I was in the bookstore the other day, browsing the comics/manga section. I'd gotten most of the way down the aisle, and two young girls started studying the endcap display and slowly working their way down the aisle itself. They were both somwhere in the 8-10 year old range, and it kind of sounded like they were sisters. No adult supervision that I could immediately see, but the shelves were tall enough that Dad could've been in the next aisle and I wouldn't have known.
I stopped to flip through a couple of books, the girls were still checking out whatever they were interested in, and another guy walked into the aisle. Late 20s, early 30s maybe. A bit scruffy, very overweight. He then proceeded to very loudly talk about how the store layout is different now than it used to be, and this one section was over by the magazines and that next section was down farther. I couldn't tell if he was trying to strike up a conversation with the girls, who he was standing in the immediate vicinity of, or he was just talking to no one in particular. In either case, the girls, who had been carrying on their own conversation, both clammed up and immediately looked really uncomfortable. But they kept browsing in silence. The guy didn't go on long about the store layout -- a couple sentences at most -- and started looking at what was on the shelves.
Another minute passed.
"MISTER POTATO HEAD DRESSED UP AS DARTH VADER? THAT'S SILLY!"
He was at least looking at some Star Wars material. He spoke in a way that sounded like he maybe had an actual mental disability and wasn't just really socially awkward, but it was hard to tell. I didn't get the impression he was trying trick the girls into coming with him or anything sinister -- he was way to off-putting in that respect. But he still made the girls visibily uncomfortable. They started glancing around, trying to decide what to do, and how to escape. I went out one end of the aisle and the girls darted out the other.
I wasn't really sure who to feel worse for: the girls or the guy. I mean, the guy was bothering the girls and they didn't know what to do, so I'm sure they were scared. But at the same time, I don't think the guy was trying to be creepy. Did he actually have mental problems, or was he just really socially inept? And in either of those cases, he just would have been reaching out to another human being, right?
You know, maybe if I were a better person I would've engaged him. At least to give the girls an easy out. I could make excuses about how I was fed up with people thanks to the family who had just brought their whistle-blowing four-year-old into the restaurant I was at. But really, he was creeping me out too between not using his inside voice and his series of seeming non-sequitirs.
I didn't have a good experience because of this guy. But you can't blame the store or the employees there. The guy wasn't doing anything wrong; he was just behaving with little regard to cultural norms and mores. And I guess that's kind of my point here tonight. I've been in plenty of weird and uncomfortable comic shops and used bookstores in my day. And while many of them creeped me out because of the employees or that odd stain on the floor or the wafting B.O. in the corner, some of those bad experiences were through no fault of the store itself. So as a suggestion for future trips, might I suggest trying to pinpoint exactly why you're made uncomfortable in a store -- if it's something the store doesn't have complete control over, it might be worth cutting them a little slack.
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