I had just dropped a squeeze bottle of mustard in my shopping cart when an attractive young Latina came around the end of the shelf and into the aisle where I was. She wasn’t really power shopping, just sort of strolling along, and she didn’t have a cart. As she passed me, we smiled at each other, but neither spoke. I’m way past the age when I’ve become invisible to young women, so when I get a smile, I pause for a moment to savor it, but, like a wild bird landing on one’s shoulder, those moments flee if we try to enlarge upon them.
A few seconds after she passed me, another young girl came into the aisle, and this one just knocked my socks off. She clutched a box of breakfast cereal to her heart, holding it in both of her chubby hands. The box covered her from her chin almost to her dimpled knees, and a shock of jet black hair balanced on top of her head like a block of hay someone had painted and balanced there. She was about 18 months or so – walking pretty well, but still a toddler. As she turned into the aisle, she craned her neck to her right, looking for something behind me. She was coming right on, but not holding her windage real well. When she was about 6 feet from me, I stopped my cart to avoid the risk of bumping into her if she swerved at the wrong time.
As she approached me, I felt a smile warm my face like a sunbeam coming through a just-opened curtain; she was just feloniously adorable. She looked up at me, and when she saw my smile, her little face lit up, that no-nonsense expression that women get when they are shopping for blood melted, and she smiled back at me. Standing stock still as she passed, I turned to see if her mom were keeping track of her. At the time the little one first came into view, her mom was probably 20-25 feet away from her, and I was between them.
Her mom, who had just smiled a friendly smile at me, had stopped and taken a short step toward the baby. Her body language said, “alert!” in the way she leaned forward, her weight more on her toes, her knees bent ever so slightly. She was still sort of smiling at me, but it was a very different smile – worried, not wanting to frighten her daughter, but warning me. I smiled directly at Mom and said something insipid like, “Some folks might think she’s cute or something.” Mom’s smile flickered and softened a tiny bit. She took the baby’s hand and led her on down the aisle. I turned away from them because I knew that if Mom turned back and saw me watching that baby toddling along with her cereal, all of the agonistic behaviors would return. In my mind, though, I watched, and felt a smile on my heart, if not on my face.
A few minutes later, I turned into the canned food aisle, and there were the two of them. Baby still held her cereal while Mom was shopping for something, but Mom was staying much closer. I was moving slowly, looking for a can of corn, but I glanced at them in time to see Mom look at me. Her jaw set almost imperceptibly, and she turned, took Baby by the hand, and led her away from me. Her body language said, “Condition orange,” and though she didn’t hurry, she didn’t stop to look at any canned goods. She reminded me of a lioness who, being disturbed, decided she didn’t feel like a fight, but damned sure didn’t want to be disturbed any closer.
I looked down, no more smiles anywhere in or on me. That woman saw a fat, old White man watching her baby girl, and she automatically acted to avoid any possibility of danger. I don’t blame her a bit. In fact, I kind of wish she hadn’t let the baby get so far behind her in the first place. She had no way of knowing that I have always loved children, and they have always loved me. (Well, not always; there was a period in which I tried with all my heart and soul to win to the love of my step-daughters, but failed utterly with two of the three.) At church, there are a half-dozen little ones, mostly girls, who view me as either a grandfather or a soft, interactive jungle gym, but that young mother had no way of knowing how my heart swells, and sometimes my eyes puddle up when my little girlfriends tackle me. She had no way of knowing that I’d see my hands cut off before I’d hurt her baby, or that my life and my pistol are pledged to the defense of such as they.
This is one of the things I really, really hate about the age in which we now live. That woman “profiled” me. She saw a person who fits the stereotype of a molester, and she didn’t stop to interview me or show me a stack of Rorschach cards. It hurts something awful to endure such a thing, but I would never, for an instant deny that woman her right or her obligation to do it. There really are some fat, old White guys who would harm that baby, and it would be insane to claim otherwise. Given the number of people we meet in a day, even as she and I met in the store, it is absolutely impossible to evaluate each of them on anything other than immediately verifiable, physical characteristics. Given time, she and I could probably be friends, and she might even trust me to hold and play with her baby, if only under close supervision. But in the store, she didn’t have time, and the consequences of a wrong guess were unthinkable. She did what any intelligent, aware parent would do; she put distance between her baby and the possibility of a threat.
This is just one more cost of the permissive, “non-judgmental” legal environment that has turned our streets into sewers. More than 80% of all crime is committed by people who have already been convicted at least once. Child molestation, in particular, has an almost 100% recidivism rate – meaning child molesters are, for all practical purposes, never cured. They are predators for life. If our courts would remove such people from our midst, we would be dealing only with new ones. As it is, however, the population of criminals of all types is growing almost exponentially, and the odds of any one of us being a victim is increasing proportionally. How ironic is it that, in the supposed interest of being “non-judgmental,” and not assuming the worst of anyone, and not “profiling” anyone, the average citizen has been placed in the position of judging, assuming, and profiling many times a day.
Profiling is nothing more than playing the odds in a game of back alley roulette, and the number of loaded chambers is being increased by the very people who are supposed to protect us. And I’m here to tell you that it is an awful feeling to know that I fit the profile of something I hold so loathsome, but that’s the way it is. I know I’m a good man, and I forgive others who, like this mom, aren’t so sure.
28 July, 2013