Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Misinterpretations and Surprises

As you know, I am a walker. Every day, just about, I go for a long walk around my town. Because I live in a town that was one of the former homes of Frank Lloyd Wright, I pass a number of the homes he designed as well as the home and studio where he lived. This place attracts tourists from all over the world, and often long lines of people surround this house, gathering for the tours, and often people stop and ask me for directions, with many kinds of accents and more-or-less commands of English. I am always happy to help these people, as I have often been helped by friendly people when I was in foreign places. Sometimes people are on the right track. They simply need assurance that, yes, "It's right up there at the corner." Few people with a destination in mind want to walk blocks or miles in the wrong direction. Anyway, here is a photo of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. It plays a background kind of role in the story I am about to tell.

So there I was, one afternoon, approaching the corner on which this architectural attraction stands, and coming along at a perpendicular, I spotted a group of teenage boys. Maybe 8-10 of them. Not as stereotypical as the photo I am about to show, but you get the idea.

They were of multiple skin colors and sizes, and the timing was such that just as I was about to get to the corner, they too would reach the corner (remember, we were coming at perpendiculars), and then the situation would be that I would either find myself among them or be walking in front of them. This was in the afternoon, and we would be walking on a well-traveled street, so it wasn't EXACTLY that I felt endangered, but I never like it when someone is walking behind me at close range (I generally turn around to see who is there), and I especially didn't think I would like having a group of teenage boys behind me. A lot was going through my mind as I approached the corner.
     When I actually encountered these boys, however, I saw that some, not all, but some were carrying garbage bags. They were doing it in a kind of self-conscious way--like, please don't notice that I'm carrying this big floppy thing. But you know me and garbage bags. I'm a litter-picker-upper, and I recognized right away that this was what these boys were up to.
     "Are you guys picking up litter?" I said, in a burst of uncharacteristic friendliness and extroversion.
     "Yup," they said.
     "I do that too," I said, "but I don't have my bag today."
     And then some of them really got into it and started saying how they were good people, and doing good for the community, and giving me the peace sign, and all the rest. And we probably would have high-fived or fist-bumped, but I've never been very good at either of those, and plus I didn't want to get carried away, so I walked on (them behind me), and when I noticed a piece of litter along the way, I signaled to them.
     I mean, here's the thing. You just never know. About 15 minutes later, I ran into them again, heading toward the high school, where an adult was there to meet them to collect the garbage bags, and some of them waved to me, and I waved to them, and it felt really friendly.

And as a sidelight, on the issue of language, if you do a Google image search for "gang of teenage boys," you get a completely different set of images than you do if you search for "group of teenage boys." I'm sure you'll be able to guess what some of the differences are.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, a group, bunch or collection of male teenagers creates a negative feeling, non-white even more so. However, our negative feeling are not unfounded. My husband was stabbed by one of a group of teenage boys and I was beaten in the locker room of Durfee School in Detroit by a collection of teenage girls. These incidents happened very long ago. Why would we feel safe these days among a group of anybodies when schools are not safe and movie theaters.....
While such thinking is discriminatory, recent happenings coax us into the old sayings,"Better safe than sorry". Or "sad, but true".
The reason cliches live is because they speak truth.
I live in one of the 50 safest cities in the US, but "safe" is a relative term considering the crime here.
Happy holidays and a very healthy happy 2013.

Rose D. Sigman

Susan Messer said...

I know. I know. It's one of the great challenges of life to stay open and also stay safe, respect people as individuals while also taking what's true (or might be true) about stereotypes.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, we all come by our stereotypes. Think White Collar Crime, Mafia, Basketball. Are your first thoughts negative? Now think love of education, love of family, caregivers. Can go either way depending on how open one is to different perceptions. The worst of any group gets the most publicity. So many teenagers are helping with storm cleaning in the East, as shown on NBC Nightly News.
All that said, personal safety first is, unfortunately, the reality of these times.
Rose Sigman

Patry Francis said...

Love your walks.

Susan Messer said...

yes, I know. And staying open is important too. We can't all withdraw into our bunkers. I'm not saying I know the answers . . . safety is certainly important.

Susan Messer said...

Patry,
so good to see your name. Been thinking about you. Hope all is well with you and yours.

Jim Poznak said...

I hope when someone Googles "gang of teenage boys walking" they will see this blog post and be reassured.

Susan Messer said...

Thanks, luv. It can be a hard call--safety vs. openness.

Anonymous said...

Two articles in the Detroit News recently: Denby High School students volunteer to clean outside. Next:Oregon,Two boys ages 7 and 11 attempt to rob a woman in a car, the eleven-year-old having a loaded gun. Fortunately she drove away.
Since there is no law about arresting children of these ages, they were released to their parents. The older boy ran away, was found by police and returned to his parents.
We don't have to ask what this world is coming to, but we must somehow live in reality and not hunker in our bunkers. Solutions do not abound.
Again, thank you for the opportunity for your readers to comment.

Rose D. Sigman