As someone living in this modern world, a world that requires a certain amount of circumspection regarding the strangers we choose and choose not to engage with on our sidewalks, I sometimes find myself caught in a struggle between my plucky sense of fairness (which believes everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt), and my wily sense of self preservation (which believes the lurching man with the clawfoot and the exposed underbelly deserves a wide berth).
Sometimes my plucky side wins the day, and when I’m approached, I will stop and listen to the stranger’s story. Most times, the story is of the sob variety, full of automotive troubles, infections, and used thermoses in need of selling. But every once in awhile, I’m rewarded with someone who simply wonders what time it is, or needs to know how to get from downtown San Francisco to Yosemite (“just drive…East”). And on these occasions, my plucky side is always so happy that she decided to stop and listen, because there’s nothing Plucky loves more than sharing the time and showing the way.
But if there’s something funny about the person’s body language, or pants, self-preservationist Evany does a little internal profiling and conclusion-jumping, and opts to simply mutter “I’m sorry” as she sidesteps on by.
Most of the time, that’s the end of it; the person simply tries again with the next passerby. But sometimes, for instance while we were walking to get Indian food last night, the sidestepped person goes bananas and starts yelling about how rude it is to not even listen to what he was going to ask, reasoning that tugged directly at Plucky’s guiltstrings.
So I circled back and told the man to go ahead and ask me his question. Only instead of asking the question, he launched into a longggg preamble about “respect,” with all these sub-sections and bullet points and a sad lack of question marks. I was crabby and hungry and the naan bread was calling, so I not very nicely began to count down the dwindling seconds of my patience on my hand digits, “5…4….3…” This total rudeness struck the man as rude, and suddenly he’s all screaming and FUCK-YOU-ing and pedaling furiously after us on his bike.
Which is how I wound up yelling in the middle of Grand Avenue that “My ears are not trashcans!” And then, pointing at one of the public trashcans on the street, inviting the man to insert his “mouth into the trashcan!”
Not exactly the reasoned exchange of information that Plucky had hoped for. Or the low-profile, low-risk exchange that Self Preservationist was shooting for? Welcome, unpleasant, regrettable, uninvited Evany! Please, won’t you just sit down and put some of this giant Taj Mahal lager into your mouth. See? How much better? Yes. Shh. There there.
Maybe I should skip the multiple-personalitied decision tree and simply answer each and every approaching stranger’s request with a gigantic smile and an oblivious “I believe it’s about 7:30!”