It was a typical Saturday morning.
I was on my way to Evanston to teach a kickboxing class via El train (aka vehicle of misery) when suddenly a former neighbor of mine gave me a big hello from a distance. I’ll keep his name anonymous and call him Mr. Kreepy.
Mr. Kreepy owned a convenience store a block away from my old Rogers Park apartment. He was authentically a nice and lonely 50 something who liked to spend most of his time (and mine) chatting. At first, it was harmless. I would walk down the street and he would pop his bald head out of the store door extremely happy to see me. He would ask me about fitness and what I was up to in college… It never dawned on me that perhaps I should consider alternative routes home. After all… he was just a well-intentioned senior citizen.
[I can feel some of you jumping out of your seat with excitement]
It became an unavoidable daily routine. The quickest way to get to my apartment required me to go pass his store. Eventually, I learned to run or even sprint by quickly hoping he would get the hint that I was in a hurry and did not have the hour or two to spare. Sometimes that didn’t work. Even when there was nothing to talk about he would find a way to guilt me in to a lengthy conversation that grew more awkward with time.
It ended once I moved.
Then a year later, the gentleman who looked like a younger version of Mr. Burns decided to hop on the purple line and his long lost friend, the fitness instructor, was there to endure another painful discussion.
When I first saw him, I gave him the patented “Quintin-does-not-want-to-talk-to-you-but-because-we-are-in-public-he-will-acknowledge-your-presence-with-a-wave-and-a-grimace” look and sat at the opposite end of the train. I was in mild shock. I pulled out my i-pod to distract myself for the next four stops when suddenly, “So how have you been?!”
He was loud.
He was extremely happy.
And he stuck out his hand as he sat right next to me.
“I’m great…. very…. great.” I shook his hand and got back to e-voiding with the i-pod.
“So, where have you been I haven’t seen you?”
“To another neighborhood…”
I felt like I was having one of those teenage/parent conversations where you feel too grown to answer any of their questions completely.
“Well, the store closed. And I was still hoping to bump into you one of those days. Would have been nice to grab coffee or something. You are a really nice guy and I don’t meet too many nice people. And blah blah. Blah blah…. cubs game.. blah blah blah blah… walking down the street and blah blah blah blah blah… saw you on TV and blah blah…”
The i-pod was working. Not as great as I hoped, but I was tuning him out with Jay-Z. Jay-Z is my new best friend.
“And blah blah blah blah blah”
He continued to rant making deep eye contact. All I did was nod occasionally looking as this damned fool who was still wearing his convenient store uniform even though it had allegedly been closed.
“What stop are you getting off at?” I asked. I was legitimately curious because my ears were starting to hurt from “Change Clothes”
“Noyes,” He responded.
“Good!” I thought.
“You know…” he started. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. I knew this was going to get progressively scarier. “I have been thinking about you a lot.”
He said that earlier. :(
And then, with all of his might and courage, as if he had been wanting to tell me this since day one:
“I even still write about you in my journal.”
[take a moment to compose yourself]
“Doors open to the right at Davis.”
“Oh! Well…um, that’s my stop. It was really nice seeing you.” I had never been so happy to be in downtown Evanston (aka lame country)
The happiness literally lasted for three seconds. He followed me off the train.
He followed me down the stairs.
He followed me outside.
He followed me down the street.
I’m sure in his head that he was “walking with” me as he fought with his heart to maintain my “danger danger” pace but I made sure to keep a healthy distance from him so that it would be legally documented as following.
He was too out of breath to continue any conversation. He would start a sentence when we came up to street corners. But I had no time to stand. I risked my life crossing the dangerous streets of suburban downtown Evanston because I could not believe the madness.
I approached the entrance to the gym when I realized that the streets were being blocked off for an outdoor art fare. A security guard stopped me and told me that I would have to pay to go pass this point. I let out a sigh of relief.
“I work here,” I assured him with my I.D.
He let me through with a smile. Finally, I got Mr. Kreepy away from me.
“I’m with him.”
I looked behind me. The security guard, without hesitation, let’s him..without question… just let’s him through…
Are you jiking me?
You’re job is to protect and SECURE people and you just let in my new official stalker….
At this point I was running late. I had no time to walk a few laps around the neighborhood to loose this guy. I had to head straight in, exposing him to where I work. Before I entered the doors I stopped him and said, “Okay, so I have to head in to work. You have a jolly day.” This is the only time in my life I have actually used the word “jolly”.
“Okay… well… maybe we can grab coffee or something.”
He then leaned in to hug me and I said “No” very loudly as if a diseased puppy was about to jump on me. His feelings looked hurt but it got him away. As I walked in to the building I kept having these flashbacks of all the D.A.R.E. and Dee Dee Wallace seminars I had forced upon me when I was in elementary school. Thank God for that.
Thank you God.
God… seriously. Thank you.