I’m a man and privileged. Some of these privileges I’m aware of. I feel them thrashing in my bones when I strut into a job interview, or drive through lawns with “my boys,” when I walk around my neighborhood at night and don’t fear being raped or harassed. And, certainly, I’m privileged in ways totally unbeknown to me; in my most honest moments, I ponder over these shrouded multitudes, trying to identify them, if only to better understand how I interact with the world and the world with me. A guy’s got to pass the time somehow!
Occasionally, though, my utter maleness prevents me from managing certain situations. Albeit rare, it happens. Typically these are situations involving children. If I perfectly fit any criminal profile, it’s that of a pedophile. This isn’t something that I think about often, but I did the other day when I went for, what was supposed to be, a relaxing afternoon stroll.
It was a wonderful fall day, cast in orange haze, and I hoped to find a spot in the nearby park to sit down and read. So I walked. I had my backpack on, a bright blue sweatshirt, a green ball cap and a tasteful pair of black cutoffs. I was also getting my drink on with a delicious Caprisun. I felt quite chipper for a few blocks, but then I walked in front of an elementary school that was letting out. It occurred to me then that I might look a little strange, like a big, hairy, kid, who conveniently emerges at three to offer the children unusual sundries – word finds, say, or sticks of Blackjack Gum. “What’s with that pale giant?” loving parents might ponder from their sedans, a deep unease setting in. But I knew, in my heart, that I didn’t want to molest anyone that afternoon, so I tried not to let it bother me. I pulled up my hood and moved on, hopeful.
To say the park was bustling with children would be an overstatement, but it was certainly buzzing. A few tennis teams were practicing in chipped up courts, some younger kids were running around the sandbox, and a father and son played catch with a football in a small field. It was really a quaint little scene, but I immediately felt my presence disrupt it. Like when I walked in, everyone else tensed up, knowing the evil I’m capable of.
I tried telling myself I was over thinking, that I should just find a bit of shade to plop down in and read some poems. How might that look, though? The man in the shadows? I’m sure some pedophile somewhere, some time, scouted victims similarly. Would other adults creep up, hoping to be the hero who “busts me” performing any number of crude acts on myself amongst the prairie grasses, children’s laughter my soundtrack? Even if I did sit down, would I be able to concentrate enough to read? Or had the fear gotten the best of me?
It had. I made a loop around the park and headed home.
During the walk, a police car passed me, then stopped about half a block up. I continued walking and eventually made it past him without being questioned or strip-searched. But, still, I felt his gaze. And that of the menacing neighborhood watch signs. And that of the elderly neighbor watering her tomato plants. All eyes following me as I marched into my house, up the stairs and into my room, to finally read, free of fear, beneath a blanket.