Wednesday, February 16, 2022

I never feel safe when walking alone. And now I know my fear is a good thing that should never be ignored.

Nathan DeHart photo
Once while hiking deep into the woods by myself, I came upon a man leaning on a log with a large walking stick beside him. “I hope I’m not too scary out here,” he said.

That was not cool.

It might not have been his intention to terrify me, but he did. Because reminding a woman walking alone that you are just another stranger who could attack her is not how to make her feel safer in your presence.
As soon as the man with the stick spoke to me, I went from feeling moderately concerned to being convinced he was like the killer in the movie Wolf Creek. You know, the very chatty guy who seems a bit off, but you decide he's probably harmless until he starts ripping out your friends’ spines.
As I walked by the man, who was about twice my size and barely more than an arm’s length from me while I passed, I readied my legs to run until I had moved a safe distance away from him, looking over my shoulder many times afterward to make sure he wasn't following me.
Several miles later I encountered another man on the trail, and this time I felt safe enough to ask him where he had come from and how much further it was to the next trail I wanted. He told me, then we talked a bit more about the beautiful waterfalls nearby before continuing on our hikes alone.
“What made that guy different?” my husband asked when I got home. “What made you decide he wasn’t scary? You know, I’m sure Ted Bundy didn’t seem scary to his victims.”
Fair point. But Ted Bundy chose and approached his victims. The first man had initiated contact with me, while I had initiated contact with the second man.
And that key difference, explains Gavin De Becker in his book, "The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence," is usually exactly what separates someone who intends to do harm from someone who doesn't.

He writes that humans almost always deploy charm with a motive, and therefore the charming stranger is almost always a danger. He describes them as predators whose words are bait, and how you respond to the line they dangle tells them if you are the prey they want.
For example, if I told the man with the stick, "Oh, no, you're not scary at all," with a smile and giggle, he would have known that I was an appeasing type that he could more easily control, likely allowing him to avoid a loud struggle that would attract attention.
De Becker argues that humans usually feel afraid of other humans for very good reasons, even if we can't articulate those reasons, and that if we want to avoid being harmed, we should respect our fear. All too often, he says, people are harmed after deciding their initial fear was unfounded, or, more disturbingly, that acting on their fear would make them appear rude or ridiculous.

De Becker also recommends that women be especially selective about who they ride elevators with, which reminded me of my first night alone in Philadelphia. After checking into my hotel, I stepped into an empty elevator to head up to my room, but then jumped out of it when a man got in after me.

Why? Because he showed no interest in getting on that elevator until the doors started closing. I had gotten on the elevator as soon as the doors opened, but the man had waited many, many moments until it was clear that no one else nearby was getting on and we would be locked in that small box alone. So I hopped out and waited for another elevator.
That was cool.

Because after reading De Becker's book, I know that listening to my fear very likely saved me from harm in that situation, as well as in many others, and I will never again feel I am being overly cautious by acting on my fear. For anyone who still does, I highly recommend reading his book.

But the scariest moment of my life? It was opening the door to a barefoot man crouched against the side of my house.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

I turned down my first newspaper job and almost didn’t meet my husband. But luckily “Mr. Wrong” steered me to “Mr. Right.”

A month after graduating college, I had gone on three interviews and received one job offer. But the newspaper wanting to hire me was not the one I wanted to work at, so I declined the offer, sure another was coming. Once it clearly wasn’t, I gathered all my courage to call back the man who offered me the job, hoping it was still available and he still wanted to hire me. It was, and he did.

That was cool.

Cool not only because that job began my career in the business I have loved for nearly 30 years, but because the man who became my husband was working at that newspaper, and we never would have met if I hadn’t called back about the position they offered me.

And who convinced me I should? The man I was seeing at the time, a man I’ll just call “Mr. Wrong.” Wrong because I shouldn’t have been seeing him, and he certainly shouldn’t have been seeing me. Because he already had someone at the center of his life, only offering me a few hurried encounters scattered over one agonizing year, a year I spent hunkered like a fisherman on the ice, waiting for a pull on my line.

I used to think all those months straining for more of someone who could never share my life were wasted, but now I thank them for steering me to someone who could.

See, I hadn’t just declined the offer, I had lied. Instead of simply turning down the job, I claimed I had gotten hired at another newspaper, thinking that would release me without any hurt feelings. But of course my lie just made everything worse, as lying usually does.

