This is my fourth week in the University. I’ve been working with nurses and fake cervix dolls for so long now, that I’d forgotten some of my previous jobs. And those previous jobs, while I’ve enjoyed them with a slow frown and a dumb acceptance, have been occasionally shit. According to some friends, I’m capable of “so much more”, I’m just not certain what exactly I’m capable of, and when I ask people what it is I’m capable of, they utterly fail to write out my ten-year plan.
There’s something quite gratifying, however, about taking orders from someone who has no idea what they’re talking about, and seeing what facial expressions you can get away with.
Take your average post room. It’s undemanding work mentally, so as an employer you’ve got a wider scope of employable IQs. How diplomatic was that? I’m saying that I worked with some amazing, top rank retards. In the post room in which I worked in I did, there were two full-fledged mouth-breathers.
There was a semi-autistic bloke called Dennis, and a real-life wowzer Downer called Josephine. Everyone called her Jo, but she’d look really grumpy when they did, so I made the effort and used her full name. Because despite the fact I’m writing this now, I’m not a monster.
Josephine. It took me until day seven in the post room before she introduced herself. She seemed shy, and unable to meet my friendly glances. After a week, the part of myself given to irritating fantasy was telling me she fancied me, and was asking me how I’d deal with it if she made a pass at me. They’re strong people, I assume from absolute ignorance. Would I be able to fight her off?
I took a photo of her on my phone. Here she is. I’m sorry, Josephine, but you’d be the first to admit that you do all look the bloody same.
Once we’d broken the ice, Josephine relaxed. The practical evidence of her relaxation was that she would belch in front of me. She’d belch about five times a day, and I got into the regular routine of saying “Josephine, I heard that!”, later developing it into “One more for good luck?”, and “It sounds like the ruddy docks in here!”
It became our routine. She’d smile at me, and I’d wink back at her. Then we’d get back to posting council tax reminders to our neighbours. There was comfort.
Things changed when, by pure and wonderful fortune, she let rip with a shocking belter. I was looking at her, and what I saw hypnotised me for ten minutes. Her top set of dentures slid out of her mouth. They didn’t fly out, or anything dramatic – they slid, slowly, over her bottom lip and came to rest. It was like watching a sleepy Alien’s little head come out, to see who’s come knocking at 3am. I failed to make my usual buddy-ha-ha comment. I couldn’t find the words. Josephine pushed her teeth back in, and gave me a cheeky, knowing smile.
I wanted to see it again. I’d stare at Josephine, to the point where I was worried that people would notice I was staring at her. So I had to turn it into a game. I would limit myself to five second stares, where I’d will her to belch so fruitily that it caused her dentures to drop onto the table. If she didn’t, I wasn’t allowed to stare at her again for ten minutes. This game was the only reason I didn’t stare at her solidly for eight hours.
By the time I’d finished that job, I’m certain that Josephine thought I had fallen in love with her. The symptoms were identical.
Onto Dennis, then. Dennis had a mental age of 11, and was spot-on. Friendly, he had the Asperger’s trait of being set in his routine, and panicky without it. Dennis loved music. He loved Coldplay, Travis, and Starsailor. He did, remember, have a mental age of 11.
One day he came in, clearly excited, with a new edition of the Guinness Book of Hit Singles. This was his obsession, his autistic party trick. He had memorized every entry of the old edition, and set about reading the new one in every spare minute. After two weeks, he challenged us all to ask him anything. Anything at all.
But… because he was only semi-autistic (he could engage on an emotional level – he was genuinely fond of people – and he loved jokes), he didn’t have the full-on idiot savant skills range. So he’d constantly get things wrong. And when he did get things right, it was generally stuff that I’d know, from a lifetime of non-autistic what I call “listening to music”.
Break times were, therefore, a squalid exercise in rolling your eyes and leafing through the Guinness Book of Hit Records, looking for fucking obvious records. Paint It Black, Dennis? IS IT NATALIE IMBRUGLIA?
When I said, earlier, that Dennis had a grasp of jokes, let me tell you his favourite joke;
Why did the world outside stop raining?
Because it had run out of water.
I laughed at this. It was brilliant that he’d specified that the world outside had stopped raining. Because it wouldn’t rain inside, even if the world hadn’t run out of water, you see. He may be spaffed upstairs, but he’s not stupid.
Dennis’ next favourite joke – My friend asked me if I took the train home – I said no, I can’t get it through the front door.
Every day at the post room, every day spent opening envelopes, came with a growing sense of belonging. And I’d like to be able to say that was the reason I left… but it wasn’t. I left because there was a couple of extra quid an hour on offer in a nearby nursing university. With cervical smear videos and everything.