wow hans

There were a number of factors, really, that led to me standing outside Whole Foods this morning, talking to Hans.

1. Ryan had to go into the office for a couple of hours.
2. After the great window-smashing of aught-sixteen, we're down to one car, so if I wanted to go anywhere I was doing it on foot with the double stroller.
3. The sun is out and it's a gorgeous day.
4. I'm making a personal goal to get 10,000 steps every day this week.
5. I like seeming like a nice person so I always respond to anything someone says to me in public and then immediately regret it once I realize that I've just signed up for a conversation with a stranger about his penis. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This morning I piled the boys in the double stroller, added 2 water bottles and a dozen books for drag weight, and we were off for the mile and a half walk to Whole Foods. The sun was out, the brunch spots bustling, the pedestrians groggy with pancake coma and walking four across, and we ambled our way toward the store at a pace that might be described as leisurely if you had enough sleep last night and coffee this morning. Luckily for those pedestrians, I did and I did, so we enjoyed our slow, slow walk.

it's okay
that we didn't
through this

After grabbing the necessities - a bottle of rose, bagels, peanut butter rice bars, and fruit salad, obvs - I stopped at the coffee bar for a fix and a couple of chocolate milks.

Back out on the sidewalk, here's the picture: 

Me, in running shorts and a tank top and sneakers, my jacket tied around my waist
pushing the double stroller with my left hand 
carrying a full cloth shopping bag on my right shoulder
holding an iced coffee in my right hand.

(Long Side Note: This payload is not at all unusual for anyone with 2 kids.

Yesterday I packed a backpack for the zoo with 2 diapers, wipes, a binky, a set of fresh clothes for each kid, 3 water bottles, 4 lunches in tupperware, 4 snacks in ziploc baggies, sunblock, hand sanitizer, sweatshirts, and sun hats. Ryan said, "you are a fucking zoo pro. Look at this bag. This is like what I pack to go hunting."

I didn't know whether to be impressed or depressed.

I just don't find it remarkable anymore. All mothers routinely anticipate and manage an outrageously complex system of logistics, and that's just to go to a place we already know. When we strike out to explore a new park or family farm? And we don't know whether it's stroller-friendly? And we don't know what the food/bathroom situation is going to be? Damn, you guys. We pack for every possible contingency, including the biblical apocalypse.

This picture of a mother doing her best Grand Canyon Donkey Slave impersonation, you see it everywhere you go. Or at least everywhere I go.

That's just how we roll now - sometimes I feel like a badass; sometimes I just feel like an ass. Regardless, it's my life.)

Anyway, I'm outside Whole Foods peeling a banana for Buster, and Hans walks by.

He tosses his shoulder-length mane of straight, reddish 80's-villain hair and says, "you know, women are just incredible."

Well played, Hans. You have my attention.

I say, "oh! Well... I don't know..."

He says, "really, you're amazing. Look at you, carrying that load like it's nothing. You must be strong. Are you going far?"

I say, "oh, just a few miles." (I lie automatically and don't know why I say it. Probably to seem more impressive. If Hans thinks I'm a hero who am I to contradict him?)

He shakes his head and comes back toward me so he's no longer calling out to me, but rather speaking at regular volume. "I don't have any kids, but I'm a hairdresser so I know a lot about women."

"Oh!" I say, nodding with vigor, as if this actually makes a lot of sense even though there's a small voice in my head that says "ew." 

Hans sees a lot of women, I'll grant him, and touches them often and intimately, sure, and knows what these women are willing to share with a pseudo-stranger who they think is probably gay and therefore not a threat, yeah okay, I'll go along with that. But I don't know if... whatever, Katie, you're overthinking this. He thinks you're a powerful mother goddess. Let it slide. 

"You know," he continues, leaning in conspiratorially, "I'm 54 now, and I'm about to go in for a vasectomy."

HELLO. I untie my jacket from around my waist and put it on. His gaze follows my zipper as I close the jacket to the chin.

"At my age, I don't want to have a baby, you know?"

"Sure, sure," I say, crossing my arms in the 70-degree sunlight and pushing the stroller behind my back. "Babies are really demanding for parents of any age."

"Besides," he steps in closer and swats my arm lightly, playfully. "If I get insecure and want some kids, I can always find a middle-aged woman with kids who's without a man. I hear there are a few of those out there."


"I..." It doesn't matter what I say because Hans is just pleased as punch at his hilarious joke about joining a pre-bred family so he can feel like a big man.

"Or you could adopt," I say, as if this is a real conversation.

"At my age, they wouldn't let me rent-to-own," he says, and then I black out for a minute as I realize what he just said. When I come back from the darkness, he's reiterating that he could just, "find a lady with kids", "maybe in the Midwest somewhere", "who'd be grateful."

I have nothing to say, so he pivots.

"How old are you, 34?"

Wow. Strong move, Hans. Also, rookie mistake. If you're going to guess a woman's age out of the blue, you ALWAYS give a number 10 years younger than her physical appearance suggests. It would not have been inappropriate for you to ask if I could vote and/or drive yet.

"31," I say.

"Where do you get your hair cut?" He asks, reaching out to touch my ponytail.

I lean my head away from him and say, "I don't," which is both true and a clear signal that I don't want to talk about my personal appearance with this man.

He says, "you've got really thick hair."

I say, "yes."

He says, "I bet it hangs."

I say, "I... uh..."

He says, "let me give you my card. I've been hanging out with a lot of Asians lately and so I know how to make hair move. I don't work out of a salon, so, you can just call and we'll..." he finished his sentence with a smile and a waggle of his eyebrows.

