Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Headphones Guy

Gather 'round for story time!

This one is true, and happened to me earlier this week.

Last Friday I picked up a rental car to take up North to see my family. When I returned to the house to pack our bags into the car (which turned out to be a small SUV, because the rental place was out of midsizes), my dog was acting strange. At first I thought she had gotten into the trash or done something else she wasn't allowed to do, because she looked guilty as sin. If you have a dog, you know this look - ears down, laying on her belly, submissive posturing. The kid and I looked around the house for evidence of wrong doing, and found none. My dog has a checkered past, and we don't know any of it. She was picked up as a stray, starving to death, covered in fleas and puncture wounds, and had clearly lived most of her live outside, as evidenced by the fly-strike on her ears, that had eaten away most of the velvety soft fur. This to say - sometimes she acts guilty and submissive because, I assume, she had a lot of experience being punished for nothing.

Usually some kind words and a belly rub pulls her out of feeling guilty for existing, but this time, it didn't work. She whined and cried at me, which was new. When she laid on her side, I rubbed her belly, and instead of her usual ecstatic response, she winced.

Fuck me, right?

The kid's car seat was already set up in the rental so I ran out and covered the cargo area in sheets and got her in. I say that like it was easy, but she was in pain and weighs as much as some adults, but the point is - I got her in.

I won't go into too much more detail because the reason I'm telling you the above is to say: I put my dog in a rental car.

You're not supposed to put your dog in a rental car, and you're especially not supposed to put your dog in a rental car if she sheds like a hair bomb going off, which mine does. The following day, I put her back in the rental car to follow up with her regular vet. When Monday rolled around and I had to return it, the back end of that Jeep grocery-getter was covered in fawn colored dog hair, despite my best efforts with the sheets. 

I had to get gas, because the car was a Jeep, and despite not driving it for hundreds of miles North, but just around the neighborhood to the veterinarian, I had used half a tank of gas. I figured the vacuum at the gas station was a better bet than my home vacuum, and I could kill two birds with one stone. I loaded the kid into the car and set off. 

This was my neighborhood gas station. I know the clerks, I've been there easily a thousand times since moving here four years ago. I had to run in to get change for the vacuum, so I left the kid in the car and ran inside. As I approached the door, I noticed a guy staring at me. He looked to be about my age or a little older, and was loitering outside wearing headphones. I wouldn't have noticed him if it weren't for how hard he was noticing me. Around the time I stopped being able to deny that he was staring at me, he pointed at my Snake Plissken t-shirt and shouted, "KURT RUSSELL!"

I laughed, feeling foolish (he was just staring at my t-shirt, god Renee, get a grip) and said, "Yeah!"

When I came out of the gas station, though, he yelled at me again. "KURT RUSSELL! KURT RUSSELL! BIG TROUBLE IN CHINA!" I told myself he was yelling because of the headphones, and stopped myself from saying, "No, Escape From New York" or "You mean Big Trouble in Little China" and instead said, "Yeah, man! Kurt Russell!" But then he followed me back to my car. He stopped about 100 feet short as I opened up the passenger side and pulled out the knife I keep in my purse and attached it to my waist band. I looked to the kid, and she didn't seem to notice, so I put my buck in the vacuum and went to work. 

As I vacuumed the thick coat of dog hair out of the cargo hold, I watched him. Another car pulled in beside me, apparently someone he knew. The vacuum ran out of juice, and as I got out to put another buck in, I noticed he was talking to these people in a completely normal tone of voice. He wasn't off his rocker, or deafened by his headphones - he just felt the need to yell at me. But he was minding his business at that point, so I went about mine. When I moved to the back seat where dog hair had inexplicably flown over the seat and covered everything, I noticed the man creeping closer to the car. I looked to the kid and saw that she was watching him, too. I didn't like it, but I couldn't get inside the gas station to tell them someone was loitering without passing him, and I felt like calling the police over a loud mouthed loiterer who liked Kurt Russell probably wouldn't help me. Then, this motherfucker stood right in front of my rental car and leaned against the wall.

I didn't like that the kid was watching his every move. She had her dad's iPad in her lap, and a baby bunny riding a puppy offering free candy can't tear her away from that thing - but she was noticing this guy, and watching him like she was waiting for him to do something. I had been keeping my eye on him since he followed me to the car, and I definitely didn't like that he was standing right in front of us. I wouldn't say he was staring us down, but he was clearly keeping his eye on us.

In my mind, I made a plan. I didn't want to confront him and ask him to leave, because I know all too well how a situation like that can escalate, and my kid was in the car. I didn't want to traumatize her, or put myself in danger right in front of her. But I couldn't ignore this guy's behavior, and the implicit risks. I tell myself, that if he comes to the door while I'm half in, half out, vacuuming up dog hair, I'll swing the hose at his face and go for my knife. I wonder what kind of damage the hose would do, and if sticking the industrial grade sucker on his face would serve me better. I look down for split seconds at a time to finish my vacuuming and keep my eye on him while trying to decide whether hitting him or trying to suck his eyeballs out of his face is the better opening move. He doesn't move from his spot in front of my car, and I try very hard not to imagine what he might be calculating in his mind.

If this were a short story, he would have moved to the door. I would have turned the vacuum on him - either hitting him in the face or sucking his eyes out, and things would have gone wrong, or at least not smoothly. I would have stabbed a man in front of my grade schooler, and you'd get some graphic descriptions of his blood spattering on the white paint job.

But he didn't make a move, so I didn't make a move. As I hurriedly wound the vacuum hose around it's hook, he started to drift around the passenger side of the car, but he gave it a wide berth. I decided I would rather not get gas there, and got in, making some excuse to the kid to alleviate any fear, and drove across the street.

As if this were a short story, a man at that gas station also stopped me to comment on my shirt, but he was friendly and not yelling at me. The only thing he did that rubbed me the wrong way, was disagreeing that Escape From LA is a good movie if you watch it in the right frame of mind.

My mind often goes to the worst case scenario - when I am writing and when I am not. Perhaps my response to the man with the headphones was over the top - but maybe it wasn't. I've been groped leaning into my car to buckle the kid in, right across the street from her elementary school. I've told men who were creeping me out to give me space only to see the situation turn into a screaming match. I've had all sorts of bad experiences with men in public spaces, and it wasn't a possibility I was going to bet against when I had my kid with me.

It turns out that the headphones guy incident was just punctuation in a bad week getting worse, so I am at a loss for how to conclude this. But I think these stories are important to tell. 

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