Autism, Work & Me Part Seven: A Foundation Stone Is Laid Chapter One

Oh, it’s a long, long while / From May to December / But the days grow short / When you reach September.’ September Song by Kurt Weill & Maxwell Anderson, 1938 

June became July became August.

We lost Elvis Presley but gained Hotel California by The Eagles and punk rock had taken a foothold in my soul. In fact, from when I was very young, music had always been an escape hatch. I liked music’s hypnotic attraction, the mysterious lyrics that created strange and oblique pictures, though I didn’t always understand what I was hearing. I loved the way it got me excited, and the thrill of holding the sleeve and reading the notes. Dad taught me early on how to handle a record and how to place it properly on the turntable. You didn’t have to speak when the music played, a perfect excuse to self-isolate and ignore the distress of the surrounding world – music repelled its encroachment, and still does. Later in life, music became an entrée into conversations; in a shared passion, there is no real sense of judgement from others or need to relate to the immediate reality and the impenetrable sphere of small talk.   My application to join the RAF was proceeding slowly; there had been numerous interviews, assessments and a medical. All was going well, and I had some sense of achievement and the hope of being redeemed from the horror of the DHSS. If I thought Frank was fierce, the statutory follow up interview with the DHSS to review my Supplementary Benefit claim was chilled by the icy interchange between me and the nameless clerk cross the desk in the bleak anonymous cubicle. There was history between me and Them. The weekly Supplementary Benefit claim form required me to write ‘Unemployed’ next to each relevant day of the week. One week I submitted the form, properly witnessed, but instead of writing ’Unemployed’ I wrote ditto symbols and the claim was rejected as ‘incorrectly’ completed and I wasn’t paid. I raged impotently against their decision writing a bitter letter to accompany the reclaim. Of course, I received no response and that became the first instance of recognition that such confrontations with bureaucracy were just minor skirmishes in a war of attrition I would never win. The DHSS occupied a tower block on a patch of undeveloped land on the fringe of the town centre. Commercial House was a spectre of the 1960’s sterile ejaculations in modern design; it did not radiate warmth or a welcome. Like all bureaucracy it was faceless and assumed a prior knowledge of what you were expected to face or do. Of course, I didn’t know what to do – another missing page in the Handbook to Living. Curt instructions to take a number, go upstairs to floor seven and wait in area A to M were dispensed. I grasp the order of the actions, but I still felt uneasy. And that, autistic anxiety aside, was the main modus operandi of the DHSS; minimal interaction, don’t get comfortable, put aside all thoughts of humanity. I was terrified. I waited with the others, gathered silently, coiled and ready for my number to be called. When it was called, I inadvertently took the wrong turn and had to endure the embarrassment of being called a second time. Not quite in meltdown mode, I was overwhelmed and perched on the utilitarian chair, rather than sat, and faced the nameless clerk across the counter. The window behind her left her in silhouette and like a World War Two fighter plane she came at me out of the sun. Although not totally authoritarian in form, her questions shooked me up and my answers stumbled back. It was a short interview: What was I doing to find work?  Was I attending sessions with my employment advisor? And that was that, I could go. Although somewhat brief the experience laid the foundation stone for ongoing ‘authority angst’ an unescapable fear that I am going to fall into a Kafkaesque nightmare world, where Josef K-like I stand accused, but of what I am never informed. 

On a brighter note, Frank was firmly focused on my well-being, if disregarding my RAF application and insisting I find something in the interim can be described as attending to my somewhat shaky peace of mind. ‘I’m not pouring cold water on your attentions with regards to the RAF’, he said. Oh goodie, I thought. ‘But’, he continued, ‘you really should still be looking for a job of some sort.’ Oh baddie, I thought. Outside, blinking in the late August sun I stood and waited and hoped for Divine Intervention, a belief in which was beginning to become my own religion in which if I wished hard enough, an all-comforting spirit that would rescue me by lifting me out of my miasma to fly me to somewhere no one else would bother me. I might as well have flipped back the top of a packet of cigarettes and say into it, ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ for all the good my hope did me. Instead, I lit a cigarette and became lost as the closing guitar solo of Hotel California engulfed my mind, me with one foot on the monitor, head back as my fingers made that guitar sing.

Next time, in Part Seven, Chapter Two of The Accidental Achiever: A Foundation Stone Is Laid (Again)

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