Awkward Situations

I was sitting in the waiting area at the Toyota dealership when the service adviser walked up and told the man sitting to my left that his car was ready. Lucky him, I thought. The man stood, rounded up his family, and walked out of the room. While I hadn’t even spoken to him, his departure had quite the effect on me.

I was there to get a spare key for the Corolla we’d recently purchased. The salesman had been unable to locate the second key when we bought the car, and had arranged for the service department to make a new one. So there I was on a Saturday morning, waiting along with hordes of others for my car to be ready.

When I first entered the room, nearly every seat had been taken, and I’d wedged myself in between the man I mentioned before, and an elderly black women. Not being the type of person who ordinarily engages strangers in conversation, I’d immediately buried my nose in the David Sedaris book I’d brought along. I was in the middle of a particularly funny story, struggling not to laugh out loud, when the man and his family left and three additional seats were suddenly open.

My first thought was to move down a seat or two, just to give myself and the woman to my right a little extra room. But just as I was about to get up, another thought bored into my brain. What if she thought I was moving because of her? What if she thought I was an ageist or, even worse, a racist? What if she took offense and glared at me with disgust?

Now of course, the rational part of my mind knew that this result was highly unlikely. It was quite possible that she wouldn’t even notice I’d moved, or wouldn’t care even if she did. But the kind of thoughts that get me into uncomfortable situations do not come from the rational portion of my brain, and I found myself glancing at her from the corner of my eye.

At some point, I realized that I’d been shifting my eyes from side to side for way too long, and that someone had most likely noticed. I could have simply focused on my book and made an effort to forget the whole thing, but instead I abruptly stood up and lurched across the room and into the bathroom.

I hurried into a stall and sat down on the toilet seat. I knew what I should do next. I would go back to the waiting aread and sit in a diffent seat. But what if the woman noticed that I’d chosen to to so? What if she got the impression that I’d been anxious to move away from her? Perhaps I should return to the same seat I’d been in before. But then again, consciously choosing to sit right beside her when there were other available seats might be even more of a red flag. What a weirdo, she might think.

In the end, I did neither. Instead I chose to remain in the bathroom. I sat in the stall, reading my book, until I felt certain that my car would be ready. Finally, when I felt that it was safe, I re-entered the waiting area. A mostly new group of people were now seated in the room, except for the elderly woman and her family, who were in the same place as before. I was trying to decide how to proceed when the service advisor appeared and told me that my key was ready.

Saved by the bell. I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t arrived at the last minute to save me from further embarrasment. I probably would have reacted the way I had a few days before, when I found myself in another no win situation of a similar sort.

I’d stopped at the supermarket on the way home from work to pick up a few things. As usual, I ended up with several bags full of items I hadn’t planned on getting. I exited the store and headed down the walk which ran alongside the parking lot. It was at this point that a situation intruded into my day.

As I headed for my car, I suddenly found myself walking behind a man who was obviously struggling to make his way. He was limping, moving with the stiff walk of someone who is either disabled, or has recently suffered an injury. From his appearance, I guessed that it was the former. Before I knew it, I was right behind him.

I slowed down a step, not wanting to startle the guy. He struggled along, oblivious to the person walking nearly in step with him. I was about to go around when the abnormal portion of my brain struck again. Suddenly I worried what the man might think if I breezed by him, moving with unimpeded ease.

I held back, walking slowly to avoid catching up. Periodically I would speed up, intending to go around, only to fall back at the last minute. What if the man took offense to my move and felt as if I was throwing my ease of motion in his face? I knew that at some point he would notice I was there, but I still wasn’t sure what the best course of action might be.

In retrospect I should have just walked around the man and gone on my way. But I didn’t do that. Instead, I remained in the background, walking a step behind him. Eventually I did decide to pass him. But when I sped up and stepped to his left, he suddenly looked up, surprised to see me there. “I’m sorry,” I said. Then I turned ninety degrees to my left and hurried across the parking lot, even though my car was parked in the opposite direction.

