Thursday, June 18, 2015

Breaking the rhythm

"OK.  That is one pastrami sandwich on an onion bagel.  Would you like tomatoes on that?"
Not one of my sandwiches.  Our bagels were better...
Mustard and mayo?
"Yes, wait.  Um, what?"

I worked at a bagel shop outside of Chicago when I was in graduate school.  The work was very much mindless - very little to stimulate the brain.  And so I would do little things to add spice to my otherwise boring task of taking the order and making a sandwich.  (I did, however, take pride in making a pretty good sandwich.)

But one of the things that I did was that in the middle of the recitation of condiments that we could add was I would insert one item that didn't belong.  Sardines.  Spam.  Dragonfruit.

My little joke took advantage of a tendency of people to get into a rhythm.  Once you are lulled into a rhythm, you are much less likely to notice other items in the background.  You  have all seen the video where the people are passing the basketball back and forth and you are asked to count the number of passes?  If not, stop everything and watch it here.

Once the rhythm has been set, everything else literally fades into the background.  The person taking your order, the food you want to eat.  What is peripheral disappears. 

What I love is breaking that rhythm.  Once that happens, then every part of the subsequent conversation is genuine.

A buddy of mine tells the story of going in to buy a new car.  I am prepared to buy the car today, he said, if you give me your sales pitch without mentioning the duel overhead can. (Yes, I know that is wrong.  But it makes at least as much sense to me as a cam does.... is there photography taking place in there?).

"I know that it has the DOHC.  I am looking at buying it because of the DOHC.  If you mention that, I know that you are just reciting the lines, and not listening to me."

Turns out that the salesman couldn't do it.  He recognized his error as the words were coming out, 7 minutes into his schpiel.  But he couldn't stop them. And he lost the sale.

So it is with so many of our interactions - we do so many things from rote memory that we miss the opportunity to interact. Like the rote memory salesman, we can't seem to help ourselves. When I accept the refill on my coffee in the diner without looking up, I reduce that person to a rote interaction.  When I slice my card to pay for groceries and never once look at the cashier, I have reduced the human in front of me to a function.  

That is not good.  I like live humans (Well, some of them).  I am not fond of answering machines or voicemail or 'press one to..' or the self checkout line. I will never buy a car that drives itself.  (For that matter, one of my favorites was a car that fought me at every turn.  Literally.)  I crave that direct interaction.  Even a negative one.

My challenge to you: go, and break that rhythm.  Both yours, and of those around you.  Ask for a to-go box when you have cleaned your plate.  Make eye contact.  Ask for the 'dumpster view' when you check into the hotel (the lady at the hotel yesterday actually consulted a map to see if she could accommodate my request). Say hello.  Smile.  Make real, non-memorized conversations.  Reach out and contact those around you.

And maybe, just maybe, we reduce that distance that we all feel.  We become real to our neighbor.  We start seeing the man in the street that was beaten by thieves. We stop asking "who, then, is my neighbor?" and start sharing with those who we should already be calling our neighbors.   

I ended up getting in trouble for the offer of 'sardines' on the bagel sandwich.  A lady was horrified that we actually offered it (I had bought some sardines, just in case I was challenged - and showed the customer) and wrote to the franchise owner.  Who had chastized the manager.  Who came to me.

"Crorey," Bill said, "I get your sense of humor."  He paused.  "But there was a complaint from a lady who said there were inappropriate items offered on the sandwich you prepared for her.  I know, I know."

"The owner agreed that it was pretty funny.  But he suggested that maybe you would do better to carefully evaluate who you share the 'extras' with."

Apparently, there is even a rhythm to breaking a rhythm.  And I need to make sure I do that, too. 


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