Becoming a working musician has increased my chances of encountering at least one every time we play out. At one of our last shows, a pock-faced bald man wearing a burnt orange sweater that was being severely tested by his big belly sat on the barstool closest to us and watched as we set up. A dour-looking woman in big glasses and hair the same color as her skin sat next to him.
“What’s that a tattoo of?” he hollered at me after a while. Since our trumpet player had been talking to him and didn’t look unhappy about it, I joined them.
“It’s based on a piece of art I have at home,” I said.
“You any good?” he fired next.
“Yeah. We’re good.”
“I mean you.”
Our trumpet player excused herself. I told him that for taking up the alto sax a year ago after not having played it since I was a teenager, I was doing all right.
“I’ll know right away if you’re good or not,” he said, “and I’ll let you know.”
“You don’t have to bother, ” I said. And I left.
During our first set the dance floor fills up but the pock-faced man and dour woman sit there like big rocks. Every time I happen to look over where he is, he’s looking at me, hard.
As soon as the set ends he makes a beeline for me.
“Do you ever correct your husband?” he asks.
Odd question but I decide to treat it as a joke. “All the time,” I say. Our tenor sax player laughs. Pock-faced man doesn’t think it’s funny.
“You,” he says sternly, “corrected the band seven times.”
I don’t even know what this means, nor do I want to.
“You know what?” I say, “I need you to stop talking to me.”
He looks me up and down. “I have 50k to spend on music next year,” he says, “and your band is out.”
“I wouldn’t work for you anyway,” I tell him.
Two of my bandmates come to my rescue. The creepy guy alternates between chatting up our drummer and throwing me looks. By the time Set 2 starts, he and the dour woman are gone. Our soundman, who knows everyone in the music scene, has no idea who he is.
Up until we started playing out in August, it had been many years since the time I hung out at live music clubs in The Flats in downtown Cleveland, where some of my earliest encounters with creepy guys began. After one of them grabbed my behind on my way to the ladies’ room, I spun around and yelled at him. By the look on his face, he wasn’t expecting it.
This incident seems tame compared to everything I’ve encountered since then. I’m sorry to say that some of it has been pretty dire. There was the marketing communications manager I’d never met whom I was waiting for in the lobby of the company headquarters. I was expecting him to come down in the elevator like everybody else; instead he flew in the front door breathless, in an overcoat, and said, “You Robin? Come with me.”
A few minutes later I was riding in a car with a man whose ID I wished to God I’d asked to see before jumping into his vehicle. I prayed real hard that it was really the employee parking garage he was taking me to.
There was the man from several lifetimes ago whom I met at the airport during a layover. He had been lovely in writing. In person, however, there was a vacancy that was disturbing. As I boarded my next plane, I turned and waved. He was facing the wall, talking to himself.
There was the old friend who picked me up for dinner during a visit to Cleveland who refused tell me where we were going. A half hour later we were crossing the long bridge that links Cleveland’s East and West Sides. In the middle of it he tells me he researched thirty-four restaurants before choosing the absolutely perfect one. For a second I considered jumping out of the moving vehicle and off the bridge.
There’s the guy who used to work in your office, whom you considered strictly a friend, who invites you to lunch to “catch up” and then plays footsie with you under the table. The one on the plane who doesn’t stop when you do and rams his briefcase halfway up your skirt, who instead of apologizing, smirks and says, “Don’t worry. I didn’t see anything.” The guy who makes sexist remarks to your face and expects you to laugh too.
The family members who do these things to their own kin.
Last week, out of the Facebook wilderness came this cry: “Mother bleeeeep!! Creepy Guy is at Panera. WHY?!”
It was one of my writer friends, who’d gone there to get some coffee and some work done. It reminded me of the time I went to the diner to grade papers and a foot fetishist slipped into the booth across from me. “Mother bleeeeep,” I told him after I finally caught on fifteen minutes later, “get the bleeeeep away from me.”
The waitress stifled a yawn and said, “Oh yeah, I saw that. He’s in here all the time.” Sometimes women are creeps too.
One of the things that kills me about creepy guys, even after so many years of dealing with them, is their stealth way of perpetrating on you. You can believe you’re prepared for it, but you are never one hundred-percent prepared for it. They have a way of seeming innocuous at first, safe enough to sit kitty-corner from at Panera. But then they say something, do something that makes you feel like a sucker. Again.