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Hello There Young Man

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008 at 14:01 ET

Monday night after the World AIDS Day Concert at Lake Eola Park a strange thing happened to my friend. We were just standing in the grass talking, minding our own business, when a guy neither of us knew walked up to us. It was a cold night so he had a relatively brisk pace — he definitely wasn’t mosying. I’m sure both my friend and I were thinking, “who is this guy and what does he want?”

There were two things that felt kind of out of place to me. One was this stranger’s dress. As I said, it was cold, especially for Florida. At the concert, which was attended primarily by gay guys, there were a variety of approaches to dealing with the temperature: some, like me, chose to ignore it; others wore fancy fur lined coats. There were plenty of options in-between but almost all were at least somewhat stylish. This guy was different — his dress was much more … utilitarian. He was dressed for the weather and definitely looked like he belonged in the park on a chilly night much more than most of the World AIDS Day celebrators.

The other thing that set this guy apart was the fact that nearly everyone who was there for World AIDS Day got a free glow-stick and was wearing it around his or her neck. When the concert was over we snapped them into a glowing state and were supposed to have a glow-stick-vigil walk around the lake. I can’t say as I actually made it around the lake (I was looking for my friend and it took a while to find him), but the red glow sticks let you know who was who. This guy didn’t have one. Now, that’s not to say that either me or my friend are generally unfriendly, even to those who miss a great World AIDS Day event, but to us he just seemed like an outsider.

So there he was, walking up to us, looking at my friend and as soon as he entered our vicinity said, “Hello there young man.” Seriously.

The thing about it is, my friend is comfortably middle aged. He’s a tall guy, probably over six feet two inches, if I had to guess. He’s been paying more attention to his health and diet lately but I think it’s fair to say he’s an IT guy who works at a desk. The other thing I didn’t really notice about him until that night is that he has a few noticeably gray hairs on his head. My friend is active and not afraid to take on a kayak trip on the St. John’s river as Saturday’s thing-to-do, but it’s probably been a while since someone who wasn’t hitting on him called him “young man.” The look my friend gave him was priceless. With the right director and vision, it really could have been a Visa commercial.

This was, obviously, when things started to go downhill. My friend is not always the most socially outgoing person. He certainly tries hard, but I don’t think he’d embarrassed for me to tell that sometimes his efforts backfire. Our “new friend” certainly didn’t feel the love, and after only four words, the tone of the conversation quickly changed. The stranger immediately picked up on “the look” and wasn’t too shy to share his feelings about it. He said something like, “why are you gonna look at me like that,” to which my friend calmly replied, “I’m just wondering what it is you want.”

At this point, I was actually feeling proud of my friend. I know other people who might let a similar situation escalate, but he was calm and collected and to-the-point. I was wondering what this guy wanted too, but at that point it was a mano e mano affair. The stranger was quick to tell my friend how he was insulted by “the look” and after a relatively brief tirade decided he didn’t have to tolerate a look like that and walked away, muttering to himself.

My friend had to go back to volunteering for the event so we hugged good-bye. Me, I had to go in the direction of the upset stranger so I waited until a few folks (who had glow sticks on) were also headed in that direction and made very pleasant conversation with them until he was out of sight.

Filed under: Humanity

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