Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Greeter

Behind this door lies a different world every night. With a turn of the knob, I am diving blind, straight into the unknown. I might find myself in a swirling vortex of activity, or a purposeful current, or a lazy trickle of tedium. It can be unpredictable here. But that’s part of the allure.

Surfacing on the other side, I’ve fastened myself to a collective alive and bubbling. Along for the ride, now I must adapt on the fly. Will I sink? Will I swim? Will I be noticed at all? But I always feel welcome here. I have The Greeter to thank for that.

“Yo, Sara.”
“What up, Freddy?”
“Welcome back, Harley.”

Some of us have deep roots here, our arrival met with delight, our full names cast aside for affectionate shorthand. Others, yet to make their mark, the rookies, enter to barely a stir. The Greeter welcomes us all, includes us all, as equals.

When you’re new to the group, The Greeter gives you their report. Vancouver? Lancashire? Greece? Connecticut? Here are some other members in your region. Your city has this many gatherings a year. Not as many as New York, but more than Portland.

“You must have all this in a book,” the others say. Nah. No book. The Greeter is the walking encyclopedia of our bunch. I tell them so. “I’m proud to be a geek,” they say.

All of us are oddballs here. Some are non-native English speakers, some still in high school, at least one of us is deaf. Some are loud, outsize personalities. Some are flirty, some snarky, some are playing a character.

The Greeter is low key, without pretense. Amiably aloof. Opinionated, able to hold their own with anyone. The Greeter is one of us, yet stands apart from the rest. Odd among the oddballs.

Sometimes the conversation turns to cacti, or French, or beekeeping. Wait five minutes, and it may shift somewhere else entirely. A keenly interested few dominate, while others hang back, less knowledgable, or pop their head out the door, distracted. The Greeter cares little for where the flow is headed. Without qualms, they will introduce a new topic, whenever, wherever. Snubbing the active participants, they prefer to pose a question to an idle bystander.

“Darren, do you get a lot of rain there?”
“Selena, did you play sports when you were in school?”
“Roxie, do they have good barbeque joints where you are?”

The Greeter likes to ask me about the banks headquartered in Delaware. Are there many robberies? Do I worry about it? How’s the weather today? They find a picture of the city library that I’ve never been to. It’s a nice looking library, we agree.

The others are puzzled by The Greeter. “You ask the strangest questions,” they say. But I like The Greeter’s questions. They are counterpoints to the run-of-the-mill babble. Like a straw in our conversation cocktail, taken and stirred against the tide.

All the while, the scene is abuzz with the comings and goings of guests. Some jump right in. Some take a look around, and are gone without a word. Some pull up a chair, silent spectators. The Greeter, a consistent presence, welcomes all. Nobody asked them to fill this role. It comes naturally.

The Greeter has autism, I learn, one night, in an offhand remark. Just another difference, in this place that accepts all kinds. There was no need to say so. I already knew.

It’s late now, time to take my leave. This gathering will go on into the wee hours, and start up again tomorrow. The Greeter will stay awhile longer, to stir the pot, or to give a report to a newcomer, or to float along with the onlookers, as the mood strikes. I bid goodnight to all. I’ll be back tomorrow, and I know I will be welcomed.