Tonight I am wondering why I do the idiot things I do.What on earth compels me to open my mouth when clearly, the situation calls for the exact opposite?
An hour ago I passed a twelve-year-old girl on the sidewalk, a complete stranger. It was dark.We were illuminated only by a streetlight fifty feet away.
As she prepared to pass me in the opposite direction, she pointed at a group of nervous nearby twelve-year-olds clustered near the alley and said, “Those girls thought you were someone scary.”
Without hesitation, I said, “I am scary.”
What the hell is wrong with me?
I think I know why this happened.
I broke my routine.
I normally walk super late at night. I nestle my ear buds comfortably into my skull and crank the iPod. I half walk, half dance-walk while I work through plot problems and rewrite sentences for the next book. Leaving the house at midnight to walk around my neighborhood is not uncommon. Last week it was 1:30 a.m. and I thought to myself, “Time enough for a quick walk before bed.”
But we’ve reached that critical time in August when days are growing noticeably shorter, summer’s last hurrah. Every sunny day seems to beckon, shouting, ‘Come out! Come out and soak up the pleasurable humidity. Soak it up. Winter is coming.’ I am no friend to humidity, but even I couldn’t resist tonight’s twilight.
I sauntered out into the neighborhood around 8:30 p.m.
First, I visited my gas station. They’re part of my nightly ritual. The Pompadour Man who works the counter raised his eyebrows and said, “You’re early.”
I usually show up two minutes before they close at 11:00 p.m. Because of this, White-Haired Mop Guy kinda hates my guts and lets me know non-verbally what he thinks of last minute customers. He doesn’t speak much English, but his meaning is clear. Over time, he has developed a glum tolerance for me and he nods with resignation when I come in right before they turn off the lights.
I like to think we’re working up to a hug.
White-Haired Mop Guy saw me tonight around 8:40 and frowned. I am messing up his world. Over the summer, he revised his mopping pattern based on my predictable thirst for milk at 10:58 p.m. He doesn’t mop the milk aisle first anymore. I came into the gas station early tonight and the whole world was thrown out of whack.
I strolled back to my house, put the milk on the front steps and left. I could have put the milk in the fridge but normally I’m walking late at night. There aren’t a lot of milk thieves out that late. I trust my neighborhood. The milk will be fine.
Funny thing I found on tonight’s walk: people. Lots of them. I passed neighbors in their yards, others walking dogs, some pushing babies in strollers, and came upon an informal gathering of 45th and Oakland neighbors around a fire pit in someone’s front lawn. I watched people leave their homes to come to the fire pit. I like my neighbors.
Oh, and teenagers.
Holy cats, who knew so many teenagers hung out by their cars in the early night? Huh. I guess that’s been going on since the 1950s, but it’s been a while since I was a teenager. I forgot the appeal of hanging out in front of your car.
I kept getting surprised by all the people out watering, chatting, and generally delighting in the post-sun glow. I never see people on my midnight strolls. It’s me and the feral cats wandering the hood. Tonight, I heard a mom yell at the kids to come inside and they ignored her, kicking a ball around the yard a few last times before it was pitch black.
Then, the girls.
I swear, dozens of girls all under the age of thirteen. Where did they all come from? I could not see any adults around, no chaperones and we’re talking easily thirty young girls. No school was nearby. Halfway up the block, I could hear them squealing and overtalking each other.
What if they ganged up on me? Heroically, I decided not to be afraid of twelve-year-old girls screaming in the first-dark of night. I reassured myself that they were more afraid of me than I was of them.
Turns out, I was right.
As I hulked down the street in their direction, some of them screamed and ran away. That’s when I truly understood their numbers, when they moved in a flock. I heard seven unique pitches of screeching, witnessed assorted purse-clutching and hand holding, and then watched the the firefly lights blink on and off in the backs of their shoes. Those who weren’t wearing sparkly shoes ran in clogs, creating a ker-thumping echoing off the nearby houses.
Where did they all come from?
It was a sparkling tweener mess.
They turned, en masse, and raced into the pitch-black alley. I was horrified, thinking of all these girls running down a south Minneapolis alley at night, but I relaxed a few seconds later. Roughly sixteen to twenty of them were running and screaming together and I realized I should spend more time worrying about whoever they encountered.
The funny thing was, they weren’t even aware of their power. As a group, they were unstoppable.
I passed a few of the girls who did not run in the pack and I nodded in acknowledgement or muttered a cheery hello.
One girl yelled to the alley-flock, “It’s okay….it’s not him.”
As she prepared to pass me in the opposite direction, she pointed at the alley-flock who were giggling and returning. “Those girls thought you were someone scary.”
Without hesitation, I said, “I am scary.”
Again, I ask, who says that to a twelve-year-old girl on a dark street? I need better people skills.
Quickly I added, “But ultimately I’m harmless. Just a fat guy listening to his iPod.”
I really just need to keep my mouth shut.
The chittering flock and I passed each other, most of them giggling and nodding at me, relieved I was somehow not the object of their fear. I wonder who they were afraid of, who they thought I might be? I mean, those girls fled down that alley, their shoes blinking furiously. They trucked.
Maybe they thought I was that creepy guy who is always walking the neighborhood after midnight?
As the last girl passed me, she said with relief, “Thank you.”
Uh…for what? For not murdering you?
No problem, kid. I wasn’t wearing my murdering shoes anyway.
Besides terrifying an entire entourage of Hannah Montana groupies, the other productive outcome from my evening constitution was that I ran into the cool lady who grows amazing fruits and vegetables in her front yard. I re-introduced myself and reminded her that three years ago, I stopped by and traded her my homemade raspberry jam for some of her delicious cherry tomatoes.
She said, “I remember you! I’d definitely be up for that trade again this year.”
I’m delighted that I’m not scary to everyone.
When I returned home, the milk was still on the front porch.