I’ve spent a good portion of my life afflicted with a mild form of Tourette syndrome, a disease that is not what many people believe it to be. Rather than the uncontrolled shouting of curses that one sees on TV, for the great majority of people, Tourette is just an abundance of what are called “tics” or twitches”, but in reality are simply compulsive movements of one kind or another. Describing the compulsion to move is like describing a really bad itch. You can refuse to scratch it or you can distract yourself and try to forget about it, but sooner or later, you are compelled to scratch the itch. That is what Tourette syndrome feels like, an itch that simply must be scratched in the form of physical movement, like blinking of the eyes, a rapid head movement, or some rapid facial distortion.
There have been times, especially as a child, when I suffered quite a bit of ridicule for the fact that I was always in motion. Some saw it as having an abundance of energy, some saw it as my body about to explode. I was not allowed to finish the 6th grade because I scared the hell out of my teacher with my constant head movements. Some people were truly scared of what I might do.
When I grew into adulthood, most of those with whom I associated were civil and polite about it, but I would get the occasional stare from those whom I had never before met. There was, however, a particular episode which I will share with you today.
I worked in a car dealership with about 20 other salespeople. Some were friends and some were merely acquaintances, but we all got along. Or so I thought.
One day when we were very slow in the showroom I happened to walk into our breakroom to find at least 10 of my co-workers sitting around drinking coffee. It must have been a slow day for conversation since, the minute I walked in, the conversation moved to me. First it was the little comments about twitches, (here comes Twitchy), then some more crude comments about sex for someone who moved around so much, finally to end up with various of my work “buddies” mimicking my movements when they thought I couldn’t see, but not hiding it when they realized I could. I felt quite conspicuous and embarrassed and was rapidly trying to come up with an appropriate response that wouldn’t appear that I was hurt or angry since they could then use the excuse that I was being a wuss or something like that.
Rather than showing any offense at these mean comments, I grabbed a chair, put it in the middle of the room and said, “Yeah, it’s been tough. Because of my twitching, I was never able to have the career I’ve always wanted”. This bit of seriousness combined with a conspicuous lack of retaliation on my part caught the others a bit off guard. The room quieted. I continued, “Yeah, I always wanted to own my own used car lot, but my twitching kept me from doing it”.
At this point, their curiosity had overcome them and they all quieted down to listen to what I had to say. To explain parenthetically, most owners of used car lots buy their cars at huge wholesale auctions that are only open to those who are licensed by the state as Used Car Wholesalers. They work the way most auctions do, with buyers bidding on the cars and the highest bidder taking the car home.
I continued my narrative in the breakroom:
“Yeah, so after I got my wholesaler’s license, a buddy of mine took me to my first auction to show me the ropes. I hadn’t brought any money since I was just starting out and didn’t have any, plus I wasn’t planning to buy anything yet. I was just there to learn how it all worked. So there I was, in the front row with my friend, watching the action, fascinated by the rapid bidding, winning and changing of cars in the auction lane. When bidding, some of the attendees would hold up a card with their bidder number, and others would just raise their hands, wink at the auctioneer, or make some other furtive gesture, since, quite often, the individual bidders did not want the room to know who was bidding on which car.”
“So, after a few hours the auction was over and my buddy and I started to leave. As we got to the gate, one of the officials approached me and said he needed my money or my bank information. I inquired as to what he meant, and he responded, ‘Fella, you bought 16 cars!’”
As I got to this point, all the guys in the break room were transfixed by my thoroughly fabricated story. I didn’t laugh or act as if it were funny. I just looked down and shook my head in mock seriousness and feigned despair over this ostensibly painful memory. The others in the room didn’t know what to do or say, since here I was describing, with all the seriousness I could muster, what I was conveying as a terrible episode in my life, one that had ruined my ambition to be a used car dealer. No one dared laugh or make fun since a very serious, dark cloud now hung over the room.
The break room remained somber and silent as I grabbed my coffee, turned toward the door and walked out, trying very hard to hold back my broadening smirk, in full confidence that no one would ever ridicule my Tourette Syndrome again.