Out of character, for me

In the crowd of streaming people, I had trouble keeping up with my friend. When I finally did catch up with her, there was a guy walking with her. He stood comfortably close as if they knew each other. She didn’t seem to flinch or step away. I didn’t know him, yet I knew that she hadn’t met many people since she moved to San Francisco.

“Does she know him?” I asked Chris as we navigated through the crowd, pushing through the stream of people.

I was feeling uncomfortable and wondered if there was an easy way out.

“I don’t know,” he said and we followed our friend.

So I watched cautiously wondering if he was trying to sell her something or make an unwanted request. But she didn’t budge. She nodded while he kept talking. I trusted her, because although she wasn’t from San Francisco, she had lived in New York City for years. I am nonplussed by strange people, usually ignoring them, especially when I decide to wear a skirt and a t-shirt. And I assumed the same for her so I followed her thinking that I shouldn’t interrupt the conversation.

But then it wasn’t.

At some point, she finally noticed me to her right. “There you are!” she exclaimed. “We were looking for you!”

“We were always right behind you!” I said and glanced at the guy.

We had stopped and now stood in a circle. He wasn’t intimidating, but I didn’t trust him. He wore “The City” shirt and jeans. His eyes had a feminine look that made him seem friendly like natural cat eyes without eyeliner. His skin was tan. “So let me interview you?” he said. “About feet. There’s too many people here, let’s find a better location.”

“Okay,” she said and laughed nervously.

She looked hesitant, but I wasn’t sure how to read her. We followed her and the guy around the corner. They found a spot in front of a theater. “Just take a seat,” he said and looked at my sandaled feet. “I have done these many times before. I just want to talk to beautiful ladies. If you were wearing sneakers, then I would interview you.”

“What does beautiful mean?” I asked.

He answered surprisingly with a dictionary answer. I stared at him as he guided my friend to move into the corner of the door. She took off her black flats and pushed herself into the corner of a closed door in front of a theater. He set himself in front of her feet and pulled out a video camera. I frowned and stood next to her, out of the camera view. I felt like a guard preventing passerbys from looking on. He pressed record and asked her questions about her shoes, where she bought them, about whether she had stinky feet. “Just cross your feet,” he directed my friend. “And rub them together. Curl your toes. Maybe uncross and cross them.”

My lips fell into a straight line and I furrowed my brows. Yet, I didn’t feel like I could intervene. Chris stood the edge facing away, staring at the crowd. I didn’t understand and this situation felt uncomfortable. Yet my friend didn’t signal distress. The guy asked questions about whether anybody complained that she had stinky shoes. She laughed hesitantly and answered the questions while playing with an empty water bottle. The guy told her that he has done this many times, having to deal with homeless and other people yelling at him. And that if he keeps his voice at a level that people will notice him and not notice her. My friend grimaced. He was wrong though as I watched the eyesight of people passing by. Another man rushed to a nearby door and faced the corner. I saw pee trickle out. “I hope that didn’t happen there,” I said motioning to my friend.

“Yeah…” she said.

Then it was over. “Everyone was looking at her,” I said. “At least 70%.”

They got up. “You have my card,” he said to my friend. “If you’re interested, would you like to improv for me? $50/hour?”

Then he looked at me. “You could participate too,” he said.

“I disagree with the fundamental idea—beautiful ladies,” I said. “It’s Pride. Why not beautiful everyone? Beautiful older ladies? Beautiful men? Everyone is beautiful.”

“But I love ladies,” he said.

“If it’s about how people should appreciate feet and the stinkiness of the feet, then great. But to only focus on beautiful ladies, that’s wrong.”

And suddenly, I couldn’t help myself. The word objectification escaped me then. Yet I suddenly hated the way the world was. Obsession with shallow appearances. I hated the discrimination and the focus on young females. I had walked to the BART station earlier enduring a catcall because I had worn a skirt. But nowadays, I felt so aware. I was filled with feminist angst or more importantly, the inequality of it all. I felt my insides tighten. I wished that I could say that I became angry, but the most I could muster was pretending to be angry. I wished that I could say that I started cursing and shouting words of hate. Instead, I was only irritated in the way I could only be. I spewed out words about the degradation of the $50/hour and how I could easily earn more money by doing something more honorable.

“I could tell that you’re uptight,” he said.

I frowned.

“In a good way,” he added.

“I prefer that it was in a bad way,” I said.

“Let me give you a hug,” he said and attempted to close his arms around me.

“I don’t like being touched,” I said and flung my arms wildly, pushing him back. “Don’t touch me.”

“I think that we’re late meeting a friend,” Chris suddenly broke in. “It’s almost 6:30 pm.”

Relieved for the break, I started walking away. I glanced back at my friend, who followed. Then I saw the guy who followed. “Don’t follow us,” I said.

As we crossed the street, I blocked him with my arm. “Don’t follow us,” I repeated.

“I’ll go anywhere I please,” he said.

“Stay away from me.” Then noticing that he didn’t register my comment, I felt a strange click in my body and I reached down into my soul, shouting loudly, “Stay away from me!”

A boy walking in the opposite direction said, “Whoa! Keep your voice down.”

And suddenly inside, I was pleased with my volume of my voice. My friend grabbed my arm and pulled me in another direction. The guy finally left us. “I am sorry,” I said, now in a normal voice. “It was out of character for me. I am sorry. I have never done that before.”

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