Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Ordering Chinese

I called to order dinner from a Chinese restaurant tonight.

Did you hear me? I just said that I called to order dinner from a Chinese restaurant tonight! I had a craving for Panda Inn's honey walnut shrimp, but Baroy was listening to the University of Maryland basketball game on the radio, and nothing short of dynamite was going to budge him. So I looked up the number online and called. Twice, actually--once to see if they did takeout, and the next time to place an order.

You may be wondering what the hell I'm going on and on about, but somewhere out there, those friends of mine who know me even a little bit well are staring at the computer with their mouths agape. Because this is big stuff, folks. Huge, even. I don't call Chinese restaurants. Never. Not ever.

It's hard to explain this without sounding even crazier than I am. But here it is. I have a phone phobia. Actually, it's more like a fulminating, frothing hatred. A hatred of having to make phone calls to people I don't know. People who don't know I'm about to call them. People who may not be in the mood for my call. People who may be short with me, snap at me, hit me with some response, some emotion for which I'm unprepared. That scares me. It makes me uncomfortable. It makes me want to do whatever I can to avoid it.

So, basically, I have a fear of confrontation--of potential, even unlikely confrontation. I know I'm not alone in that, though I once thought I was. I also now know that I'm not alone in the next ironic twist--being a writer, a nonfiction writer, a journalist even. You know, having a career in which you have to constantly, sometimes unremittingly, call people up to interview them, or to set up interviews, or to check facts, or to ask for something they may not want to give you. You'd be surprised at how many journalists have this same issue, how many have a similar fear. But that's beside my point.

I've always made accommodations for my phone phobia. Back in the day when I was a fact-checker, there were calls I had to make that almost literally caused me to break out in hives. I'll never forget some of them: the call to the mother of a boy dying from multiple sclerosis, who sobbed as I went over the facts of her son's continuing decline; the hour I spent on the phone trying to calm a very, very angry scientist who thought we'd totally misrepresented him and his work; the multiple civil discussions I had to have with another scientist, despite the fact that he spent half the time trying to clumsily hit on me. So I'd give myself a treat for making such calls: a trip downstairs for a cigarette, when I was still smoking; a candy bar from the corner newsstand; a walk around the block to try and burn off some of the nervous energy. And, most importantly, a blanket pardon from having to make any calls that made me uncomfrotable in my personal life. Including--especially--ordering food in. If someone I was with wanted to call the Thai place down the block, they were more than welcome to pick up the phone. I'd do whatever else they needed. But I was not--was NOT--going to make the call. Period.

That was in the late 1980s, maybe the early 1990s. And although I probably have called a restaurant or two over those decades, it was only under duress; never, not once, have I made such a call of my own accord.

Until tonight. Tonight, I called to order dinner from a Chinese restaurant. If that doesn't tell you that there's a neurochemical miracle going on in side me right now, nothing will.

I called a Chinese restaurant. It sounds so small, so stupid, saying it that way. But it's not small; it's huge. Stupid, maybe. But huge. And it's making me feel enormously pleased with myself.

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