Sex(ual harassment) and the City.

It’s funny the truisms and self-proclaimed words-of-wisdom people deem necessary to share with you, even upon first-time or chance encounters. Like the time I was shopping with my Mother at a Pier 1 in Waco last Christmas.

            My Mother can make friends with a deaf mute within five minutes, so it was no surprise to me when I stumbled upon her and another woman in the store intimately discussing something by the cash register. As is usually the case, when I walk up to her and her newest comrade, the conversation will cease and my Mother will say, “Oh, look! Here she is now. Hayley, come meet _____.”  I will call her Charlene. At this point, my inquisitive thoughts surrounding the conversation subject are put to rest and a new emotion, uneasiness, moves in. 

            In this particular case, my Mother had just finished telling Charlene about my impending semester-long trip to New York City for an internship. Being as it was, a fast-paced foreign city too far away from home, I was already nervous about this life-altering change I was about to embark on. It’s usually apparent to the third party engaged in the conversation my apprehension about the big city life, so they normally do their part to offer up an encouraging comment—a non-life-threatening thought at the least.

            But not Charlene. She could smell my fear as I wrapped up my “It’s-so-bittersweet-but-I-know-it’s-the-right-decision” speech, ending with a huge, teethy smile, declaring, “But I’m SO excited … it’s going to be GREAT!”

            Having practically set up her next move for her, I languidly waited for her response while picking off the remains of my chipped red nail polish. But Charlene had been patiently waiting for her moment to disclose with me her vast knowledge of Big Apple wisdom, and she wasn’t about to let it pass her by.

            “New York CITY?” she gasped incredulously, as if the “city” part somehow made it turn into Satan’s old stomping grounds.

            “Well,” she continued, leaning in toward me and glancing from side to side before she started, as if she were about to divulge some little-known secret that not just any old Pier 1 shopper could be privy to. There was a sense of urgency to her voice when she whispered, “All I can say about that is just watch out for all that poisonous gas emitted from those sewers … please.”

            Was this lady serious? I had heard some ominous warnings surrounding the city, but taking precaution to avoid inhaling poisonous gases was a new one. She moved back away from me and reclaimed her spot against the check-out counter, looking smug and content with her revelation. I, on the other hand, was currently exhibiting my Face of Wonder, not a rare commodity with me: Eyes as big as saucers, first, in current disbelief at what I had just heard, followed up by eyes resembling two sharp slits, as I inadvertently furrowed my brow and squinted at the specimen standing before me, wondering what possessed her to say such a thing.

            On a side note, I’ve always had a problem controlling my facial expressions. It has recently become an issue so out of hand that I am now consciously working at managing them and practicing inhibiting certain ones. I never realized this behavior of mine until certain friends started pointing it out. It mainly occurs when someone with whom I’m engaged in conversation will say something completely ridiculous (or at least something I deem ridiculous). Or maybe when, as I pass an innocent bystander in the streets, I realize he or she is displaying a rather absurd choice of wardrobe or hairstyle. Another frequent occasion occurs during my witnessing of a female trying to interact with a member of the opposite sex, but she only amounts to a silly girl with dumb jokes and a stench of desperation that can be smelt from miles away. These are only a few of the circumstances in which my face will unwittingly morph into something apparently rude and offensive to others around me. The possibilities are endless; no one is safe.

            Anyway, if one were to supply the typical, socially-acceptable response in a situation like this, I would indubitably know the proper reaction:  A “Well, good luck in New York” or “I’m sure you will just love it there” would find me smiling back warmly and nodding my thanks. However, unsure of the proper response in this particular state of affairs, I simply glanced hesitantly at my Mother while simultaneously keeping my facial expressions in check.

            “Well, all right, then,” was my answer. Then I politely excused myself to go peruse the weatherproof outdoor dinette sets.

            Then there was the time at the doctor’s office. Before my doctor was to see me, the resident nurse was required to check my vitals. Small talk ensued, of course, and we found ourselves on the same topic of my moving to New York.

            I actually thought this time around things would be different when she smiled sincerely and asked earnest questions like how long I would be gone for and where I would be living. After explaining all my accommodations to her, she gripped my wrist in preparation for my pulse-counting, sighed, and said, “Yeah, well, you just better watch your back.” Then she smiled sweetly and commenced counting my heartbeats.

            As she was mid-count, I had no choice but to keep any rebuttal to myself until she was finished—not like I really had anything to barter with that statement, anyways.

            I had two issues with her declaration. First, I wondered when this middle-aged suburban woman began thinking it was OK to employ vernacular made popular by teenage thugs and rappers. Second, in what world is it OK to knock the hopeful wind out of a young, aspiring, adventurous 21-year-old who’s throwing caution to the wind and moving half-way across the US to pursue her dreams?

            She finished up my pre-doctor preparations, and I had already decided I would keep any refutation of this subject to myself.

            On the bright side, the appointment room we were in had a hanging mirror directly across from my chair, so I was able to acutely monitor my facial expressions throughout the entire encounter.

            Other declarations of danger I’ve received have included perverted sexual predators, subway-dwelling lunatics and circumstances revolving around being chopped into tiny pieces and tossed into the Hudson River. Seriously.

            Maybe I am looking at this all wrong. Maybe I should be grateful to these individuals so concerned with my well being in a foreign city. So, if you see me traipsing through the streets of New York City with a gas-mask over my face, suspiciously looking back over my shoulder, knife in hand, keenly avoiding all gutters and drainage pipes, try to wipe that incredulous look off your face—it seems to offend others around you.

 

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