If a Creep Falls In The Forrest…

One day during the summer I was sitting outside of my preferred coffee/ wine/ practical-advice-for-life joint–my local, when I noticed a somewhat distinctive-looking man walk by. I didn’t really find him handsome, though he didn’t strike me as ugly either. There was definitely something unusual about him though.
In the next hour or so, he walked back and forth passing my table no less than four times. Eventually, he took a seat at the table next to me, and within a few moments, asked me in a very friendly way if I could tell him the WiFi password. I told him that I didn’t know it, but that he could ask someone inside.

When he came back out he continued to make conversation. He asked me what I do, and when I told him that I’m an artist, he told me that he is as well, and made vague references (of a sort not unusual in a conversation with a stranger) to affiliations with this or that gallery, and other artist acquaintances of his.
He asked where he could see my work, and–against my better judgement–I gave him my card. This is, after all, exactly the kind of scenario for which I have *a card*, and although I had a feeling that it wasn’t just my art that had his interest, I pushed those suspicions to the side, in the hopes that he could be a good connection.

A couple of days later, I recieved an sms from him, saying that he was going to a party that night, and asking if I’d like to join him. I didn’t want to, but I also already had plans, so I made my apologies and thanked him for the offer. It struck me as strange that a few hours later, I recieved another text from him, stating that he had looked at the email inviting him to this party again, and discovered that it was, in fact the next day, saying to get in touch if that changed things. Ahem: it didn’t.

Over the next couple of weeks, he frequently took coffee at my local, and while I would never ignore him, I tried to look very engrossed in whatever I was reading/ drawing, etc. A couple of weeks after the first invite, he called to see if I wanted to join him for a coffee, but as it happened, a friend was sitting right across the table from me in my flat, and I told him I was unavailable.

Now, none of this is at all unusual as a variety of social interaction that could take place between two individuals previously unknown to each other, and often to be found alone.

What I found most of interest, though, was the way I reacted to it. During that introductory conversation, during which time I had a chance to register his facial features, I found them to be interesting, if neither handsome nor ugly. His red hair seems a bit unusual in Germany, but more unusual is the lattice work of scars on his cheeks, and his sort of sad green eyes. As he began frequenting my local, though, and making attempts to set up a date (in the most non-restrictive sense of the word) I began to see in his features less of a strange sadness, and more of a menace.
In short, I began to find him creepy.

I fought the instinct for awhile: I remember once when he showed up while I was having coffee, and was standing at my table asking what I was working on, what I had been up to, etc. I was doing my best to look too busy for company when my friend Oliver showed up. I immediately bade him come over, and as the red-head went inside to order I whispered to Oliver that he had saved me from the possibility of having to sit with this man. I immediately felt a twinge of guilt for characterising him as some sort of vague threat, and explained that I just didn’t feel very comfortable around him, though I had no particular reason. I admitted finding the scars on his face somewhat dark-looking, and then chastised myself again, wondering aloud about the various entirely legitimate ways one might acquire a face full of scars, such as a car accident. Despite my half-hearted attempts to acknowledge the overreaction on my part, Oliver’s only response was that he might have also acquired the scars in prison. And I was reminded of why I love Oliver.

Recently a good friend posted something on Facebook about ‘…feeling bad for people who manifest their insecurities as meanness towards you…’ and it’s been sitting in the back of my mind, fermenting.

The question of creepy–unlike the question of meanness–lies so much in the eye of the beholder. If I were attracted to this man, I would never have found his suddenly frequenting my local as at all creepy; rather it would have been encouraging. Likewise, of course with the invites. And to his credit, he did only try twice (discounting the amendment on the first) which is not at all excessive. It occurs to me that the label creepy has the potential to be used by women to effect a devastation not unlike that caused when a man calls a woman a slut.
Nevertheless I find him creepy.

