A Study in Gullability

On my way home from work tonight I find myself thinking of what I’d like to have for dinner and decide to stop at Compton’s Foodmart to pick up a few things. As I walk in I notice a slightly-attractive, confused-looking black man kind of backtracking, walking against the flow of traffic coming into the store. I thought he must have forgotten something and was headed back to his car to get it. I also notice he looks down frequently as he works his way backwards through the crowd, averting his eyes and looking at the floor if anyone happens to make eye contact with him.

I continue into the store and stop to scan the produce section when I notice the man has returned and is very timidly moving from one point to another in the general area where I’m browsing, but he stays just on the edge of my peripheral vision. I look around once or twice and notice he’s near me. Each time I look around he looks in my direction, hesitates for a second, and then moves away from me. Then, just as I’m sure he’s following me, he turns and takes off for the dairy aisle. I’m relieved, but my relief is shortlived, as I suddenly realize the item I came into the store to buy is…in the dairy aisle. “Nonsense,” I say to myself. “He’s not really stalking me. I’ll just go down there and get what I need and everything will be fine.”

But when I get about half way down the aisle – about half the distance from the end of the aisle to the sour cream I so desperately desire, there he is again, wandering back and forth in my general area. Now I begin to feel very uncomfortable, so I decide to concentrate on the plethora of salad dressings in front of me, giving him plenty of room and time to finish his browsing and move on. Finally, it appears he is going to leave, but as I turn back toward the sour cream he walks past me, looks me in the eye and mumbles something, to which I respond with a polite, “Excuse me?” (Wouldn’t want to appear rude, right?) He stops then, and says, “My best friend just painted her nails that color,” and he looks at my feet. I am appropriately confused by his interest in the color of the polish on my toe nails, and offer the snappy response, “Oh.”

Now this is where it starts to get really weird. The next thing he says is something like “Can you do this?,” and he holds out a hand, palm down, and spreads his fingers apart, splaying them flat out in the air in front of him. I cannot tell you why, but I hold my hand out in the air in front of me, palm down, and splay my fingers.

And it gets betters. He then says, “Can you do that with your toes?” In response, I obediently splay my toes on one foot. “Wow,” he says. “You can spread out your little toes, too. My friend can’t do that.” All at once I become very aware of how weird this is. I smile, turn, and walk away. Back to my search for sour cream.

I am sure he has gone on his way, but I decide to stick around and browse the cheese section to make sure he’s had plenty of time to get out of the store. I turn, and there he is again. He now has a bottle of salad dressing in his hand. He says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you. I just…” to which I reply all too quickly, “That’s okay,” and retreat to the back of the store.

I spend the rest of my Compton’s visit inconspicuously scanning aisles and registers, hoping I will not run into this curious (and kind of scary) man again, and hoping even more strongly that I will not find him waiting for me in the parking lot, or tailing me on my short drive home. Thankfully, I do not.

Now here’s the really creepy (and stupid) part. Later this evening, I find myself thinking again about this strange encounter. In the back of my mind, the statement “My best friend just painted her nails that color,” runs through my mind. But here’s the problem. The vision in my head that goes along with the words is not of the encounter I experienced tonight. Instead, the image is of me and a strange man in the detergent aisle at Compton’s…last summer.

So my question is this: Should this guy get the award for dumbest pickup line? Or should I be acknowledged for my incredibly developed level of gullability?

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