Stranger Danger (But don’t worry. Everything turns out okay.)

Originally written November 20, 2010

So, blech years ago, when I was eight or nine, I was sent on an all-important errand to get Italian ices from a pizza place on Kings Highway.  I had a couple of bucks in my pocket, and strict instructions to make sure no one’s ices but my own had been licked, I’m sure.  It was also after dinner, around dark o’clock.  This was an errand with which I was familiar, and had always executed flawlessly, if I do say so, myself.

The pizza place was closed.  I walked down East 17th Street on my way back home.  Even though I was, sadly, without ices, I started singing – to myself, but out loud.  Probably something from Jesus Christ Superstar or Hair (urk.)  About halfway down 17th Street, I had the sense someone was walking behind me, and sure enough, I was right.  I walked a little faster, turned the corner onto Quentin Road and was a little nervous, but sort of shoved the anxiety aside thinking something like “He’s probably just going in the same direction as me.”

As I was about to enter my apartment building, he sort of came around from behind me and blocked my way.  He said something that, for some bizarre reason I interpreted as, “Do you know what time it is?”  I said, “Um, no, I’m not wearing a watch.”   He said, “NO.  I ASKED you DO YOU HAVE ANY MONEY?”  I said, “Yeah, but just a couple of dollars.”  He demanded, “Well, can I HAVE it???”  I took it out of my pocket and gave it to him.  I wasn’t sure, but I thought he actually may have said “Thanks,” before he took off.  Sort of halfway between a mugging and a donation.

So, I go into my apartment, into my parents’ room, where they were surprised to see me empty-handed.  “Where’re the ices?” either they or my sister asked.  I said, “I think I was mugged…”  My parents thought I was kidding around – as if I had eaten my sister’s ices in addition to mine, and was coming up with a cute excuse.  When my face scrunched up and I started to cry, they knew I wasn’t kidding.  They practically leapt over their bed to make sure I was okay, had all my limbs and no injuries, and reassured me that I had done EXACTLY the right thing in giving up the ices money.

Fast forward to blech years later, last night, in fact.  I was picking up E (my 14 YO) from her date, and waiting with her and J (her boyfriend) for his mom to pick him up.  In the five minutes or so we were in lobby of Towson Commons, we had several interactions with people to heighten my awareness just a bit.  First, someone approached me, panhandling for money.   I gave him a dollar and he went on his way.  Then, a group of teenagers (sort of punks, frankly,) asked us if we knew who Lil’ Wayne was.  E&J said, “Yeah…” and they pointed to one of the kids in the group and said, “Don’t you think he looks like Lil’ Wayne?”  E&J said, “Yeah, I guess so…” and they went on THEIR way.  But they then looped around and passed us again, rapping with some pretty obscene language.  I looked at E&J and said, “Well, they seem nice…”

Then a young couple approached us, and asked me if I knew where the Cheesecake Factory was.  I pointed them in the right direction, but he continued to ask questions.  “Do you think that’s the kind of place we can go and just order drinks, and nothing to eat?”  I said, “Why not?”  He said, “No, I mean, can we order ONLY drinks?”  “Well, I’d order more than one soda…” said I.  He said, “No, I mean ALCOHOLIC drinks – can we get ALCOHOLIC DRINKS there and no food???”  I answered very slowly, “If…you…are…over…21…years…old…I’m…sure…they…would…serve…you…alcohol.”  Weird.  They left.  I asked E&J, “Am I wearing a sign or something?”  They cracked up.

After we deliver J to his mom’s car, E and I start walking up the block to where I was parked.  J’s mom had kindly offered to drive us there, but I said, “No, no, it’s only right up the block here…”  So, we’re walking, and I get that same feeling I had when I was eight.  This time, though, the feeling that someone was following us was confirmed verbally.  They were making sophisticated remarks about my physiognomy, mostly related to the width of my posterior.  After a few “fat-ass” comments, I turned around to see if, perhaps, they were talking to someone else.  After all, no one is more aware of and disgusted by the size of my ass than I, but it WAS possible they were directing their remarks elsewhere.

But no, there was no one else there but me, E, and these three charming young men about a quarter of a block behind us.  I took E by the elbow and said, “Let’s cross here.”  (Our car was across the street.)  They stayed on their side of the street, but as we approached the car, and unlocked it, they crossed quickly towards us.  Damn remote unlocks.  I got E in the car first, but panicked a little as I realized they could then get into the car themselves since ALL the doors were unlocked.  I hurried around to my side and got in as quickly as possible.  As I started the car, they crossed in front of it and said something REALLY super clever, like “Nice MINIVAN,” and went on their way.

I fumed on the way home, fantasizing I was able to pull a Crocodile Dundee – you know, “That’s not a knife.  THIS is a knife.”  Then I was really wishing I had leaned on the horn as they crossed in front of the car, just to see them jump and scare the shit out of them.  Later, as I’m relaying all this to D (my hubby), he says, “That would have been a really bad thing to do.”  “Why???”  “Well,” he said, “What if they started banging on the car?  Or breaking windows?”  I was silent.  “And, what if they blocked you so you couldn’t drive away?”  I calmly replied, “Well, then I could have run them over.”  D gently suggested that committing vehicular manslaughter with E in the car may have caused me more problems than it would have solved, and not have been worth it in the long run.  Maybe he’s right.

Anyhow, halfway home, it occurred to me to ask E, “Did you know those guys were harassing us?”  She looked at me in surprise, and said, “No, what are you talking about?”  She was completely oblivious.  And this was NOT a child who was listening to her iPod or walking and texting at the same time.  She was not otherwise involved in anything.  She simply didn’t notice the comments, or them approaching us.  D and I agreed this was the scariest part of the whole evening.  She. had. no. idea.  I, at the age of eight, had a keener sense of what was going on around me and self-protectiveness than she has at fourteen.  This incident so clearly revealed an aspect of her upbringing that is lacking, which must be remedied.  It also revealed the difference between growing up in Brooklyn and growing up in SmallTown, USA, I suppose.  Mixed blessing to be sure.

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