Now when I run into him, which has become rare, he seems only to look at me out of the corner of his eye, as he did yesterday evening when I saw him on the street, instinctively saying ‘hello.’ His reply was quick, curt and he kept on walking as I tried to unlock my bike (incidentally, a few meters down the sidewalk he stopped and then doubled back, which kinda seemed creepy). He seems now to me always to look agitated, or tortured somehow. If you’d like to get a better picture of what he looks like, imagine Prince Harry after 20 years of hard living with a couple of knife fights under his belt and you’d probably be in the neighborhood…

And yet I can’t help but wonder if it’s all me. Have I created this creep? By which I don’t mean ‘does he only look tortured because I’ve rejected his offers and it’s driven him wild with pain?’ but….I guess….do I only think he looks creepy because I feel uncomfortable when I think I’ve made someone else uncomfortable, and the easiest emotional response is to turn him into a monster so that I don’t have to feel bad anymore? Maybe, if it weren’t for me, he wouldn’t be creepy. Look what I’ve gone and done! I’ve made this perfectly nice man (who was probably in a terrible car accident years ago) and turned him into a creep.

Ultimately, the question is: can creep exist in a vaccuum? Does  someone need to recieve the creepy to come into being?
If this is so, I fear I’ve made a lot of creeps over the years…..

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6 Comments on “If a Creep Falls In The Forrest…”

  1. Contributing Factor Says:

    He sounds creepy.

  2. mcrobie mcrobotnik Says:

    Hey lovely! Heh, I loved this in several different ways – your writing and exploring the creepiness-in-a-vacuum and the little reminders it gave me of Prenzlauerberg (which I miss especially at the moment).
    It’s an interesting idea – I remember reading an article recently on, uh, The Awl (i can’t find it but can find a related article: http://www.theawl.com/2010/11/whats-the-worst-thing-a-man-believes-he-can-call-a-woman), that said “creepy” is the worst thing you can call a guy – & to an extent the subjectivity element is true: I think about how I spent most of my 20s so far being so easily tricked by basically the aesthetics of nice-guyness – those nerdy/arty not-quite-hipster grad students, with their crumpled hair and scarves and satchels – like I couldn’t go to the British Library without falling in love with three separate ‘niceguy’ walking-tropes. And not that guys who use this ‘nice guy’ aesthetic aren’t more or less likely than others to be decent people, but just that I really mistook the signifiers of their socialisation (educated boys who listen to a certain type of music, and watch the kinds of films i like, basically) as signs that they couldn’t be ‘creeps’. Which uh – we have already discussed the carnage of the faux-sensitive male – so, yes, lessons learned.
    As a little wanky detour: I’m getting really into Martha Nussbaum on empathy, and how dignity/ rights come from empathy – I think partly to merge the two sides of my brain a bit better than Sarajevo allowed (‘human rights-y’ law cerebral stuff and, y’know, emotions/creative stuffs). And I think that empathy is pretty key, when you notice yourself being, basically, icked out by someone – something I haven’t been very good at in the past.
    Hrm, this was going somewhere. Oh yes! So yes, I think it’s a sign of how empathetic you are that you kinda thought afterwards about your instinctive response to this guy, and whether the ‘creepy’ feeling wouldn’t have come up if you’d been attracted to him.
    But, at the same time, I think (unlike the Awl article kinda seemed to imply) that calling a guy ‘creepy’ is not like calling a girl ‘slutty’. Not to go too, er, old-school feminist on you, but I think that trusting your initial instincts on a guy – especially in the cirumstances of being a v attractive young woman several thousand miles away from home (hehe, I mean you, not me!) – is something you shouldn’t ever make yourself feel bad about. Not that you shouldn’t explore these ideas, but just that so often we’re pressured *not* to trust our instincts, in terms of when we’re unsure about a guy, and that’s when things go uh.
    So, yes, it must suck to be a decent guy whose actions/ presence are interpreted as ‘creepy’, genuinely, it’s probably like being called ‘hysterical’ as a woman – just a low and kind gender-specific judgement to make on behaviour we all do at times, but which we only use as an insult to those we don’t like/ aren’t attracted to. But, when your brain is telling you a guy is ‘creepy’, that’s probably also a message your brain is sending you about your safety, and that’s not something to feel bad about even if the message isn’t totally objective – and why it’s different to the ‘slutty’ slur, which, obviously, isn’t a legitimate safety fear being shorthanded in a judgement, it’s just a tacky, horrible judgement.

