In the beginning of The Hobbit, Gandalf places a mark on Bilbo’s front door that tells the dwarves that this is the house that they are looking for. The dwarves then proceed to knock on Bilbo’s door and address him with the assumption that he knows what’s going on. Bilbo, who didn’t realize the mark was there, is rather flustered and confused.
I can sympathize with Bilbo, because I feel that I also have a mark on my forehead, although I can’t see anything when I look in the mirror. Mine says, “if you are strange, awkward and/or quirky, approach this girl and talk to her.” I have the strangest interactions with people on a regular basis. Sometimes these turn out well, and I gain a new friend or a funny story. For example, I made a “friend” at a botanical garden who proceeded to show me around, pick fruit for me to try, and name the different species of palm trees. Other times, it is just annoying, like when I was asked by a dance partner if I had ever put crystal meth in a CD player.
Since moving to a rather sketchy neighborhood, I have begun taking public transportation on a regular basis. This means that the number of strange creepers that approach me has risen exponentially.
“Have you ever had a boyfriend who did crack?” Ummm, I am not a ridiculously picky girl when it comes to classifying someone as boyfriend material, but he does have to be drug free…
“We on toppa da groun!” Why, yes, when the train is sitting at this station, it is above the ground. Thanks for your acute observation.
“I was gonna charge fifty but now I’m gonna charge fifty-five because he comes with nipple tassels made outta real hair.” Please don’t show me. I already know he isn’t worth the extra $5. (This wasn’t said to me directly but was purposely said loudly)
“You know I gotta show swag when I talk.” I’m pretty sure your “swag” is part of why your probation isn’t going so well.
After a few weeks of regular creepy and/or offensive interactions with people, I began experimenting with how to avoid them. I have since created a system of rules that I remind myself of daily. I cannot guarantee you a completely creeper-free transportation experience, but I can say that following these rules has at least helped me reduce the number of weird conversations I have each week.
Rule #1: Judge based on appearance and pick your location based on your judgment*. Don’t think white is better. It isn’t. Don’t stand or sit near people who display any combination of these characteristics. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.
- Pants buckled below his rear end
- Tattoos on the face and/or neck
- Walks like his balls are so big that he can’t stand with his legs straight (may or may not coincide with low-hanging pants)
- Talks to himself or calls out to every “baby” that walks past
- Wears large shiny jewelry
- Cocky look on face OR absentminded, stoned/wasted look
- Smells like alcohol and/or weed (body odor alone isn’t a marker of a creeper, but if it is combined with the smell of alcohol or weed – beware)
*Yes, I stereotype. Yes, I realize this is a generalization. No, I’m not going to apologize. I don’t want to be asked whether or not I want to “play around” with a guy, so I’m going to avoid some “nice, normal” guys who just look a little different.
If possible, sit next to a middle-aged or older woman. She is your knight in shining armor. I once watched a middle-aged lady break up a fight that was about to happen right in front of me in the train car.
Rule #2: Avoid eye contact at all costs. This seems contradictory to rule #1, but it isn’t. Develop your side vision. Judge out of the corner of your eye. I have spent many a train ride with my eyes wandering around the train because I am desperately avoiding eye contact while trying to scope someone out because I’m curious what the giant tattoo on their neck says. When you don’t have to move, it is useful to simply close your eyes.
I recently accidentally made eye contact with a specimen that displayed 5 of the characteristics from rule #1. He had beautiful dreads, and I didn’t think he had seen me. I was wrong. He proceeded to ask me if he could talk to me, and when I said no and kept walking, he told me that I had dropped something.
Rule #3: Look busy or tired. I typically put headphones in, even if I am not listening to music (sometimes it works to your advantage to be able to eavesdrop). I also will bring a book. If I am not up to reading or looking at my phone, I will fake a nap.
Rule #4: Never look lost or unsure of where you are going. I have ridden the wrong train many a time and just acted like I meant to. I have downloaded a subway map on my phone that I will discretely check while ensuring that my facial expression continues to convey that I am bored and unconcerned.
Rule #5: Stoneface. Look like you are grumpy and you hate the world. Glare at people. I have had to practice this, because my automatic reaction is to smile. Also, I have jaw problems, so I have had to learn to not clench my jaw when I fake an angry expression. The only downside to this is that you may be told to “put a smile on your face”.
Sadly, I have found that I now stoneface in a lot of situations where it is not appropriate. During the “greet your neighbor and feel miserable if you are an introvert” part of church on Sunday, I glared at all the people I introduced myself to. Whoops. Let’s just say I didn’t end up meeting any of them for lunch after.