Every Sunday, we all repeat together the words “Lead me not into temptation…” as part of the Lord’s prayer but I’ve come to observe lately that it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t include the phrase “lead us not into the presence of strange or annoying people”.

I think this because I’m not like a lot of people; I’m often quite happy to walk among strangers all day and not interact with any of them. I would make a pretty fair hermit. I don’t feel the need to be talking all the time and so I walk into the convenience stores with my Indiana Jones hat pulled low, trying to look ruggedly cool and aloof. Apparently I am not successful and instead I wear a look that says “all weird people talk to me.”

What is it about my look that would encourage a young lady who was a total stranger (or simply strange – you be the judge) to talk to me out of the blue at the QUIK TRIP coffee machine?

Total Stranger: “Good Evening, Sir”

Well, I thought it was an employee.

Me: “Evening.”

Total Stranger: “Do you have kids?”

WARNING! WARNING! INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT! PERSONAL SPACE HAS BEEN VIOLATED!

I looked up. It wasn’t an employee.

Me: “Yeah…two.”

Total Stranger: “Do they like the Harry Potter books?”

RED FLAG! POSSIBLE RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALIST PRESENT! ARM THE PHASERS!

No time to be polite any more. What was this all about? Time to nip this in the bud and go on the offensive. I aimed my hat at her, made eye contact like Clint Eastwood might and said:

“Yes, we’ve read them all. You don’t have a problem with that do you?

Total Stranger: “Oh no! I like them too.”

Me: “Well, there’s some people in this town that do have a problem with them and think they’re ‘evil’ or some nonsense and I’m not in the mood to talk about it.”

Total Stranger: “No, I’m not one of those, I just think they’re good books.”

Now, there was a time in my life when a young lady speaking to me out of the blue would have been an answer to my prayers but that never happened then and I don’t think it happens now either. Either way, it’s too late now so I always put my guard up when something like this happens. I excused myself – I actually tipped my hat – and left with my decaf.

If that had been an isolated incident, I might be inclined to ignore it but it reminded me of another similar experience in which one of my co-workers decided to share with me that she was a witch.

Not one of your old-fashioned broom riding consorts of the devil mind you. This is a more modern version which, she informs me, is also called “Wiccan” which is more of a ecologically responsible new age astrologer who stays up all night partying on the evenings of the equinoxes and solstices. Regardless of the details, it was an awkward moment.

Why was she telling me this? Was she just dying to tell someone – anyone – and she figured that I was the least likely to laugh? There are many possible answers. Often the best defense is a dumb look. Rather than trying to come up with an intellectual retort, I responded with:

“Yeah? AND?…..”

Good huh? Lob that ball back into her court and make her take the initiative again.

It seems she needed some wood shavings.

Are we getting weird enough yet?

Actually, it turned out to be pretty innocent. She explained that she needed some wood shavings to mix up with wax and spices to make a form of incense to use at the next solsticial shin-dig and was afraid to ask any anyone else for fear of being made fun of or worse. She also wanted some advice on setting up a web site for the local group of like-minded wiccans (coven).

PHEW!

Still, one has reason to worry. A Catholic friend offered the opinion that by assisting such a person, I had definitely crossed a line and would be held severely accountable for it in the afterlife. I’m hoping that being polite has some redeeming value here.

It used to happen also when I was working at “Fred’s” while in high school. Ah, Fred’s! Before there was Dollar General and Big Lots, there was Fred’s. I saw my first knife scar on a human there as well as my first bullet wound and my first stumbling wino. There was an older fellow who rode a bike around town who rode up one day. In southern Arkansas in 1977 no adult was ever seen riding a bike for any reason. “Why, heavenly days! That’s for kids!” went the philosophy. Anyway, he rode up to Fred’s and came in. Out of all the other four employees, he decided I was the one to ask for Clorox. That was an easy one and I pointed as usual. My job was to wield a broom for the most part so I felt secure in simply pointing. He responded with:

“Ya know, that’s the best thing in the world for crickets!”

As much as I wanted to know more about the connection between crickets and Clorox, I kept mum. “Please don’t talk to me”, I thought. No dice – he kept talking. I’m not sure why I’m afraid of people who just play by a different set of behavioral rules – I suppose I’m like many others in that I’m afraid that if he’s not on the same page as I mentally, he might just fly into a murderous rage if I don’t answer him correctly. At any rate, he kept on. He began to talk so fast that I couldn’t understand what he was saying. The manager saved me from that one by bringing the man a gallon of Clorox. Crisis averted. The manager later told me:

“Did you know he’s an archeologist?”

Me: “No.”

Manager: “He says he is anyway. He says he has a museum in his house.”

Me: “OK.”

I guess this will keep on until I get my “look” right.

I’m working on my “look” though – pulling the brim of my hat a bit lower and standing straighter (which is made a bit easier by one of those middle-aged “bad back” things). Ironic isn’t it? One works on ones look as a teenager to attract attention – I modify my look at middle age to detract attention.

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