck Lim! I'm telling you, people are just so gross!”
Amanda was recently in San Francisco around about the time Ebola arrived in America, and at the airport, she spotted an entire family going through customs wearing white surgical masks.
“That’s a very sensible precaution,” I said with approval.
Amanda looked at me.
“Well, it is!” I said. “Though if they’d wanted to be extra safe, they should also have worn goggles to protect the virus from getting in through their eyes!”
Saffy squealed. “Oh my God, you can get Ebola through your eyes?”
“Who knows how you really get Ebola?” I sighed. “I’m sure it’s a giant conspiracy to keep us all in the dark! If people knew how easy it was to spread, it would cause a major panic.”
Saffy shuddered at the horror of it all. “Sharyn says you can only get it if you kiss a corpse with Ebola!” she told us, a statement that Amanda later said to me made her wonder how Saffy and Sharyn had ever graduated from primary school.
“Why would you ever kiss a corpse with Ebola?” she demanded.
I pointed out that maybe you didn’t know the corpse you were kissing had Ebola. Amanda, having just read a particularly graphic article about the topic in Vanity Fair, wondered how you wouldn’t know.
Of course, these days, going out to crowded public spaces fills me with dread. I’m this close to wearing disposable surgical gloves on a full time basis.
Saffy looked doubtful. “In this humid weather? You’ll get dermatitis in two seconds! Although,” she added thoughtfully, “you’d still be alive even though the rest of us would all be dead!”
Which made me think my mother’s efforts to socialize me would all be for nothing.

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