Safe at home

When you work at home, it's just a short jaunt to agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia -- from the Greek for "there are teen-agers wearing baseball caps backward in my neighborhood" -- is the fear of open spaces. It is a serious psychological condition and not something to be taken lightly. Typically, people with agoraphobia tend to stay indoors rather than risk the panic attacks brought on by exposure to crowds.

People who work in home offices are prime candidates for agoraphobia. We're spoiled to our solitude. We've built cozy nests for ourselves, and we manage to do our work via the comfortable distance of telephone and e-mail. We often go days without face-to-face contact with anyone other than our immediate families.

But sometimes we must leave the house and go outside. Then we are reminded that the world is populated by vast numbers of other humans, most of whom seem intent on getting in our way.
I sometimes find myself sounding like a Jerry Seinfeld routine, "Who ARE these people? Don't they have HOMES? Why are they all bent on sharing the same street/store/school/parking space that I want to use? And why are they so rude?"

As I write this, I'm still stewing about a traffic incident earlier today. A man of apparent foreign extraction pulled out in front of me in a car the approximate size of an Amana side-by-side refrigerator. Apparently, the vehicle was foot-powered, like on The Flintstones, because it took him several blocks to reach a cruising speed of 15 mph. Then, when we reached a green light, he stopped for no apparent reason. After carefully checking both ways, he proceeded on the yellow light, leaving me sitting at the red, sputtering curses.

Minutes later, I entered a supermarket, only to find the same man wandering the aisles. I wanted to tell him off, but he had twitchy eyes and was dressed like a terrorist. I bit my tongue, collected my groceries and moved to the slow-moving checkout line. A woman behind me with wild bottle-blond hair kept screeching about how the store should have more checkers. She was late, she protested. It was the store's fault. And there was the implication that I should just move my overflowing cart and let her get on with her busy, busy life. I paid my tab, avoiding all eye contact, and hurried away.

Then it was on to the bank, where I stood in the velvet-rope maze with a man who had some skin condition that made him scratch himself repeatedly. I got itchy just looking at him. The guy in front of me apparently had never been to a bank before because he questioned every aspect of the transaction. The teller was very patient. I wasn't.

By the time it was all over, I just wanted to go home, unplug the phone and curl up under a blanket for, say, three days. Agoraphobia, here I come.

I wasn't always such a hermit. When I had a 9-to-5 job, I talked to strangers every day. But working alone ruins you on other people. Now, if someone I don't know speaks to me, my first reaction is: "What's wrong with THAT guy? What does he WANT?" I duck my head and mumble and scurry home.

It's no surprise I turned out this way, I suppose. When I was in junior high school, the counselors gave all the students a personality test as part of a careers class. The test was supposed to help us determine what sort of field we should enter as adults. When the counselor scored my test, the results showed that I was best-suited for a job as a forest ranger or as a lookout in a fire tower. In other words, I should be out in the wilds somewhere, far from human contact, working all by myself.

Other folks who work at home may get lonely. They miss the camaraderie of the water cooler. But plenty of us are happy where we are, away from the open spaces, avoiding the unwashed masses.

Maybe it's not too late to take up firespotting.

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