I had time to kill before church today and walked to the Barnes and Noble in the Pru—primarily because it was air conditioned and open before 11, but also because I was looking for the summer music edition of the Oxford American. No luck on that front, but I found weird America right in the store.
I walked over to the poetry shelves, which abut some chairs outside the café, and started browsing. About a second later, the woman sitting in the chair closest to me, right in front of the first poetry shelf, called to the guy behind the counter in the café:
“Excuse me—where is security?”
He didn’t respond and she repeated, louder, “Where is security? Is there only the guard in the front this morning? —I don’t need them now, but I need to know where they are.”
I was starting to be a bit concerned and looked over my shoulder but couldn’t see anyone. She continued to speak, more to herself than to the counter worker: “It’s a good thing they have cameras. I know what you’re doing.”
I suddenly had a very uncomfortable feeling. I was standing maybe six feet from her, and there was no one else around. I asked her, “Excuse me, are you speaking to me?”
“You know I am. I know what you’re doing. You’re standing awfully close. I know what you’re doing.”
“I’m sorry, but you’re sitting right in front of the poetry. I’m just trying—”
“Don’t talk to me again. They have cameras. I know all of this is on tape.” And then she launched into a paranoid rant under her breath, most of which I cannot remember, to the effect that I was threatening her. I turned so that I wasn’t looking at her and kept scanning the shelves, shaken.
Folks, this wasn’t a street person—she was a perfectly normal looking woman, clean and well dressed.. And I was wearing slacks and a sport jacket, so I couldn’t have looked too threatening. But the encounter was definitely occurring on two different planets.
I finally found the book I was looking for and walked away. I paid for my purchase and walked out, wondering if I should have said something to the guy at the counter—or something else to the woman. But what would I have said? “I’m sorry, but I was verbally assaulted by a woman who’s clearly off her meds. You might want to get her out of your store.” Or, to the woman: “I’m not threatening you, I’m shopping. And I’ll pray for you, because Jesus loves you.” Yeah, that would have worked really well.