Tuesday, April 29, 2008

She Knows How To Pick 'Em

(The below post is from an old story I wrote a few years ago. Reposting it here to kick things off.)

I have a lot of vices, but the two main ones are picking my scabs and encouraging strange men to stalk me. These vices are habitual and they vex me, but in a deliciously naughty way, like eating an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's by yourself.

Scab-picking is the oldest and by far my most frequently indulged vice. My mother says she noticed the habit after I had an orthodontic appliance put in my mouth when I was 8 years old to prevent thumb sucking.

No longer able to stick my thumb in my mouth, I picked at the bug bites and playground scrapes on my arms and legs. I've been a picker ever since.

I know I shouldn't pick at my skin, but scabs just scream to be torn off. Even the growing number of scars and the common comment, "Oh my god, you're bleeding. Did you know you're bleeding? Wait, why are you bleeding right now?" aren't enough to stop me.

I've accepted my freakish habit as a vice and plan to establish Pickers Anonymous soon. PA would be a safe-haven for us masochists, free from the judgment of nonpickers who are disgusted by our self-destruction.

The strange men vice is a bit more complicated than the scab-picking, but in some ways related. I love meeting new people, especially ones with interesting stories, and I happen to enjoy drinking. These pleasures (perhaps themselves vices?) often lead me to bars.

I can admit I'm bad at saying no and telling people to leave me alone. It's an inadequacy that prevents me from walking away from strangers whom I know to be bad. Even after they tell me about their rap sheets and previous stints in prison, I smile encouragingly, as though it's totally normal they've robbed banks and sold kilos of cocaine.

Example: "Dee."

I met Dee at John Henry's late one drunken Wednesday night a few months ago. Although he was wearing a fishing vest with an enormous tear down the back and exuded a general grubbiness, I aproached him to ask about his smooth dance moves. We began chatting about the nonverbal communication inherent in dancing with a partner.

Of course, we began dancing. He had a surprising repertoire of moves, especially for someone in his late 40s, and I was soon being spun around the dance floor. Other couples shot us strange looks when we began swing-dancing to 50 Cents' "In Da Club" remix, but Dee didn't notice.

Dee asked me all about myself during a drink break and I mentioned that I worked for the city at a local park tending rose bushes. I didn't tell him which park, but he figured it out.

For the next few weeks, Dee would drop by my work and watch me weed beds of roses. At first I didn't think it strange that he "happened to be walking by" because it's a park and people do that.

But one day I realized Dee wasn't just coincidentally seeing me at work. I was in the middle of a particularly overgrown bed of flowers and couldn't be seen from the path. Feeling like I was in my own secret world, I became focused on timing my breathing to the work I was doing and so didn't notice the rustle of branches.

"You're so intent on your work. It's cute," said Dee softly.

"Holy shit!" I yelled as I fell over.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Susan," he said. "I didn't mean to scare you."

"What'd you think you'd do by sneaking up on me? How long have you been here?" I quickly asked.

"About five minutes," he said. "I didn't want to interrupt your concentration."

At that point I made an excuse for us to leave the bushes and steered him toward the open space where other people were sitting. Dee seemed particularly frazzled that day. One of the lenses in his glasses was missing and he reeked of stale smoke. His breath smelled like he hadn't brushed his teeth in two weeks, and he had lots of tiny cuts on his face.

He began telling me about breaking up with his 16-year-old girlfriend, how different she and I were, and how he takes good care of the women he dates.

I listened politely and then told Dee I needed to go back to weeding. He admitted that he had been coming by the park on purpose and wanted to ask me out.

"Whoa. Uhhhh I'm flattered," I said, "but no. I, uh, no. I'm sorry."

"Oh OK, OK," he said. "I see. You probably have a boyfriend already who's going to beat me up now when you tell him about me."

"Yeah. No," I said. "I just am not dating people right now."

"Oh, you're gay," he said.

"What?" I said.

"You like girls," Dee said. "I get it."

"Sure. Yeah," I said. "I like girls. That's it."

The conversation went on for several more minutes with Dee mostly complaining about women and "their fickle nature." I was at a total loss of how to handle the situation and found myself opening and closing my mouth like a fish while shrugging my shoulders.

I finally excused myself when I saw my boss coming. My boss said Dee has "visited" other female employees in the past and that if I was uncomfortable, he could call the police. I declined, but luckily the job ended a few weeks later.

I still see Dee around town and I know he recognizes me when he's sober, so I've developed some evasion tactics. The best one: hiding behind objects such as people, telephone poles and cars. Another one: denying that I'm me.