One reader's rave

"Thanks for the newspaper with your book review. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this terrific piece of writing. It is beautiful, complex, scholarly. Only sorry Mr. Freire cannot read it!" -- Ailene

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Had an interesting insight today while reading City Paper's "I Love You, I Hate You" page. This is a section where people post anonymous messages to each other.

One of them, titled "Lecherous Septuagenarians," addresses an elderly man who keeps trying to pick her up in the park with cliched lines like offering to be her literary agent. But what rang a bell was where she says, "I don't want you to put me up in one of your cut-rate apartment complexes because you feel that the neighborhood where I live is 'unsafe.'"

You see, early last year I was volunteering at the monthly mailing party for the William Way Community Center, and got into a conversation with a somewhat older man there. At the time I had recently acquired a second-hand computer and was trying to determine if there was a way around its apparent inability to "ping" with an HSI service. So this man told me he knew someone who could supply me with used accessories such as might serve to help get me online with this older computer (the one I'm typing on now). In return, he said, he could use some help locating an affordable place to rent in the Poconos where he could vacation. He said he had little computer experience and wondered if I would help him locate such a place.

Well, it seemed like a reasonable proposal. Perhaps this arrangement would give me some practice in the ways of making new friends, which was my main reason for volunteering.

But soon I started to feel differently. The speed with which he seemed to expect me to proceed with it, including rendezvous to pick up accessories etc., made me start feeling that I was no longer in control of my own time. I get a very, very, bad reaction to feeling that I've become "entrained" by someone else's agenda. Likely this particular sensitivity stems from my cultic experience earlier in life with the Socialist Workers Party.

At the same time, he seemed to be going way too fast with other ideas as well. He said that, once he'd succeeded in renting a lakefront place with my help, I would of course be welcome to spend time there. And he also solicitously advised me to move out of my current building because it's in an "unsafe neighborhood." This, of course, was what rang the bell in my head while reading the ILUIHU.

He said he could help arrange for me to rent a place in his area, which he said is safer. It didn't help that he elaborated by explaining that he'd read some sociology and knew that there was more crime in "black" areas -- while hastily adding that he wasn't prejudiced. Nor that the neighborhood he was suggesting I move to is reputed to be lily-white. In fact, I've spent nearly all my adult life in areas that others have told me are "dangerous," without once being the victim of street crime. So I've become pretty skeptical of such admonitions.

Within a few weeks of meeting him, all these things were making me increasingly uncomfortable. His seemingly solicitous manner and the speed with which he was pushing things felt presumptuous -- he seemed to be assuming a closer relationship than I had agreed to or even imagined, based solely on what initially seemed like a fairly casual exchange of favors. There was also one point where he criticized something I had done because, he said, it showed I didn't have enough confidence in him. (Unfortunately I can't remember now what it was.) This really rubbed me the wrong way since he hadn't given me any reason to have confidence in him. Being asked to have "confidence" when it doesn't appeared merited is another sensitivity rooted in my cultic experience, where I was told that disagreeing or even doubting the leadership's positions on what seemed like minor questions meant I "lacked confidence in them" and should leave the group.

So I decided I wanted out of this arrangement, and told him so at the next opportunity. He remarked that he supposed he would have to retrieve the accessories he'd lent me, and I agreed. And then something odd happened: he never got back to me about them. They're still sitting in my closet over a year later, and at this point I have to figure he was never seriously interested in getting them back.

I hadn't had much occasion to reflect on this till now, but after reading the ILUIHU it occurs to me that maybe getting a lakefront place to summer was never his primary interest. Perhaps he was mainly interested in getting into my pants, and this was just how he hoped to do that. Or perhaps it was a combination.

While at the time I internally verbalized my feelings as being about "presumptuousness" or "going too fast," I couldn't put my finger on just what made me so uncomfortable. Having another person's similar experience to compare it with, I now realize that this is probably just about what people mean when they describe someone as "sleazy" or "creepy." So, now I've experienced that for myself -- just one of the (more dubious) benefits of being less withdrawn than used to be.

P.S. I also recall that in our initial conversation, he went into some depth about some family conflicts he'd endured. This elicited some sympathy from me, even though I noted the rather self-congratulatory way he presented his own noble role in the conflict. But after the other objectionable things started accumulating, I think that added to my judgment that this was someone I didn't want to be involved with.

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