While I waited for my invented job to become real, my roommate got hired and moved away with her furniture. For weeks after I sat on the living room floor next to a phone that never rang, my lie keeping me from using it to call that first newspaper back.

And my shame keeping me from telling anyone what I had had done (not even the roommate who was the only other person who knew about Mr. Wrong), until finally I confessed my sorry situation to Mr. Wrong, probably because all the shameful stuff we did together made me willing to admit another bad deed.

Which turned out to be a very good decision, because Mr. Wrong had enough life experience to know what I should do next, and cared enough about my future to tell me to do it.

“You have to call that paper back. It’s a job offer. You don’t know when you’ll get another one.”

So I did. And I got the job. But I didn’t tell the whole truth at first. That came a bit later when I felt more comfortable with my supervisor. And though he likely already knew, he was kind enough to act like he didn’t, and to say I was forgiven.

All that happened twenty-five years ago this month, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I called back for that job. And that Mr. Wrong told me to.

Of course, he’s not the only person who would have given me that advice. But he was the only person I gave the opportunity to do so. And he could have just laughed at my stupidity, but he decided to help.

And because of that I met not only the center of my current family, the man I’ve shared all my shames and successes with for the past 25 years, but my first newspaper family, as well.


Thanksgiving with my Times-Herald family in 1997.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

My Grandmother's Journals: February, 1997

After my grandmother died at the age of 97, I found a large purse full of small notebooks where she recorded her daily activities: when she woke up, where she ate breakfast, what mail she received, what movies she went to see and what she watched on TV.
That was cool. 
Cool because I find these daily snapshots fascinating, and also therapeutic. Something about following in her footsteps, living the details of her day, soothes me. The routine. The normalcy. The predictability. I need it right now. 
And so I keep reading them, and transcribing them here, in case others might need some normalcy and predictability as well.

In February of 1997, my grandmother was 81 and still living alone in a mobile home park in Santa Cruz, Calif,  near the surfing spot Pleasure Point. I wouldn't describe her as lonely; she was an extremely independent and persnickety woman whom I never knew to live with another person or even a pet. (I wrote more about her life in an earlier post.)  
Since the Super Bowl was still held in January of that year, there were no more football games for her to watch in February, but she saw plenty of movies, walked often near the ocean, spent a lot of time checking her blood pressure and talked to me often as I searched for a newspaper job after graduating with a journalism degree the previous December.
Saturday, Feb. 1, 1997
Cold. Stayed in bed til 8.
Washed towel, ironed apron. 
Coffee & donut at corner.
Home 10:30. Vacuumed, ate soup.
To show, "Three Lives and Only One Death." Marcello Mastroianni.
Mail: Bank statement OK, auto insurance $17.34 less.
TV: Siskel & Ebert, OK to 3. Watched "Groundhog Day" again.
Bed, read. Up 3 times. Last sleep is best.
Sunday, Feb. 2, 1997
Awake 6. Ear good.
Walked on East Cliff.
To corner. Lee there. Her husband slow today, from stroke.
Golf til 5 p.m. Very good, did various chores.
Crossword, started letters, owe everybody.
Bed, read “Murder at BP” til 2:30. 
Had soup, bread.
Monday, Feb. 3, 1997
Up 9. Breakfast Lyon's. Increased prices. (Made 2.69 to 2.99 for seniors, so total is higher. Accountant's suggestion?)
Gas, Drug Emporium, Trader Joe's. 
Wrote Mimi after news.
To Longs for Xerox, eye vitamins, envelopes.
Mailed letter to Mimi, package to Mina.
Went by Dunlaps [her neighbors]. Anna there, friend w/Ellie since '72.
Tuesday, Feb. 4, 1997
Breakfast corner. 
Some chores, wrote letter to Prudy.
Walked on East Cliff.
Two quakes north of SF, 3.5 and 3.8.
Verdict reached in O.J. civil trial, liable all 8 counts. $8.5 million.
Watched Geraldo, skipped Clinton's State of the Union.

Wednesday, Feb. 5, 1997
Awake 8:30, up 9. Chores, ate banana, cereal.
Walked, tea, croissant.
Library, got Jan. 17 Mercury News.
To Scotts Valley, ate hot dog! Ice cream!
To show, "Jerry Maguire." A section of life I do not relate to."
Home, dinner. Bed early, crossword. Couldn't sleep.
PBS, Living Edens. (Alaska, Denali, not McKinley.)

