I went to Thwing to prepare for a Sociology mid-term today – specifically, to listen back to and take notes on a tape of the review we did in class – and sat at a fairly remote table. It’s the one in the lounge, right next to a faux fireplace with a mock-up of Edward Hopper’s "Nighthawks at the Diner," but with celebrities and neon lights. VERY tacky, but I digress...
So I’m sitting in this remote corner with my back to the window and a few minutes into my lecture tape, some guy I’ve never seen before comes up to the table I’m sitting at and starts unpacking his bag, putting items on the table that include one of those yellow stress balls you squeeze to relieve tension.
Now, something you have to understand here – except for this guy, I’m all alone in this area. I can see empty seats behind this guy and I know for a fact there were at least two other empty tables in the lounge just around the corner because I passed them to get to the remote one. Plus it’s a tiny table – it has four chairs around it, but if four people sat there they’d bump elbows.
And this guy is unpacking his bag to sit across this tiny table in a largely vacant area with me and he’s yet to speak or even look at me.
I’m looking at him, wondering if I have a class with him but I just don’t recognize him. He sits down and has still not said a word to me or even looked in my direction – it’s as if I’m invisible. And I’m less then three feet from him.
Not sure what else to do, I say, "Hi."
He looks up as if he’s noticing me for the first time, says "Hi," and goes back to his homework and stress ball.
Another awkward (for me) few minutes go by and I’m getting slightly more creeped-out, especially as he’s squeezing his yellow stress ball. I finally get up the nerve to speak again.
"Are you comfortable with me here?" I hate asking leading rather then direct questions, but did I mention I was uncomfortable?
He takes out his neon-green ear buds and he says, "Oh, I’m fine with you here."
"Uh-huh," I say. WOW, is this guy clueless.
"Oh, are you okay with me sitting here?" NOW he asks me.
He says something else I can’t quite recall, and I just turn my eyes back to my notebook and say, "No, it’s just...kinda creepy."
I keep my eyes on my notebook as I listen to and take notes from my lecture tape. I’m not looking at him, so I’ve no idea if he’s still squeezing his ball, but I can hear him huffing and puffing (he must’ve been loud as I had my headphones on) as if he's frustrated with something. This just adds to the weirdness of the situation, but something tells me to stay put. He leaves after about 20 or 25 minutes and I breathe a sigh of relief.
My mind was still bothered by the situation a few hours later – not just by his behavior, but by mine – so when I saw my personal Jiminy Cricket (aka my husband, George*) later that night, I talked with him about it.
I told him the whole story and he asked some thoughtful questions, like what the guy looked like (the guy looked like a typical student but George wondered if he were a homeless guy trying to get close to my bag – I overheard a conversation in Thwing this same day regarding stolen items from the building). He was especially interested in the squeezed stress ball and the noises the guy was making. Hubby recons the guy was being passive-aggressive and wanted me to move but I didn’t, which probably pissed him off. That thought crossed my mind – for all I know, this guy sits in that very same spot every day and I was in "his" chair.
But besides this guy’s behavior, I was concerned about mine. I came out and told a complete stranger he was behaving in a "creepy" manner. I don’t enjoy saying unkind things to people – I’m a huge fan of politeness and would never want to hurt someone’s feelings, whether I knew them or not. But something was just so WRONG about this situation – I didn’t feel my security was in peril or some such thing, but it just felt so very WRONG I had to say something. Had there been no other seats available and/or he asked if he could join me, I would’ve been totally fine. But this?
It’s like going to an almost empty movie theatre and someone sits down right in front of you. Or riding a largely vacant bus and someone takes the seat right next to you. Or (I’m told) using a urinal and some guy uses the one RIGHT next to you rather then leaving a space between the two of you. As he had so many options and instead chose to sit that close to a complete stranger (without saying a word until I spoke to him) AND continue to do so even after being told his behavior was "creepy," his behavior felt very off-putting to me.
Other then using a different word then "creepy" when speaking to him, how would you have handled it? Would you have said something or just moved? One friend of mine saays he would’ve said, "Dude, what the fuck" and told him to move, and another said he would’ve lit one of his cigarettes and blown smoke in the guy’s face until he moved. I don’t like being so harsh with others, but to quote "Dirty Dancing," "This is MY space, that is YOUR space."
*At the end of the conversation, I reminded George he’s my "personal Jiminy Cricket," so he starts singing in a tiny voice, "You should’ve whacked him in the balls, in the balls, in the balls..."