Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Bad Example

So, a few weeks ago I was shopping at QFC on Broadway and I had a curious experience…

I had been working out at the Gold’s upstairs, and while I do shower and change afterwards, it was my opinion that I still looked a bit... like I’d just been to the gym. But no matter, right? I’m just picking up a few things at the store.

I was standing in the produce department, studying the cut pineapple and wondering whether I’d rather have Muscat grapes, when I became aware of someone standing close behind me, rather closer than I like strangers to stand. I didn’t turn around, you understand - my perception was based only on sound, and the vibration of another human being that one can feel on one’s body. I presumed it was someone who was, like myself, wanting some fruit, so without looking back, I shifted slightly to one side to allow them access to the display.

The presence shifted with me. O-kay…

A voice behind me spoke. “Would you like to go out with me?”

Now, like everyone else, I have gotten used to fact that people now have all manner of conversations on their phones in public places, and now that half of them have earpieces, you can sometimes hardly tell that they’re actually on a phone unless you look closely. It’s occasionally confusing, trying to tell the Bluetooth users from the crazy people muttering to themselves, but one tries. So for a moment I assumed that I was overhearing someone’s phone conversation. Then I looked around.

There was a man standing close behind me, staring at me with an intense, unsmiling expression. He was…sort of average looking. I mean, he was neither very tall nor very short, neither fat nor thin, and neither notably handsome nor strikingly ugly. He was maybe in his thirties, although he might have been a haggard twenty-something or a young forty. He was dressed in what I think of as standard Capitol Hill drag: loose-fitting pants, baggy t-shirt, and a hoody, accessorized with earphones trailing from his ears, down his neck and snaking away to an unseen device in some pocket.

(As an aside, I dislike it with people with earphones actually in their ears talk to me. If you have the damn things in your ears, I assume that sound is coming out of them and that you can’t hear me. I think you should take them out when you interact with people.)

He was a little scruffy-looking, and my mind danced momentarily with the idea that this was a street person employing some flirtatious brand of panhandling. There was something about the fixed stare…. But at second glance – no, probably not. Just a trifle unkept, probably on purpose.

Okay, did this guy seriously just walk up to my back and ask me if I wanted to go out? No way.

And then I thought: Oh, wait – I get it! This guy is a reader, he’s recognized me, and he’s kidding me. This was mere days after I’d posted about the What Not To Say affair, so I could see why he’d think it would be funny to tease me. And I go to this grocery store all the time, people have done the “hey-aren’t-you?” thing to me there before. (Which is fine.)

So I raised an eyebrow at him and smiled slightly, saying nothing and waiting for him to break into a smile and acknowledge the joke.

He didn’t. He just stared at me. No smile.

After a few seconds, my assurance that he was joking faltered. I think I said something like, “You’re kidding me, right?”

He replied, “You’re very beautiful.”

Ah. Okay. This is for real. I took a step back. “No. No thank you.” And then I walked away and hid in another part of the store for a little while until I could go back and get my fruit. And mused on exactly what this man had done wrong, and what he had done right.

He did, at least, have the grace to not follow me when I walked away. And while a guy giving me a fixed-unsmiling-stare always makes me think less of brooding indie-rock types and more of serial killers, I wasn’t scared by him. (Although I was mildly annoyed about feeling compelled to linger in the frozen foods, when that wasn’t what I was shopping for.) So that part was not terrible.

And I have to admit, it always catches me wrong-footed when I think I look not-my-best and some guy hits on me. I suppose when I’m all dressed up, I expect to attract a bit more attention. But if I’m just running errands in jeans and t-shirt, I walk around absorbed in my own thoughts, assuming I’m invisible. However, I am assured that I am not. Huh.

But still and all - that was one of the most doomed-to-failure-pickup attempts I have ever been subject to. I mean, I have said before that asking to be granted erotic access to a woman’s body before she’s decided that she’s attracted to you is poor strategy. Let me just expand on that idea and say that you should make a woman aware of your existence as a unique human being before you actually ask her out. Is that really such a radical idea?

I was telling Monk this story and he shook his head. “You’re in the produce department and the guy couldn’t come up with an opening line? Oh man, that’s too easy. Hey, do these tomatoes look ripe to you? Or Wow, weren’t the bananas thirty cents cheaper last week? That’s how you start out.”

Yeah, I mean - say something. Clue me in to what's going on, before you start asking pointed questions. Not that I’d have accepted a date with this man no matter how smoothly he’d engaged me over the strawberries. But I would have at least smiled and declined a bit more sweetly.

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