I went to the bank today. It’s been years since I physically had to. And I was reminded of that one time that I was standing in line at the counter and a bunch of black-dressed gentlemen with their faces covered in stockings bursted in holding guns and gently asked us to stay where we were lest we might get hurt. I think it was fifteen or so years ago and it was almost lunchtime and I had to go meet a friend for lunch and this time I’d better not come up with another excuse or she’ll cancel me. This is not gonna take long, said the muffled voice of one of the men in black. Just don’t move and keep your hands up.
I wasn’t scared, maybe because we were so many in there, or maybe because it all looked like the few steps of a standard procedure: storm in, (subtly) threaten, take the money, storm out. It wasn’t at all like in the movies, where robbers are mean, angry, loud and violent individuals and people scream in horror and someone gets wounded and the old lady faints and it’s all a tragedy. The villains, here, were gentle, polite, almost apologetic that they had to do this, and careful in giving us clear and precise instructions so this whole inconvenience could be over soon. And, by how they talked, I bet they were highly educated and well-read too.
So now I was stuck there, motionless, hands up and phone in my pocket. And in my head I had the perfect line to text my friend but I couldn’t move, let alone text -- this time it wouldn’t be an excuse; a lame, stupid, embarrassing and cheap excuse like all the others I came up with. This was a real setback, and all I could think of that very moment wasn’t that I was in the middle of a dangerous bank robbery, but that I was so looking forward to telling my friend that, again, I couldn’t really meet her for lunch because of force majeure. Sorry, not my fault. Don’t believe me? Come over and ask the robbers.
It’s not that I don’t like seeing people for lunch. I just like being alone better. I have a preference for solitude. When I had an office job, I would invent thousands of excuses not to go have lunch with my colleagues (I hate that word) every day. I was such a creator of excuses. Some were recurring (doctor’s appointment or my folks are in town or my big toe hurts I can’t really walk); others were one-shots (I left a window open at home and it’s gonna rain in ten minutes or I have to go buy a punching bag or my friend’s car’s on fire). There was this whole team-building and camaraderie thing that was taken very seriously and you had to spend non-work time with your officemates, get to know them and what was going on in their lives as if they were your extended family. I never liked that too much, and every time I had to go because I’d run out of excuses or something came up that we had to talk about (as if the many hours at work suddenly weren’t enough), it was like holding my breath underwater. This was nothing personal -- I liked these people, they were all friends and good humans and I’d worked with them for almost two decades. It was an “It’s not you, it’s me” kind of thing, and I saw the innocuous, white lies as a way of protecting my space rather than expressing a dislike.
I’m comfortable being on my own, sitting at a cafe and having lunch. This simple setting gets me into a state where I can read, observe, space out, let my thoughts go wherever they want, or simply be. Paradoxically, I find having someone’s face and sounds and words and gestures in front of me distracting, as if paying attention to them -- and not mindlessly unfocusing -- were the real form of distraction. And this only happens with lunches. I like being accompanied to museums or when doing errands or just wandering around town, for example. Lunch, I’d rather do it alone. I guess it has to do with breaking the day’s routine, absorbing the energy that I see around me from people going about their lives or maybe detaching themselves from their own chaotic scripts. “Don’t you get bored?”, I get asked sometimes. Nope, I answer. And I stop there, as I find it unnecessary to venture into explaining why, at the risk of starting a big argument. After candidly explaining my motives, once, someone replied “Don’t you risk overthinking?”.
Overthinking has a negative connotation in our culture, as if there should be a limit to our thoughts, as if it could be too much. It’s never too much. You go ahead and think, as much as you want, for as long as you want, as deeply as you want. You may decide to use a minuscule part of that thinking, but the rest doesn’t go to waste: it gets stored in our personal thought repository for future retrieval, if need be. And thoughts create ideas, and reflections around ideas, and connections between different ideas, and other unconscious material that one day will knock on your brain’s door with a surprising “Isn’t that what you were looking for?”. There’s no risk of overthinking, and it’s never a waste of time.
Once the men in black finished their job and got gone, the bank employees called the police and were told to keep us all there cause we would have to be “interrogated”. But now we no longer had to keep our hands up and I could finally reach for my phone and text my friend. “I’m stuck at the bank cause there’s been a robbery and we have to be here until the police arrive. So, raincheck! Sorry.”
She replied with an insult and went on saying that my fantasy had reached unbearable levels, that she’d never dealt with anyone this false and unreliable, and that I could forget having lunch with her, ever. She took it pretty bad, and I tried to explain but I couldn’t really say that, this time, the excuse was real. So I gave up.
“I have to admit that was a very good one, though”, she wrote with a smile emoji later that day. I liked that, and I was kind of relieved. But we never had lunch together again.
Thanks for reading The Semi-Serious View! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Silvio, this is so good!
My favorite part: "I couldn't really meet her for lunch because of force majeure. Sorry, not my fault. Don't believe me? Come over and ask the robbers."
I laughed out loud.
Also, very insightful thoughts on overthinking. I'm going to think about it.
Loved this fun musings on having lunch by yourself, an experience I treasure myself. Meet me for lunch by ourselves Silvio!