Sometimes You Have To Talk To Strangers

June 18, 2010

So I read in the paper that The Next Big Thing in the food industry is frozen yogurt. Aside from the fact that no one, including consumers, really knows what The Next Big Thing is I’m pretty sure frozen yogurt has been tried already. I remember trying frozen yogurt when I was five years old, because it was this new hip thing that was supposed to make ice cream obsolete. Before I even knew what the word ‘obsolete’ meant I wondered how something that tasted almost exactly like ice cream could replace it, but the important thing is it was new so we had to go down to the mall and try it. I assume my parents had some other reason for going to the mall, but in my memory when I was five or six we were going to the mall every Friday or Saturday night for no reason at all. Of course I was five or six and it was the middle of summer, so for all I know it was every Wednesday night. I hadn’t even mastered reading a clock with hands at that point and thought a quarter of an hour was twenty-five minutes, but that’s another story.

Going to the mall was always a little unnerving because of the mannequins. Before I knew what the word ‘obsolete’ meant I knew the word ‘mannequins’. I wouldn’t say they scared me really, but they held a strange fascination for me. The headless ones were weird because I knew they were supposed to be people, but I didn’t know anybody without a head, and it wasn’t until I was eight that I realized how little some adults use their brains. The ones that really unnerved, me though, were the ones with heads and what I thought were very realistic looking eyes. I wondered where those eyes came from. It never occurred to me that they were painted on. I thought they might be real. I imagined some guy with a knife chasing me through the mall trying to take my eyes, even though I knew it would never really happen. If I even thought it could really happen I never would have wandered away from my mother that one time. This wasn’t on a Friday or Saturday night, but was a middle of the day trip to the mall my mother made. I have no idea why we went. Maybe she heard chartreuse polyester pant suits were on sale. And I didn’t exactly wander off. I was trying to find a secluded spot to change into my superhero persona. Superman would duck into phone booths to change. I ducked into the circular clothing racks, and didn’t really change so much as just make some exciting noises and summon the power of rayon blouses to help me defeat my nemesis who, at the time, was pretty much just boredom. And then I came out of the clothes and realized my mother was gone. So I set off looking for her, trying to ignore the suspicious stares from the mannequins with heads and the menacing quality of the ones without heads.

I wandered all over the mall, including that back section that was dark and lit with flickering bulbs and always smelled like caramel popcorn, which was The Next Big Thing before frozen yogurt. Or maybe after. At one point I even went outside, standing just outside of the mall entrance and asking complete strangers if they’d seen my mother. They ignored me so I went back inside and asked a friendly shop clerk for help, and she called Gerald Ford. Why Gerald Ford was, at that time, working as a department store detective is beyond me, but he put out a call and I was soon reunited with my mother. At the time it was nothing more than a slightly interesting adventure, but, looking back, it must have been pretty terrifying for my mother. I’d been told never to talk to strangers but, at that time, I had no idea why I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers. And if I’d really taken that to heart I never would have spoken to a store clerk. I didn’t know what sort of crimes went on in the world. I never watched detective shows when I was five, and even if I had the only seedy underworld I would have learned about was the one where Starsky and Hutch spend an hour trying to figure out who killed the goldfish in Huggy Bear’s clear plastic high heels, or, possibly, the even seedier underworld of rich, influential people who voluntarily went to jail because it was the only way they could get away from being pestered to death by Detective Columbo’s stories about his wife.

Now it seems that every hour of every day there’s at least one cop show on where the officers describe in detail how a child has been kidnapped and treated in what you’d think is the most horrible way possible, but next week, or the next hour, there’s another story where something even worse happens to a child. And I worry that kids are hearing this as well. If they’re not hearing it from the endless detective shows, though, they’re hearing it from the news, which is even worse. It’s something I have mixed feelings about because, on the one hand, I’m all for arming kids with as much information as possible about not only how to protect themselves but also why they should protect themselves. And I don’t blame parents for being hyper vigilant in a world where horrible things really do happen. I want there to be an ideal world where kids can just be kids without ever being afraid. I know it’s too much to hope for, but, if there’s any blame to be placed, I’ll place it on the twisted individuals whose actions destroy the lives of a few children, but don’t stop there. Their actions spread out like shockwaves, making parents afraid to turn their attention away in a clothing store for even a moment, and robbing children of a world where they can be superheroes, or where superheroes can protect them and where, in an emergency, they can safely talk to some strangers. And even though it doesn’t begin to compare to the grief felt by those directly affected by terrible events, I hate it that in the paper I see faces of missing children when I’d really rather think about frozen yogurt.

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