I have a hard time with norms. A real hard time. It has only gotten worse from working with autistic people, because for the most part they are completely clueless about such things, which means, in essence, that norms are not logical, which means, in essence, that autistic people are right and it is the rest of us that are wrong. But I digress.
This week I went to North Beach and screwed up SOC101-style. The evening started out great, having gone into Tosca to say hello to Richard the barkeep. I grilled him for some Sean Penn updates, discussed the implications of tipping after each drink versus in one chunk at the end of the night, and apologized for referring to him as "a younger Woody Allen" in an earlier Bouncer. I could've stayed there all night, but duty called, and I instead had to walk a few feet over to Specs Twelve Adler Museum Cafe, or, as we cosmo Friscans refer to it, Specs.
There are so many bars in the city with "character," but for some reason this is the one that shows up in every guidebook, which means that tons of tourists come there to soak up some old-school S.F. ambience. It's comfy and a bit bedraggled, sort of like your Great Aunt Myrtle who makes killer peanut butter cookies and refuses to put her teeth in unless company is over. The walls of Specs are covered with curios and there are many wooden tables for the peasant folk to gather round and make merry. If you are hungry, they offer a big-ass hunk of cheese served with a pile of saltines. Yummers.
As usual, I was in the mood to chat, which of course made me look a bit desperate, which of course meant that no one approached me. I began by breaking the first in a series of norms. There was a guy like four stools away from me who looked like Jared Leto. He had a gigantic messenger bag with reflective tape all over it. I shouted over to him, "So, are you a bike messenger?" No, he replied, just a tourist. He was smiley and seemed open to my inquiries. Jesus, was this guy alone? This was too good to be true. I continued to exchange words with him loudly (a normative no-no) until some babe showed up that he was with. Drat.
That was OK though, because before you could say "tavern slut" there was another guy to my right, and this one looked like Johnny Depp. In retrospect, I should go out without my glasses more often. His name was Jeremy, as I was to find out, and he worked for a virtual reality company, only he doesn't wear the glove with the dots on it like you would think. We began talking about, jeez, whatever, and in five minutes had progressed to our fathers leaving our mothers when we were infants, his recent divorce, and the fact that his hair hurt. I blame it on the cap he was wearing, which looked like something Jean Shrimpton might have doffed. Anyway, for some reason I hadn't scared this one away, and he even admitted that he was out alone that night. He laughed at my jokes and teased me a bit in return. Life was good!
Whilst we were a-chattin', a woman he knew came up and ordered a martini. They said their howdys and got caught up, and the bartender poured the martini into a glass and left the mixer pint glass and strainer with the leftovers for the lady. The customer poured all the rest of it to the rim of her glass, said her goodbyes, and went back to her table, leaving Jeremy and me and the mixer glass to ourselves. So, here's where I screwed up. After about five minutes the bartender still hadn't picked up the glass. The contents had begun to melt. On a whim, and in an extreme bout of norm-busting, I took hold of the thing and poured the ice water into my beer.
"What the hell are you doing??!!" shrieked the bartender. I froze. "Keep all sharp objects away from her!" she quipped to the bar, snapping up her strainer and glass.
Another aspect of norms, which should be explained at this juncture, is that when breached, they usually result in some sort of social stigmatization or ostricization. This is how these laws are "enforced." Most of us want to avoid feeling like shit.
I felt like shit.
But mostly, I was mad at the bartender. I mean really lady, what the fuck? Did I hurt anything? The customer had paid for it. Jesus Christ. I sat there brooding and debating how to fight back, when Jeremy gave me a reality check. "Well, that was kind of wrong what you did," he said, adding that it wasn't that big of a deal, however. I wouldn't let it drop, though. Eventually Jeremy got a bit freaked out by my growing obsession with this faux pas and took his leave. I can't say I blame the guy.
I asked the bartender if she was truly angry with me, and she said no, that it was her little joke. (Yeah, right.) I still felt like shit. I went back to Tosca. Richard gave me an espresso martini and told me that I could grab his strainer any day of the week. "Yeah!" chimed in the cocktail waitress. I felt a lot better. I am never going back to Specs, however, and I suppose that is more my fault than theirs. The joint just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I went home a little down, looking forward to immersing myself in the relative normalcy of autism in the morning. Katy St. Clair