Thursday, Feb. 6, 1997
Ronald Reagan 86th birthday.
Appointment at 9:30. Hearing in right ear getting bad. Check again in one year.
Mall, coffee and muffin.
Home, news, various chores. Wrote Justine.
TV: News, Tiger Woods food poisoning. 

Saturday, Feb. 8, 1997
Slept til 9, at corner til 10:30.
Drug Emporium has BP machine. Mine 119/59? 
Got gingko biloba, another “slumber cap,” rat tail comb.
To library, returned 2 & 3 of “Silk Road.”
To show, “Les Voleurs.” Good. Catherine Deneuve.
To McDonald’s, chicken.
Started Hamlet, A&E.
Sunday, Feb. 9, 1997
Up 8:15, some cereal. To 41st for coffee, donuts.
To show, "Hamlet." Exciting. Spilled water on me, pants wet hours. I dropped glove, found a watch. They found glove, I turned in watch.
To Kmart, turkey sandwich.
Home, wrapped video for Mina, wrote small note.
TV: Mystery, Summertime, one segment from 60 Minutes, Helen Mirren. 
Tuesday, Feb. 11, 1997
Good sleep. To laundromat, sheets.
Ate cereal, banana.
To Gottschalk's, got 4 items: Liz jacket (denim), white t-shirt, blue silk, grey with sequins.
To Drug Emporium, BP. Talked to lady, said another machine at Kmart.
Ran "Silk Road." 
Quake, 3.0. Same area at Rohnert Park.

Wednesday, Feb. 12, 1997
Up 8:30. Chores here. Walked East Cliff.
Drug Emporium, checked BP, 146. Louden, 154.
Library, returned “Silk Road,” got French lessons.
Gottschalk’s, got pants & sweater!!
TV: News, Nova. 
Bed, read book.
Thursday, Feb. 13, 1997
Up 7:30. Pulled weeds one hour. To corner.
Home, wrote misc info gathered re "Maul and the Pear Tree."
To Drug Emporium, sports shop. (Fanny packs high.)
To Live Oak, sat with Earl, Mildred, Um? Jennings. Emilio or Amelio?
Home, news. Some Geraldo. Some "Secrets of Lost Empire."
Bio of W.E.B. Du Bois.

Friday, Feb. 14, 1997
Awake 7, then 9:30. To corner.
BP at Drug Emporium. 117/52. Then to Kmart, 142/68. Why?
Library, got Franc exchange. .07F difference.
To Cinema, line for "Absolute Power." Ate tuna sandwich.
Then to "Mother Night" at Nickelodeon.
Home, some weeding.
Mail: Letter from Mina.
TV: "Like Water for Chocolate" one hour, skating one hour.

Saturday, Feb. 15, 1997
Up 9:30. To corner, talked a bit.
To mall, looked for shoes. Sears, Penney, Gotts, etc.
To Kmart, returned Bone purse.
Justine called. Will be here tomorrow.
TV: Ice skating. Tara Lipinski won, Michelle Kwan 2nd, Nicole Bobek 3rd.

Sunday, Feb. 16, 1997
Chilly in a.m. Breakfast corner. Talked to Lois.
Read instructions on vacuum. Put batteries in charger.
11 a.m., ironed, various chores. 
Justine called 1:15. To Catalyst, I had veg soup.
Drove to UCSC, coffee at Starbucks. 
To Gottschalk's for business clothes for Justine. Two items, $87
Home 6 p.m., girls left.
TV: News, taped Emma.
Bed, read Iliad. Rained about 10 to 11.

Monday, Feb. 17, 1997
Up 7:45. Chilly, cloudy.
To Gottschalk's, no find any more.
Home, pruned roses.
Wrote letters: Mina, sent part of Mercury News to Justine.
To McDonald’s, got chicken. Gave man $1.
Home, news a bit. Ran "Emma."

