In my ongoing discovery of what it means to be autistic, I have often come across the idea that autistic people take things literally. I have always thought this is one that didn’t apply to me. After all, I enjoy a bit of sarcasm… However, this week I saw a circus big top arriving in town and it reminded me of a time where my ‘taking things literally’ caused a major (if unusual) problem.
It must have been about 2004 and at the time I was working for the radio station, it was a really exciting time in my life and my work meant there was always something crazy going on. We were the only radio station in the area and so anything that happened on ‘our patch’ always involved us, meaning we got a lot of free stuff.
Because I had no money, I accepted every offer going no matter how rubbish the thing was. I have blogged before about how I opened a branch of Subway, went backstage at music events I knew I would hate and got some free cholesterol testing kits. None of this mattered, it was free and exciting. So when the circus came to town, complimentary tickets came my way and I shared them with the team.
For the purposes of this, I am going to change the name of my boss to Paul as he is still working on the radio and doesn’t need people like me bringing up idiotic stories from years ago. So, Paul was my boss at the time and became a good friend. He is a very generous man and I would often go into work very early and help out on his program, answering the phones and researching items. I wasn’t paid for this but it didn’t matter, I loved it and Paul’s team were great company.
In the days running up to this, Paul said he was going to be the ringmaster and open the circus from the back of an elephant. In retrospect, this was clearly a joke. He is a radio DJ and not a member of a travelling circus. However, my autistic brain didn’t register this and that evening I announced on my program that Paul would be riding an elephant at the circus. I just took it as true and made a feature of it “have you ever ridden an elephant?”, “if you were in a circus, what would your act be” and so on. The phones were busy. Several people rang to find out what performance Paul would be at and I told them it was opening night. As was standard when we did an event, I also contacted the local newspaper who agreed to send a photographer.
It seems like Paul must have been listening (or perhaps, people contacted him directly about it). Either way, all our friends rushed to get tickets for opening night which must have given poor Paul a problem. He was now committed to riding an elephant at the circus. A commitment the people running the circus were completely unaware of.
Either way, he worked his magic and made it happen. My memory of that night is that he was dressed in a white suit (think John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever) on the top of an elephant and looked completely terrified, his vertigo may have kicked in. I, however, was fairly distracted by being backstage at a travelling circus with complimentary popcorn which I promptly spilled and went on to be eaten by a Shetland pony (the popcorn, not me).
I have been trying to find the photos from the newspaper report but with no success. I think the moral of the story must be, don’t make things up and try to show off to autistic people. We might just announce it on the radio.