I say, "oh great, thanks." I tuck the card in the waistband pocket of my running shorts, revealing, for a moment, a strip of bare stomach skin. He doesn't pretend not to look.

He's still talking about his magic Asian hair-moving technique as I walk away. I can hear him say, "Japanese," and "scissor," as I turn the corner.

It was one of those conversations that took 4 minutes or less, so it ended before I could really understand how screamingly creepy it was.

The whole walk home I squinted into middle-distance, trying to pinpoint why I felt so icky. There on the sidewalk outside the store it was harmless chit-chat, and the boys were squirming, and like a pebble dropped into a pond the initial impact was nothing more than a droplet. 

Now that I've transcribed the exchange, however, the reason for the ick is crystal clear.

1. He opened with a compliment that he knew I'd be flattered to receive, but unthreatened by - if he'd told me he liked the fit of my shorts, I would have ignored him, and walked away checking car windows to make sure he wasn't following. But he complimented my parenting, and my strength, and that made me feel like I was with a friend who respected me.

2. He asked me if I was going far. Why did he need to know that? Sure, it flows smoothly from his observation that I'm carrying a lot of stuff, but looking back, I realize that question was the first little red flag for me, the first faint whiff of stink under the perfume. I realize, also, that may have been why I lied about how far I was going.

3. He said he knows a lot about women, and told me that he's a hair stylist - a signifier that he's on my team and not a threat.

Also, shut up you're dumb. You know a lot about women from shampooing their hair and chatting about their boyfriends/scalp treatments? You don't know shit. It's like when someone says, "you can tell me; I can totally keep a secret," and you immediately know that motherfucker is live-tweeting. When someone says "I know a lot about women," that usually means he thinks he knows a lot about how to work women.

If he'd said, "I have three sisters, so I know that I don't know very much about women, but I know to stay out of your way," that would be a fucking truth bomb right there.

4. Out of the blue, he brought up his upcoming vasectomy

I can't even... it's... I just... 


Interesting, in hindsight, that he mentioned his genitals so early on in the conversation, but only to let me know that he would be neutralizing them shortly. Everything about this man said, "I'm doing my best to make you comfortable with me." But the only thing you need to know about how that statement made me feel is that I stepped back and covered my body with a jacket. My mind was slow in processing what he said, but my body said, "nope," and suited up.

5. He stepped in and touched my arm. I did not like that, so I pretended it did not happen.

6. Then he dropped that hideous joke (not once, but twice) about saving a single woman with children if he ever feels insecure. I mean, okay, a lot of people have children because they're insecure, but I don't think most of them are aware of it until much later. There's something profoundly icky about a person who says, "I need an ego boost so I'm going to get some vulnerable, small people to need me for awhile." 

Also, for someone who opened our conversation with the ebullient revelation that women in general are "incredible," "amazing," and "strong," this bitter bite of mean humor sure takes a 180. Ironically, single parents of both sexes are probably the most incredible, amazing, and strong people I can think of.

Also, in that moment on the sidewalk, wasn't I just a manless woman with her children? A "single" mother who he'd flattered and engaged? Was he narrating our exchange in real time?

Also, isn't a mother alone with her children the most vulnerable of creatures, most willing to pay the price for safety, whatever it is?

7. Three words: rent. to. own. I want to cry rage tears right now just thinking about how a person could talk so casually about a homeless child, think it's funny to liken a leased Mazda to a baby who has no family.

8. Then came all that business about my appearance, guessing my age accurately rather than fawningly, the subtle put-down about my hair: "I bet it hangs." Thanks? Was that a sales pitch or something more personal, a reminder that I wasn't so great after all?

9. He reached out to touch my hair and I rejected him, again, not consciously. My mind was still catching up, doing the multitasking work of conscious human socializing, watching traffic, interpreting physical and verbal signals, anticipating the direction of the conversation and my potential responses. But my skin and bones had one job: not to be touched by a creepy stranger. My body said "aw hell no," and initiated an override. This was the point in the conversation where I began to shorten up, check out, and disengage.

10. Then all that vague, non-industry talk about Asians and making hair move. It didn't sound real, but at the time I assumed it was just because he was a crappy hairdresser. Now... I don't know. 

His card is cheap stock, and bears only his name and phone number.

I googled him and found his Facebook page, but no reviews of his work as a hairdresser.

Probably because he's a crappy hairdresser who says fucked-up inappropriate things about women, children, and his own penis.

Maybe because he's not a hairdresser at all. 

Yesterday, the day I packed the comprehensive zoo backpack, I leaned on the fence at the wolf enclosure. An adult white wolf lay on a hill, watching me, and I, emboldened by the iron that lay between us, made steady eye contact with him.

Chicken ran by, his red tee-shirt a beacon, and the wolf turned his head to follow my soft son, oblivious in the sunshine, just out of reach.

werner herzog once said
"i believe the common denominator
of the universe
is not harmony
but chaos,
and murder."

we get it werner, you hail from the land of schopenhauer and despair
we get it werner, you also direct operas
we get it werner, it was really hard
when nickelodeon passed
on your animated kids' series
about a rat
who lives in a slaughterhouse

i mean
look at a wolf sometime
watching a baby
and tell me werner doesn't have
a good fucking point

If you're interested in reading more about the importance of trusting your gut when someone gives you the creeps, I heartily recommend Gaven de Becker's chilling, informative, and remarkable book, The Gift of Fear. 


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