One week after I spotted the plastic daisies (see Pragmatic Optimism -- Daisies Part 1) I went back to the gas station again.
Yes, I was obsessed about the fake flowers in a pot of real soil. No, I didn't go there just to see it. I had to get gas. Really. But since I was there, I decided I should take a picture. It was a great subject for the blog.
While my baby (i.e. the car) was drinking from the pump, I positioned my Blackberry ever so carefully, and held it for three seconds to make sure my hand was steady. Click! Done. Easy peasy. I was feeling rather pleased with myself.
"Excuse me. Do you have a moment?"
I looked up. Being from Southeast Asia and having a good knowledge of languages, ethnicity and cultures, I pride myself on being able to tell where a fellow Asian is from. This guy wasn't Chinese, Korean or Japanese for sure. He was distinctively Southeast Asian, and most likely from the Philippines or Thailand. The main reason for identifying this of course is that we would inevitably end up talking about our countries of origin and the FOOD.
"Sure, how may I help you?"
I had no suspicion with regards to his motive. I thought he wanted to ask for directions. I somehow always get asked for directions...be it in D.C. or New York or L.A. or Singapore or Indonesia.
"I have something for you." He opened his wallet and fished out a card that was neatly folded in half. "I offer massage service."
What?! Did I look stressed out or psychotic taking a cell phone picture of the plastic daisies? People take cell phone photos of more ridiculous things, like Metro signage or potholes!
I gave him my best "are you for real" look. "No, thank you very much."
"It's ok. Take it." He reached out and pushed the card towards me. Clearly, we are not going to be talking about food.
"I don't really need it. Thanks." At this point, I was beginning to doubt the legitimacy of his "service" but still felt incredulous that he would size me up as a potential victim/customer. I don't exactly fit the desperate housewife stereotype. I usually get gas in sweats and Uggs. That day I was in a huge sweater with leggings. Nothing expensive or attractive about that.
"It's ok. Take it. First time is free."
I had already used my best "are you for real" look. At this point, it was too late to bring out the witch act. It was clear that he wasn't going to leave me alone until I took the card. So the thoughts ran through my head. What was the worst thing that could happen? I take the card, and he leaves. Optimistic pragmatism.
"Ok, thank you." I gave him a smile to rival the fake, bright orange daisies.
I was right. He left. But only after reminding me to call him. I unfolded the card and saw that it wasn't even a real card. It was an index card that had been meticulously cut in half. Handwritten in blue ballpoint ink was the message:
"I OFFER A GREAT MASSAGE RELAXATION AND MAKE YOUR BODY FEEL GOOD AGAIN IN YOUR COMFORT OF YOUR HOUSE. CALL *NAME*: xxx-xxx-xxxx"
I didn't know whether to laugh, feel violated, insulted or flattered that he offered me a free trial.
This was definitely seedy. (Just in case anyone thinks I'm a good fiction writer, I actually thought of scanning the card and posting the image but decided against it.)
This wasn't the first time I was approached by men of questionable vocation with questionable intentions. The first time it happened, I was 18. I was approached on the street and asked to act in an x-rated movie. I played along, set up a meeting with the guy in a public place the next day and called in the story to the editor of the newspaper I was interning at. This was in Singapore, where such solicitation was not acceptable, consenting parties or not. Unfortunately, my pulitzer worthy investigative piece didn't happen. The editor, concerned about my safety, sent a photographer with a huge bag of cameras and lenses, and a senior reporter with me to the meeting. Whether the guy was a genuine pornography producer or some scumbag preying on young girls, he wouldn't have been dumb enough to show up to the entourage waiting to expose his face on the national paper.
Subsequently, each time it happened, I learned to extricate myself with optimistic pragmatism. I take the approach that if I smile politely, decline firmly and remove myself from the situation quickly, I would be fine. So far, so good. But I'm also aware that many women who fall victim to unwanted advances and assault are often caught in situations they are just unable to get out of.
I still find it hard to comprehend that I could ever be seen as gullible or vulnerable enough to be manipulated into one of those situations. I have always thought of myself as a strong, overbearing personality. In fact, I thought most guys who don't know me would size me up as a balls buster and be terrified of me and my emasculating aura.
I guess it's time to bring that self image down to earth. Now that I'm a mother, and well experienced in my own defenses, my concern is with how I'm going to educate and protect my little girl. She is growing up in times when she doesn't even need to step out of the house to run into a predator.
I just tried to edit my profile information on the social networking site Tagged to protect my privacy. I only have an account because a real friend invited me a long time ago, and have never logged in since signing up. But lately, I have gotten increasingly annoyed by the emails informing me of people who have been "buying" me. So I logged in to remove my information from public view. When I tried to remove my birth date, there was a message that I had to be at least 13 years old to use Tagged.
So if my daughter was 13, she could have an account that allows strangers to view her profile, "buy" and "sell" her, send her winks, kisses, luvs and meet up suggestions. Now, that really scares me.
For now, I'm glad she's still four. I have no idea really how to teach her the intricate lessons of feminine vulnerability and self defense. How can I be talking to her about trust and believing in the goodness of all mankind in the same breath as about being wary of ill intentions? I guess I will figure it out when the time comes. For now, I will take the approach of pragmatic optimism. I believe that the best way to steer her through her life's lessons would be by being her best friend.
I'm going to get gas again tomorrow. The daisies should still be there.