By Miles Johnson

When we’re little, we are taught not to talk to strangers. That’s an easy rule for a child to follow. There isn’t much reason for a kid to chat with someone who isn’t family, a supervising adult or a friend. Once we leave the nest, however, we lose these luxuries of youth. There are few safe zones, and no grownups to guard us from danger. It becomes the individual’s responsibility to protect themselves from potential threats. Thankfully, the English language has given us plenty of ammunition to use against weirdos.

“Leave me alone,” “don’t talk to me” and “NO” are all potent repellants.

I have a hard time with these. I find it difficult to be rude to someone that I don’t know, even if the situation calls for it. During spring break my sophomore year, I went grocery shopping at Kroger with my roommate. At one point, I found myself alone in the frozen vegetables section. A man in his 30’s approached me. I had seen him earlier in the week and had given him some money, but it seemed that he wanted something else this time.

“How you doing man? How you been?” he asked.

“I’ve been good” I replied.

“So what are you doing like 15 minutes from now?”

“Well, I’m just with my roommate buying some groceries, so I’ll probably just head home”

“Man, are you sure? What about, like, 20 minutes from now?” he persisted.

“No, I mean, I’m probably just going to head…home.” I said as I started to squirm.

“Man, can’t you tell I’ve been into you man? I’m diggin’ you.”

“Um, ok, I mean, that’s cool. But yeah, I’m probably just going to go straight home…” I started to inch out of the aisle.

“Man I should tell you something.” He paused. “I’m huge.”

I continued to slide toward the start of the aisle while making small talk. Thankfully, I saw my roommate pass by and she saved me from imminent doom. Later, I couldn’t help but think that I could have handled the situation better. Why hadn’t I just told him to get a life?

Perhaps it’s my Midwestern-bred manners (if that regionalism is even true) that causes me to have trouble shunning strangers. Really, though, I suspect my behavior stems from my hatred of conflict. I avoid arguments like the plague. I can proudly say that I’ve never had a row with a friend, and haven’t raised my voice at anyone in years. I just think that problems are better solved with calm logic. My predicaments with strangers continue to put holes in this theory, however.

I spent last Halloween in Atlanta. The friend I was visiting was at work for seven hours, which gave me plenty of time to kill. I ended up at a gay bar and managed to rope a nerdy looking loner into conversation. He was too awkward to be dangerous, but the man who sat down on my other side was all confidence. I thanked him for telling me I was cute, and laughed it off when he brushed his hand across my stomach. At this point I should have chastised him and left, but naturally I didn’t.
We continued to chat and then he grabbed my jaw. He turned my face towards his.

“No, I don’t think so!” I exclaimed.

“I understand,” he said in a soft voice. “It’s awkward, there’s too many people.”

“Right, that,” I replied, chuckling nervously.

Minutes later he grabbed my chin a second time, and again I had to rebuff his advance. Soon after, I escaped with the nerdy-gay, only to ditch him minutes later and make my exit. I was ashamed at myself for letting that creeper get away with so much. Why hadn’t I put him in his place?

Part of the reason why I fear conflict with strangers, is because I don’t know how they are going to react. They could potentially do anything since I know nothing about them. What if that guy at Kroger had had a knife?

The other big contributor to my behavior is my misguided sense of politeness. Who am I to admonish strangers? I don’t want to ruin someone’s night just because they’re being Mister Grabby Hands. It’s easier just to awkwardly continue a conversation while calculating my socially acceptable escape. That way we can both come out nearly unscathed.
Or do I owe it to society to put these low lives in their place? Obviously their behavior is unacceptable, shouldn’t I tell them so? Deep down, I realize that, yes, I should say something. If not for my sake, then for everyone that deserves to be treated with respect, I should raise my voice to these miscreants.

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you?” I’ll shout. “You shouldn’t talk to strangers!”