Beware of Crocodile

So, this afternoon I was sitting in my favourite café, doing some work and quietly ignoring my obligation to buy at least a small cup of coffee in exchange for the free table, electricity, and internet, when in walked a ghost from my past.

Well, he isn’t really a ghost — literal, or metaphorical — so much as an old guy whom I used to see around.  And, that past is really just when I was a student, only a few months ago (and a few city blocks away from the café).  But, my point is I really didn’t expect to see this guy wander by, and I was actually mildly shocked.  It felt a little like seeing your elementary-school teacher at the grocery store.

But, what’s so special about this one old guy, that it would actually startle me to randomly see him in a café?  Well, for that, you need to understand where and how I lived until just a few months ago.  As a student, desperately trying to graduate and move onto the next stage of my life (a notion that, in hindsight, probably deserves the stifled giggles that I imagine it just got), I lived in a university residence hall.  It was, in fact, not at all a bad place to live, and I met many wonderful people there, some of whom I hope to keep with me for the rest of my life.  One of the less universally-appreciated things about this student residence building, though, was its dining hall.  I do understand that cooking for hundreds of people is difficult, and in fact I still maintain that the food wasn’t bad so much as uninspired and repetitive. but it remains that the dining hall was not the brightest light in our accommodation.  It was a large room, with many tables and benches vaguely Harry-Potter-esque in design, with plenty of room to sit with your friends and eat.  It was also, for reasons purportedly to do with community, open to the general public.  Anyone with $8 was welcome to join and have a hearty residence-hall meal.

The thing about residence halls, and universities in general, is the way they attract… groupies, almost.  There’s this genre of non-student, non-university-affiliated person, who likes to linger around residence halls and other student areas.  I’m not sure quite what attracts them — perhaps the hustle and bustle of all the young people, or the sense of purpose and intensity.  For some it’s clearly just for the girls.  But, it’s annoying for the students, and downright intrusive when such folks stake your residence hall (where you live; your home) as their territory.  Yes, parts of the building are technically open to the public, but it feels a lot like going into your living room in the morning and finding a stranger having coffee on your couch.  When you see enough of the same person you start to get used to it, but it’s still intrusive.

At any rate, we’ve all seen those Animal Channel shows about Africa.  The  giant herd of gnus is crossing a river, and everything looks fine until the camera closes in on two green scaly eyes peeking up through the surface, and the antelopes just keep swimming on their way, and the eyes drift closer and closer, and the animals keep swimming, and suddenly GRAAAALP — in one lightning strike the powerful jaws erupt and drag the poor gnu under the surface.  With that image in mind, you know everything you really need to know about the man we called the Crocodile.

He’s unassuming and harmless upon casual inspection, an older Indian (as in, from India) who frequented the café and dining hall.  He stuck out a little perhaps for his age, but there was nothing especially predatory about his appearance or demeanor.  Once you watched him, however, his technique became obvious.  He would affect an uninterested impression of scholarly detachment, sitting quietly with his face buried in a book.  But, discreetly peeking over the pages, his green scaly eyes would watch for unattended young women, alone or in small groups, especially vulnerable at the beginning of the semester when not everyone has many friends.  And, with a movement so subtle that you had to be watching to see it, he would suddenly be sitting at the same table as the object of his interest.  “What do you think of that entrée?” he would ask, or perhaps “what class are these books for?” and suddenly the jaws snap, and the prey is snared.  The brilliance of the Crocodile’s technique was that, once trapped by the introductory conversation, there was no escape.  Everyone is taught to be respectful to their elders.

Now, this guy has been around for quite awhile; both students and staff members can remember his perpetual presence at the residence going back years.  Complaints from the students even had him briefly restricted from the building, before his righteously-indignant defence — “What exactly am I doing?  Aren’t I allowed to talk to people?” — convinced the administration to allow his return.  But, he continues to aggressively target unaccompanied young women, whose naïve confusion often allows him to get a distressing amount of personal information from them before they realise that they had best clam up.  He once managed to convince a new arrival to take a tour of the city with him, during which he apparently took enough photos of her to arouse her confusion and discomfort, and encourage her to end the outing early.  His attentions are so thorough and relentless that they are considered almost a rite of passage for young women in the residence, because so few manage to get through their first few weeks without suffering his advances.

Why am I dwelling on this gentleman, though?  My blog entries so far generally abstracted away from simple details of my life or environment.  I realised, as I watched him enter the café, that a lot of what bothers me about him is the same as what bothers me about The McDonald’s Gang, from my post last month.  As a society, we are trained to be respectful and deferential to the elderly, and to our elders in general.  Seemingly a direct result of this is the phenomenon of old people behaving badly, forcing us to grin and bear socially unacceptable behaviours simply because they come from our elders.  When teenagers act like idiots at a fast-food restaurant, they get booted out; old people, however, can sit there and be loud and rude all afternoon.  When an old man spends all day (hell, all year) relentlessly talking up young women, he eventually gets official acknowledgement from the powers-that-be that his behaviour is acceptable; a young man doing exactly the same thing would be discreetly beaten up, or at least thoroughly ostracised as an intrusive creep, within a week.

Now, the obvious response at this point is to note that the elderly have, pretty much by definition, lived a long time, and therefore probably have also had to deal with a fair bit throughout their lives; as such, we should cut them some slack.  That, I think, is garbage.  The elderly get perks in society not only because they have potentially earned them through long lives of service, and also not simply because they need the assistance (although both, especially the latter, are perfectly valid in my mind), but also because they are role models.  They are people to whom we look for good judgement and character, because of a lifetime of experience and some healthy distance from the foolishness of youth.  And, frankly, if they want me to treat them like a nice old person, then they bloody well better behave like a nice old person.

At any rate, this entire rant was motivated by the unpleasant sensation of seeing this fellow turn up unexpectedly.  It’s interesting how a sense of comfort and familiarity can be bruised just by the unwanted presence of an unlikeable individual in a public place.  I mean, he’s allowed to be there.  It’s just a café, not my fortress of solitude.  And, I’ve already admitted to being distracted by pretty girls in this same café, so it seems awfully hypocritical to want to exclude someone who does the same thing.

Although, man, he’s sure a ton more aggressive about it.  And, no one’s ever complained about me being aggressive.  If anything, I’m passive, and squander opportunities.  Still, part of me wants to say “live and let live,” while another part of me want to punch an old man in the nose.  In the end, I just don’t like this guy.  On some level, I don’t feel like I need to justify that, or, even that I could justify a personal dislike if I had to, beyond, “Well, I think he’s a stupid-head.”

So, he’s old and creepy and I don’t like him.  I want him out of my café.  Punching him in the nose would probably do it, but again I’m being too passive and wasting valuable opportunities.  I guess I’ll just have to wait for him to leave.

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