The twelfth post in The Education of a Writer (TEW) series.
I never thought they actually existed. People who hate human contact. But they do. I’ve run into one. And it wasn’t pretty.
That he was a programmer made it ever more creepy. Programmers are known to be a squeamish bunch. Foibles out the wazoo.
I knew one programmer who was a body builder, chess rock star, one-time washer champion and cocky as all get out.
But Lum Ungulate took the cake.
Introducing a Person Who Hates to Be Touched
Lum fit the bill: wire-frame glasses, black t-shirt and a head dense with curly, brown hair. He rode a loud motorcycle to work and did all of his coding with headphones on. Most of us thought he was playing Warcraft, but we were all too afraid to ask.
He ate burritos by the pound and drank scotch ale through a straw. And he didn’t like to be touched.
I found this out in a spectacular display of near going-postal portions. Let me show you what I mean.
Why It’s Important You Know Who Hates to Be Touched
Our company was small, so most meetings involved everybody. We had these meetings about once a quarter. It was at one of these meetings that I touched Lum.
We squeezed into the rectangular, interior [read: no windows] conference room to gather around a long, burgundy conference table. Subway sandwiches were served. We ate. Everybody was laughing, including Lum.
I sat next to Lum because I liked him. I liked that he was quirky. And I liked to tease him about it. He didn’t mind so much and took it all in stride. He was a pretty nice guy, not the half-cocked loon I’d originally taken him to be when I first met him.
He just didn’t like to be touched.
Here’s the thing, though: out of the sixteen or so people in that room, I was the only one who didn’t know that.
I worked in another building across the parking lot with one of the owners who himself did not like to work around people. He and I were pretty close. But we didn’t know squat about the other people, like Lum, in that other building.
Sure, we made kind gestures to them, like waving to them as we ducked through the parking lot, and I looked for opportunities to pop over and cause mischief.
We weren’t complete strangers. But we weren’t close confidantes. So my limited exposure didn’t afford me the opportunity to learn intimate things about them–like Lum hates to be touched.
Funny Boy Crosses the Line
Even though I’m an introvert, I tend to be a ham in the presence of other people. Especially people I’m comfortable with. I knew a lot of these people outside of work, so I was comfortable with them.
After we’d eaten lunch, a few of us, including Lum, hung around and shot the bull. After about five minutes I was done and prepared to make my exist. The way I usually do that is by making some witty comment about a person, slapping them on the back and then sliding out the door.
With years of practice I’ve worked this exit to perfection.
Well, in this case I did just that, and yes, the person I slapped on the back was Lum. But this time it wasn’t so much as a slap as it was a one-armed hug. I doubt it would’ve made a difference, but I’ll never know because after our little altercation I swore to never touch Lum again.
When I put my arm around him, people gasped and even laughed. I flushed, looked around.
Lum pushed out of his chair and slipped out the door. Everyone’s face was white and their eyes were wide. I asked what was wrong.
“You touched Lum.”
Was that a problem?
“Lum doesn’t liked to be touched.”
These people had become the chorus in my little tragedy.
This Close to an MMA Fight [That I Would’ve Lost] in My Office
I shrugged, tipped my invisible hat to them and marched over to my office.
The apprehension that hung over me faded as I worked the afternoon away. By early evening I’d forgotten the whole incident. Until Lum appeared in my door frame, legs shoulder-width apart, face crooked and dark.
He was about to leave for the day. And he had something to say.
“Hi Lum,” I squeaked.
“Nobody ever touches me.”
It wasn’t the time to debate, but at that moment it occurred to me that Lum was married and, if he didn’t like to be touched, how did he and his wife, you know, copulate? Did they–
“Nobody ever touches me.”
Whether he intended to use them or not, Lum’s fists were clenched. I didn’t intend to find out. But I didn’t have windows in my office to jump through, so my only escape, if there was to be an escape, would be through the door.
I was smaller than him, so I would lose that battle unless he was very far away from the door.
I considered telling him I was happy he stopped by because there was something I wanted to give him. He’d just have to come around and look underneath my desk. Once he did, I’d run out the door and flee into the woods.
“Nobody ever touches me.”
It was clear he wanted something out of me. A response. So I figured I should probably give him something.
“Dude, I am so sorry. I had no idea. Never again. Never again. I promise I will never touch you again.”
I gesticulated like I was an octopus on LSD.
Then he did the unexpected. He stuck his bottom lip out and nodded. Then he relaxed his fists.
He turned and walked away.
I doubled over and sighed, awe-struck that I was inches away from playing a part–that of a helpless victim–in a what would’ve been another small town massacre by a man whose frustration level peaked because I put my arm around his back.
I slumped into my chair and stared at my desk clock.
This Is Where I Give You Advice
It took me a while, but I learned a valuable lesson from that confrontation: always ask a person if they liked to be touched.
If they say no, then do not put your arm around them, pat their shoulder, slap their hand or touch their elbow.
Do not touch them.
If they say yes, ask them where. If they say on the neck, back, shoulders and elbow, then feel free to touch them there. No where else, though.
If they say any other place, do so with caution, especially if they are in a relationship with someone.
If they include organs in their list, back away. They are trouble.
So tell me, do you have any horror stories with co-workers? Encounters that turned ugly? Did you meet your spouse at work? Was it a touch on the elbow that swept you off your feet? I’d love to hear your stories. Brutal and all.