Autism: A Different Kind of Cool

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I misspent my youth pursuing a mythic swagger, the kind of 90’s aura that exuded confidence, often styled in baggy clothing, large sunglasses, maybe a mushroom haircut — the absolute zenith of what one could be:

Cool.

I sought cool — the intangible unobtainium — working with an earnest passion, but with a maladroit, inexpert approach. Cool was at once effortless, but effort-laden. You couldn’t pull off cool without putting it on.

Without being able to figure out how to do cool, I couldn’t be cool. But I pretended. Fabricated. Dreamed. Even my WWF-fueled enthusiasms at the time shaped my imaginary character: King Cool — WWF Champion, who epitomized cool.

And I don’t even know what made him cool. He just was cool.

I didn’t know I was autistic then, but I knew I wasn’t cool.

I was more Screech Powers than Zack Morris, only less social. The wrong kind of different.

After retreating to and cultivating a niche set of tastes — some palpably bad (Gundam-emblazoned Hawaiian shirts), some presciently good (Dragon Ball Z, electronic ambient music), some just bizarrely dated or transient (game shows, Beanie Babies) — and having little else but to double down and just lean into the things that I enjoyed, I gave up on cool.

Until I thought about a legend of character: Senor Cardgage – a bizarre idol of a different kind of cool.

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That’s the best I feel I’m going to do in The Life Autistic, to obtain that different kind of cool.

To where I imagine I’m sitting at a table, languidly working down a water glass, and someone brings up a little-known yarn about me.

“Hey, so I you worked for the State Department when you were like, fourteen?”

And I’d set my glass down, sigh in a way where they’d know they’d uncovered a secret about me.

“I was fifteen, and it wasn’t quite the State Department, but —”

Or someone remembers the one time I emailed out a playlist of songs that overlapped with zero other peoples’ taste.

“Hunter, on what planet do you even find the genres for the stuff you listen to?”

And I’d chuckle.

“I was an old hand in the underground electronic scene, and I had to be dedicated, trying to get 9-minute drum’n’bass tracks off a shoddy dialup connection overnight.”

Through manifold enthusiasms, obsessions, growing up living life with a different mind, using big words that put me in different company, holing up to carve out my own interests and depths, navigating rough social sands before I even knew autism was a thing — I never became cool.

But I found the different kind of cool.

 

 

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