Wednesday, January 15, 2014

It's time I came out of the closet. Despite what you must have assumed, I don't actually have Asperger's Syndrome.

I can picture you now, stunned speechless. "But Roman," you finally stutter, "that's impossible. You live in a big city, and made good money in the computer field. How did you manage that?

Just because I enjoy animals and human contact doesn't mean I'm a complete idiot. I faked it! Before my first job interview I Googled the symptoms so I was ready for all their coded questions. Half-heartedly the HR manager ran through my résumé before casually letting the question drop: "By the way, what are your top-ten favorite air disasters?"

I didn't just fall off the carrot truck. I knew New York hi-tech companies all but required their employees to have some kind of socially-disruptive, productivity-enhancing syndrome. I also knew it was a violation of the Americans without Disabilities Act to quiz for it. He couldn't just come out and ask, "Do you have Asperger's, like the rest of us?" He couldn't ask, "Are you burdened down by the emotions of regular human beings? During the work day, will you occasionally post on Facebook, or chat with friends on the phone? Will you suddenly announce that you have a home life and try to leave work at 10 pm? Will we be sitting here on Saturdays wondering why you'd rather be rafting than scripting a PC emulator with us?"

I didn't spend 18 hours at the Learning Annex's "How To Pretend You Have Asperger's To Get A High-Paying Tech Job" class for nothing. "I'm absolutely fascinated by the Army bomber crashing into the Empire State Building on July 28, 1945," I replied, "though clearly the two Boeing 747s colliding in Tenerife was the worst in terms of fatalities."

I could see in his eyes that I'd scored a strike, but he was still wary. Clearly he'd hired an ordinary human before and it'd gone on to bite him in the butt. "We'll call you in a week or two," he said. "It's been great meeting you, but I've got a train to catch. Hmm. I'm taking the Hudson line from Penn Station to Cold Spring Harbor, and I don't remember if the next train leaves at 5:03 or 5:13."

"5:17," I bluffed.

"That's right," he said, clearly surprised. Then he started talking about his wife and kids, and I wondered if maybe I'd misjudged him. He seemed like a really nice guy. Then the hair on the back of my neck stood up and it smacked me like a trout in the face:

It was a trap!

I pulled out my cellphone and randomly hit buttons. He laughed. "You guys!" he said, clapping me on the back. "Okay, you've got the job. Now head home and, I dunno, memorize the populations of South American capitols or something."

The job worked out fine for a few years, though I had to be constantly on guard. I'd work late at least one day a week, and when a secretary or mail clerk asked, "Don't you have a home to go to?" I'd pretend to think for a second before answering, "Why?"

When somebody asked me to have lunch with them, I feigned confusion. "What is the purpose of this?" I'd ask. "Would I actually have to deposit the food into your mouth?"

When somebody shared personal information with me, I'd pretend I was a dog and somebody had asked me to mix them a martini. I'd cock my head and stare into space and eventually they'd laugh and say, "Oh, I forgot about you computer programmers. Never mind!"

But then one day I returned from a long lunch to find my boss waiting in my office. "Roman," he said, "where were you?"

My brain scrambled for an explanation. "I had this uncontrollable compulsion to head to the T-Mobile store and catalog the differences between the Android 14BJ2 and the Samsung JollySlinger Plus."

"Really?" he asked. "Well, that's weird, because that's what I was doing, and I didn't see you there."

Sigh; that was it. I was busted. Something inside me finally snapped, and I knew it was over. "Okay," I said. "The truth is, I met a friend at a restaurant and we talked about relationships."

You could have heard his gasp from space. "Pack your things," he said. "We don't want your kind around here."

For a while I lived in shame, unable to share my story with others. Slowly, though, I readjusted my life and my priorities, and eventually I found a place that welcomed an average guy without Asperger's. To my surprise, I actually enjoy serving coffee! I enjoy talking to people. And I especially like telling the Google employees who work upstairs that serving bad coffee is GROUNDS for divorce, and then explaining to them what humor is.

And now I'm sharing this story because if it helps even one person without Asperger's to realize that they too can have a productive life in a big city, then I've done my job. Because I've proved to myself and to the rest of New York that you can be yourself and still be rewarded. Sure, my paychecks are slightly less than unemployment, but I've regained my pride. I've finally gotten to a place where I can stand up and say, "MY NAME IS ROMANHANS AND I'M REASONABLY PRODUCTIVE! That'll be $9.12, please."

1 comment:

Yet Another Steve said...

I applaud your courage in coming out as a non-Aspergers' engineer. I know from experience that such a thing is virtually unheard-of.