    Woah. Sorry. My withdrawal at actually talking to you is obviously manifesting itself totally inappropriately in internet-ramblings – let’s talk soon, ja? 🙂 And think you’d love this Nussbaum book – is it terrible that i think of her as, like, ‘Richard Sennett for girls’? (kidding! kind of). She inspired my hillbilly-haiku on feeling bad for people who manifest their insecurities as meanness. Which – really, it’s only so often than human rights covers the vital scholarly field of “dealing with bitchiness”….
    H xxxxx

    • mcrobie mcrobotnik Says:

      So I’d like to call this new style of internet-comversation ‘Heather writes Judy Blume novels for artistic ex-pats/ herself’. Sworrrrry…xxx

    • salty wisdom Says:

      The Nussbaum sounds fantastic! I would definitely like to check that out–I’m quite curious about what kind of connection she makes between empathy and rights/ dignity. I feel like I can kind of imagine wherein the connection would lie, but it would be good to read a developed study of it.

      Good advice, too, in re the instinct aspect of finding someone creepy. I mean, there is so much science in instinct, too, that just amounts to (probably among other things, ahem) parts of one’s brain working at a higher level, yet not in such a way that we can be quite conscious of how it’s working. On the other hand, though, the whole ‘interrogation of motives’-routine has to be run through at least once in awhile 😉

      I agree that the term ‘hysterical’ is a better contemporary to ‘creepy.’ The way they both imply that the person given those labels constitutes a threat would seem to be key, whereas with ‘slut’ I guess it’s usually a case of the labeller feeling threatened in some way, & trying to hide their feelings of insecurity with that most dirty of accusations.

      *sigh* oh when will be talk about creepy in person, finally??!

      • mcrobie mcrobotnik Says:

        hey hey, yesssz, i think you would really like Nussbaum, she has some cool lectures online so i’ll try to find ya one.
        yeah [Heather says from her point of view of salty un-wiseness] i think instinct is something it’s basically both good to be mindful of & not something to feel bad about having, as a thing in itself. also, i worry now it looks like i was berating you by saying i didn’t agree with the ‘slutty’ comparison! sorry – i really meant it the opposite way, that you shouldn’t feel bad that putting the label ‘creepy’ on guys is judgemental/dehumanising in the way the word ‘slutty’ is because (ohhh, look! all the evidence of my years of education, in one phrase! –>)there’s just not the same power dynamic. (yeah). and more to the point, having recently spent a lot of time with a man who routinely described girls as ‘slutty’, ‘skanks’ etc (oh, Sarajevo-year)i really think the key point is also: guys/people who do that would never have the self-awareness/ capacity for empathy to reflect on it and explore what their motives were, the way that you do here, and so the very fact you’re doing that points to the fundamental difference, re: not dehumanising other people with the judgements you make of them. so, hrmz, i guess my salty un-wisdom is, i love that you that you reflect on these things and question them, but i really really don’t think you should worry about the instinct. instinct is good! [with a million caveats to that but, whatever].

        hehe, unrelatedly except in my brain – did you read that article on the BBC recently about “the women who has no fear?” basically she neurologically (?) can’t feel that emotion. i thought a lot about it, in that day-on-the-internet kind of way, but (aside from the whole ‘wow, amazing! oh actually that must be awful!’ curve that the article led you through)one of my thoughts was the slightly crass/ The Onion filter i accidentally apply to news headlines sometimes — that next the BBC should really run an article called “the woman who has no douchebag-monitor!”. i mean, the science would be fascinating…
        ohhhh, let’s skype this week? send my love to Berlin
        H xxxxx

  3. salty wisdom Says:

    yes yes yes! skyping this week would definitely be in order!!! sometime tomorrow? or maybe early tuesday afternoon? / any other time that would work esp. well for you….

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