Intimidation

They sauntered into the store, a rag-tag group of five. The two girls were heavy-set and dressed in tight jeans or layers of peasant-style skirts and blouses.  The three guys were tall, skinny, and hunched over in their droopy jeans. The unwashed smell was thick and their greasy, lank hair slid out from under hoodies and stained wool caps.

One girl bounced up to the counter and said she worked at a local restaurant and had heard about the shop for weeks from her customers. She appeared the only one who had an honest interest. The others lined up in front of the steel tanks, gulping tastes of the oils and vinegars. I watched with a feeling of unease and indecision.  They began to spread out in the store, chatting and sampling. One of the males sidled up to the counter, openly eying my laptop left untethered by the cash drawer. I caught his eye from across the store, gauged the distance to the front door for both of us in my periphery vision and whispered, “Don’t even try it Fucker!” in my head. Instead, I smiled and walked toward him, slipping behind the counter as I closed the computer and slid it into a back corner. I chatted, asking him what he like to cook and eat, what sorts of foods interested him. He ducked deeper into his sweatshirt and slid off to join his friends.

The group was moving toward the new room. I followed and watched until I saw a regular customer enter. I had to help him but motioned to Deb. She melded into their group and caught their interest with suggested tastes of infused Maple Syrup. They clustered around the stainless steel table as she brought out the sugary elixirs, delighting in their good fortune.

“What’s up back there?” my customer queried nervously.

“Just some kids – I’m closing soon, we’ll be fine.” I reassured him.

It really comes down to what’s in your head. I looked at them, thought of all the unsettling encounters I’ve experienced in parts of the wold they could never find on a map. I thought of how little they knew of fear and bravado. I realized I was beyond being intimidated by a bunch of small town punks and could only pity them for their bad hygiene and lack of manners. Or, maybe I was guilty of “Judging a book by its cover?”

DSC_7455

Not the same kids but equally interesting in their choice of wardrobe and presentation to the world…

Maybe I’m showing my age…

 

 

16 thoughts on “Intimidation

  1. I believe you were right to heighten your sensitivities and awareness. In New Orleans, we have what are commonly referred to as oogles (because true “gutterpunks” were offended that they were being grouped into the same category). The oogles are transients who revel in the city’s party atmosphere whenever and wherever they feel like it. Many of them keep dogs (usually you can see the worms in their bellies) because it is believed almost to doctrine that one cannot be arrested while with a dog. These oogles harrass locals and tourists alike, aggressively trying to get spare change, intimidating the quiet folks of the French Quarter. But then comes my point about “gutterpunks”– these are contributing members of the New Orleans community, usually through urban farming, small business like bike repair, construction work, or as cooks in alternative eateries. These people have a different idea of hygiene and fashion than I, but I know that a person’s attitude can tell more than their preceding smell. Just because it is different from my idea of tasteful, doesn’t mean I can assume ill-will on their part. Also many of these people were former transients and come from well off backgrounds up north. Most have traveled the world, lived in boxcars, and found a family down here that made them want to stay and give back. It’s a delicate balance, and with traveling becoming more and more popular among the youth, I don’t think it’s the last we’ll see of these pilgrims.

    • How beautifully written! Thank you for your time and comment. I agree, one should not judge immediately, and try to take a moment to see beyond what offends my senses. On the other hand, it pays to be alert as I learned the hard way many years ago. My co-worker, due to her particular challenges, has less of a filter for social situations and I was worried they might see this as an opportunity to take advantage. Thankfully, all ended well…

  2. I don’t think you were being overzealous about the situation – it is a part of many societies and is something we each have to deal with. When I was a teenager (and still now) I hear about a group of teens we all have a bad habit of calling ‘mall-rats’. There normally dressed in black, rebellious style of clothing that appears to have been ripped from the characters closets of The Nightmare Before Christmas. It is quite interesting to see but I respect them for their apparent outcries of individuality in that way. Generally they can be found at the local mall and hang out in the near vicinity from the time they rise (maybe early to mid-afternoon) until the time the mall closes. Even when they’re found at the beach front they are still sadly labeled as mall-rats.

    It’s hard not to judge books by their covers. I always find it amazing if a person WANTS to dress as, lets say a hobo, but they don’t want to be regarded as a hobo. Well, unless your really a hobo – why dress this way? And if you happen to have to dress in this way then at least take a little pride in yourself and carry yourself well. Ah, the mysteries of life!

    Love the snow falling on your site by the way.
    Cheers!

    • Cheers Chris! I find it a hard line to walk between my personal reactions and “being fair” with people who choose to depict themselves as something slightly off center. Agreed, why would you dress a certain way if you don’t expect that your appearance would provoke a reaction?

  3. Years ago when I had hair down to my shoulders I walked into Woolworths one day and couldn’t even get anyone to answer a question. I went back a few weeks later after I had gotten a haircut and they were falling all over themselves asking “how may I help you?” Funny thing-I was still the same me, and I’ve never forgotten that.

    • Something like creating your own reality, no? I’m reminded of all those “experiments” where models dress as fat women to see who the world treats them differently. The lesson for those kids is simple. You can’t change the world by changing your clothes but you can change how the world treats you…

  4. And the sign says ‘Long hair freaky people need not apply’. So I tucked all my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why…

    🙂

    I remember in high school, certain kids were known as ‘hoods’. They dressed like rebels, smoked cigarettes, most likely drank and probably did drugs. And then I took a speech class with one of these ‘hoods’ and I was stunned – stunned! – at how smart and clever and interesting and funny he was. A lesson I’ve never forgotten.

    That said though Martha, my antennae would have been on high alert as well!

    • Thanks Laura. Not so concerned about my personal safety as I was the safety of the store and my co-worker whose “filter” is less refined perhaps than mine for potential danger.

      Just kids being kids. It made me feel a bit old.

  5. In my teens I hung out with a group of bikers, all black leather, ripped jeans and long hair. They looked intimidating. People gave us a wide berth and some establishments refused to serve us. We couldn’t really complain because we chose to dress that way, although the leathers were a necessity on a motorbike. Yes there were a few bad apples, as there are in any group, but, on the whole, you couldn’t wish to meet a kinder or more generous group of people. My two youngest sons are also rather nonconformist, both have long hair and beards and wear clothes in the style of a certain Mr Cobain. Bard dyes his hair all the colours of the rainbow to suit his mood. Both are hard working, kind lads with tons of compassion. Neither can go in a store without being followed around by security.

    Having said all that, I know how you feel because I would have felt the same. Often I see groups of kids that looks quite like my boys and catch myself making a judgement before I remind myself they’re probably just like my boys, making a statement, not conforming. Probably… Best not to take any chances. 🙂

    • Ah Marie, are we becoming our parents? Or have we become the older generation? First impressions are never going to change however taking the time to look beyond is always an important lesson. Thanks!!

  6. Pingback: Reunited | iwalkalone.co.uk

  7. In my job I have about 30 seconds to judge a customer. I have so often found that the more middle class softly spoken women or men can be the most threatening. However I tend to deal with individuals so when they present differently to the “norm” what ever that is, they are usually just like any other person. Although the young man with tattoos everywhere, all over his face everywhere, was a bit off putting at first…! And Yep Marie I remember the jeans and leather jackets and being moved on…those were the days;-)

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