In living the life as a professional nomad – a very pleasant term for a homeless person with a laptop and a nice change of clothes - I apparently stumbled over the border of decorum, and fortunately a friend stopped me in my tracks.
Let me explain.
I get hunger attacks – the kind of sugar low that some small, highly strung women complain of. Sometimes I don't honor the call of the calorie. I suffered dehydration while crossing the Yucatan in Mexico in 2004, not because of lack of water, but lack of sufficient calories to balance my electrolyes. It's called "not looking after yourself."
Hey I gotta eat!
I arrived at the Berkeley Bowl Market right on closing time, Dec 24. I locked my bike, bolted past the doorman and made a bee-line for the brown rice sushi-to-go just inside the door.
The doorman yells, "Miss! Miss! We're closed!" so loudly and emphatically I imagined big men in blue overalls hoisting me by armpits out into the parking lot. I was forced to retreat, sushi-less. No matter that there were still lines of people waiting for the cash register …
Understandably, he - along with everyone else in the service industry - had run out of ho ho ho cheer by 6pm and just wanted to get the h-h-hell out of there. I unlocked my bike, watching him refuse others as they arrived, furiously entertaining dead-end thoughts like, did he reject me because I'm Asian? Because I ride a bike? Is he gonna let that blonde in? and other nonsense as one does, when sleighted.
I wove my way back to my cat-sit, feeling my stomach churn as I became progressively weak for having eaten nothing more than a Cliff Bar, an organic apple and a soy mocha that day.
My friends had invited me to their place to attend a late night event and stay the night. I was already running late, and called them to say I had to make food. Don't worry, we have plenty of food here, she said, eggs and vegetables ... but never wanting to impose, I started to prepare a soup with every thing I could find in the cupboard and fridge.
By the time I'd cooked it my hunger had vanished and moved into phase three. That is, the hunger is gone, but lack of calories remain, judgement declines ... I eat a few spoonfuls and bolt for the train.
I had to make several phone calls to my friends to handhold me through the mass transit system, missing a critical N-Judah train. In fact, I watched the doors close just after realizing it was the right train. Normally, I would have leapt through the closing doors, letting my hefty backpack muscle me through like a personal bouncer, just like I did in New York when I realized that 14th Street and Union Square are two names for the same stop.
But when calorie deprived, reactions are either too slow or too hasty, never just right. If I was given food or drink at that moment I'd end up with it dribbling down my face or biting my tongue. (I can already see single male readers making a mental note to never invite me on a date at a Zagat top 10!)
I finally made it to my friends' house, after stumbling along several cold and empty streets with my cellphone plastered to my ear.
I presented her with a t-shirt that I'd found in NY which bore a unique and serendipitous message that only she and I would appreciate.
I soon wish I hadn’t – I forgot that she is emphatically and morally opposed to products made in China, where sweatshop and slave labor are the default. In searching intently for the manufacturer label she didn't notice the unique logo until I sheepishly pointed it out - after she found found the "Made in China" tag.
The t-shirt lay discarded on the sofa and I thought of asking for a pair of scissors so we could shred it and fling it into the fire, and toast our disdain for exploitation.
As we chatted an it approached 11pm I could feel myself fading. I suddenly said, "this sounds bad but … do you have any food, or can I go get something? I'm about to expire."
We chatted some more but I eventually started hearing only every third word and had to repeat my request. I was waved to the kitchen where her housemate was already heating up leftovers.
Later, mid-conversation, my friend suddenly went very quiet, and told me she was horrified at my behavior. She told me that after all the hospitality they'd offered – directions on how to get here, a sofa for the night, an offer of food, I had the audacity to fade out while she was speaking and abruptly ask for something to eat. Was I aware about how rude that was?
Tick. Tock. Said the clock.
It took a bit of processing to track back over the evening's conversation and try to see how I had offended.
Clearly, I not only misjudged my comfort level with friends, I allowed myself to slip-slide under the curve of simple social decorum.
I have thought about this.
Being a professional nomad, I skirt, but never entrench myself in any one fixed environment, like an office or a family home. Thus, I get out of practice when it comes to interpersonal politics - just like a homeless person in survival mode.
As uncomfortable as the siutation was, it was a reality check.
Next time you are taken aback by a friend or colleague getting upset with you, feel the hurt but think what you might be doing - or not doing.
Oh, and make sure you eat first.
My FastCompany rant about trashing the Christmas card tradition
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