Then there are the times when I wind up in a situation through no fault of my own. I once took my younger brother to a World Championship Wrestling event at Phillips Arena in Atlanta. We took in the show, which boasted such stars as Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Sting, and Goldberg. When it was over, we stood and began filing out of the arena along with the other spectators.

After a chance encounter with Blues Traveler frontman John Popper (yes, seriously. This is what passes for a celebrity encounter in my world), we made it to the concourse and headed toward the exit. We’d just walked through the door and onto the sidewalk when the night took a sharp turn into unreality.

“You like grabbing these women’s asses?”

I turned in the direction from which this nonsensical statement had come and saw that it had been made by a large, bearded man who was standing just to the side of the door. There was an expression of rage on his face, and his body language made it clear he was not above a fight.

I glanced over my shoulder, looking for the object of his ire. I already felt sorry for the poor bastard, though he obviously had it coming. How insane did a person have to be in order to mess around with this man’s girlfriend or wife? The guy looked like somone who’d been kicked out of the Hell’s Angels for excessive aggression.

When I looked behind me, I noticed that no one was there. I turned back toward the fallen Angel and found that he was half a dozen steps closer, and rapidly closing the remaining distance. At that moment, I simultaneously realized two things:  This guy was nuts, and I was the one his insanity was directed toward.

I took an involuntary step back, sure that there must be some mistake. I’d no more randomly grope someone than I’d strap meat to myself and dive into a piranha infested river. But when I met the man’s gaze he was definitely moving toward me, eyes blazing as he contemplated teaching me the lesson that in his mind, I so obviously deserved.

I desperately searched for something to say, anything that would prevent this hairy alpha male from assaulting me. Language has always been my gift, the one thing that sets me apart from the unwashed masses. Surely I could come up with some sort of sililoquy that could extricate me from such a precarious position.

“It wasn’t me,” I said.

That was it! No eloquent speech absolving myself of responsibility. No smooth talk to calm the savage beast. Instead I’d resorted to the jargon of a cheating husband who’s just been caught in the act. Before I had a chance to say anything else, another voice came from my right.

“Did I not catch you red-handed?”

I turned and saw a tall, thin man I hadn’t noticed before standing on the fringe of the showdown. A woman was standing beside him and watching me warily. I quickly came to the assumption that she was the one who’d been fondled in the crowd. I’d never seen her or either of the men before, but they were obviously convinced that I was the guilty party.

“No!” I almost yelled. “Not me!”

At my most recent denial, the hairy guy advanced toward me. My shock was slowly wearing off and I was becoming more than a little angry. Who the hell were these people to accuse me of anything? I stood my ground as he approached, glancing out of the corner of my eye to make sure that my brother was still nearby. Matt was standing off to one side, eyes as big as saucers as the ridiculous scene unfolded.

“You want to grab someone’s ass, here, grab mine,” the man said. He then grabbed my arm, turned around, and began trying to force my hand against his backside.

Once again, I was too surprised to do much more than resist. Using all my strength I was able to prevent my hand from touching him. Apparently inspired by some of the moves he’d witnessed in the ring, he kept pulling and twisting at my arm until I’d finally had enough. I reached out with my other hand and shoved him hard in the back.

“What the **** are you doing!” I yelled, loud enough that more than a few heads turned in our direction.

The man turned back around and glared at me. For a long moment, I was convinced that the two of us would end up scuffling in the middle of downtown Atlanta. I’ve never been much of a fighter, but I was ticked off enough that I was willing to give it a try.

Maybe the guy saw something in  my eyes that gave him pause. I like to think that was it. Or maybe he just thought better of getting into a brawl in an area that was crawling with cops. Either way I could see the fight going out of him. He looked at his buddy and his girlfriend/wife, then back at me.

“You make me sick,” he said. Then the three of them turned around and walked away.

I’d love to say that I was disappointed by his departure. For some men, fighting is a way of life, but I’m not among them. I breathed a sigh of relief as Matt and I headed for my car.

“What the hell was that about?” my brother asked.

“I have no idea,” I replied.

“Maybe you shouldn’t walk too close behind anyone on the way to the car.”

I did not need to be told that.

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