Tuesday, Feb. 18, 1997
Awake 7:30, up 8:15. Coffee, etc at McDonald's.
Kmart, got TV Guide & nuts. 
Shell, got gas, car wash.
Walked on West Cliff.
Home 12:15, free paper!
Wrote three letters.
To Live Oak for BP. Mailed letters.
Home. Dinner. Income tax. Bed.
*Forgot to eat at Live Oak, Alice waiting. I returned later.
Wednesday, Feb. 19, 1997
Up 9. Showered/hair. To corner. To library. 
To show, "Sling Blade." Sad. 2 hours, 14 minutes.
Missed dinner, second time.
To Kmart for BP. To Safeway, got fish.
Mail: Letter from Prudy, Hugh has "mass" on left kidney. 
TV: Geraldo, new Supreme Court decision re police can order passengers out of car.

Thursday, Feb. 20, 1997
Slept pretty good. 
Ate Kmart, got mirror, small veg. brush, Maalox.
Mall: Bought hat at Mervyn's, bra and purse at Penney's.
Home, news. Snack, read some papers, rested. 
To Drug Emporium, BP. 
Home, some weeding. News, Geraldo.
Sewed sleep hat, mended t-shirt.
TV: Mystery, missed first segment.

Friday, Feb. 21, 1997
Cold. To corner.
Washed six t-shirts. To laundromat.
Drug Emporium, BP. Longs, pix.
To show, "Star Wars." [Re-release]. Wanted to stay for "Absolute Power," but parking space only two hours.
TV: Geraldo. Had [Mark] Fuhrman on as guest.
Some French. Bed, read 10 minutes.
Saturday, Feb. 22, 1997
Not great sleep. Windy today.
Up 9. Doctor on KGO recommends Gingko.
Drug Emporium, BP and ear plugs, new toothbrush.
Trader Joe’s, dried fruit, catfish, veg burgers.
Home, wrote Prudy. 
To bank, got $200. Worked on taxes. 
Watched two hours of “Jack the Ripper” with Michael Caine as detective.
Sunday,Feb. 23, 1997
Bed til 9:40! Drug Emporium, checked BP.
To Vibol's, Lois and Oscar there.
Kmart, checked BP. Sale on Bone flats, but no size 9.
To Scotts Valley Kmart, had 9s!
To Wendy's, got chicken sandwich, salad.
Home, some French. 
Watched second  part of "Jack the Ripper."
6 to 7:30. Ate with Mary Clark at Marie Callender's. Salad, wonton.
Slept til 1:30, watched "Pink Cadillac," Bernadette Peters, Clint Eastwood, til 3:30.
No sleep.

Monday, Feb. 24, 1997
Up 9:15. Breakfast corner.
Gottschalk's, got brown sweater. 
Drug Emporium, BP, TV Guide. Longs for Xerox.
No mail.
Rested, straightened sox, underwear drawer. 
Tired, but can't sleep. Ate a little bit of salad, threw away.
Bed, read, crossword. Finally slept.

Tuesday, Feb. 25, 1997
Cold. Up 9:15. Yard work til 11. 
To Gottschalk's. No brown Alfred Dunner, but did buy two blouses, 1 navy, 1 black. Classics.
To thrift shop, gave clothes, didn't make notes.
Library, home. Salad.
TV: "The Killers" AMC,
Drug Emporium, BP. Low?
Read, news. 
TV: Mystery, Law & Order, Frasier, Caroline in the City. 
Read til 1:30.

Wednesday, Feb. 26, 1997
Up 8:30. Cold developed! 
Had apple sauce.To 41st Donut.
To Kmart, checked BP. Low.
To Louden for BP, 162.
Home, some yard work. Made new money holder for travel.
Mail: Letter from Mina, liked  Summertime (1955).
Carol called, I called back. Talked 1 and 1/4 hour.
TV: Law & Order, dance competition.
Not good sleep.
Thursday, Feb. 27, 1997
Up 9:30. Breakfast corner.
Longs, got tissue and pineapple.
Library, returned book.
To Kmart, got blue pumps.
Windy, slight rain. Read. 
5:40, Justine called, was offered job at Vallejo. Has to take drug test at Lompoc.
TV: News, missed Jennings.

Friday, Feb. 28, 1997
Up 8:45. Breakfast Kmart. 
Shower/hair. Library, got book.
To show, "Absolute Power." Some good, but some "holes" in story or editing.
Sunny but windy. Home 5 p.m.
Mail: Newsletter from Masonic Home.
TV: News, shootout in North Hollywood. Bank robbers, two killed, 8 officers hurt and people in area.
Bed after 10 p.m. news. Crossword.