Creepy Guy

The day is hot and sultry—now isn't that how romantic prose should start? And it is hot. Hot enough to sunbathe nude on the bedroom balcony; after all, there is a four-foot wall and no nearby homes taller than I am perched above the sleepy summer street. Stretched out, I lavish in this long summer day. Until I look up and see a man in tool belt and hard hat on the telephone pole looking right down at me. So you might be thinking, "Here comes the creepy guy." Well, yeah. But it gets better, or worse, in this case.

I wrap myself in the sheet I had been lying on, dash inside, shower, dress, then sink into the couch for a nap since it is my day alone, the baby off with my mother for an outing. If you are a woman reading this, and if you ever had a creepy guy, you might want to end right now with, "So what's next? Big deal. We have all had a creepy guy." But don't. This is only how it begins.

A knock at the door startles me as I doze. It is the Bell Telephone lineman, saying he didn’t know if I had seen him working on the pole, that he had come to check the landline. Now, if this were some thriller flick, you might be saying "Don’t open the door." But I do. Maybe because I am catnap or sun groggy, maybe because I'm just not paying attention. What I do notice is his wedding ring as he unstraps, a chill running through me. Then he looks across the coffee table where he picks up the Baba Ram Dass book Be Here Now and enthusiastically announces, "My best friend has this very book on his coffee table." He scans the room further, goes on to say: "And a Yashica 35 mm camera just like yours!" He never checks the landline. At this point, if you are sighing in relief for me, hold on—there's more. He asks to give his friend, just back from California, my number. I know, I know, I should have said no; but I did not. I was happy to have him leave satisfied.

So I get this phone call from the lineman's friend, and we chat a bit about counterculture texts and photography. I find he's quite accomplished with work in Pittsburgh Photographer Magazine, even has his own darkroom. He tells me about a Teshigahara film, Woman of the Dunes, in which a man and woman have an encounter at a sandpit. He dubs it a cinematic masterpiece, invites me to join him at a the South Hills Theater Bargain Tuesday Matinee.

We take off in his vintage woody wagon, me in a flouncy sundress and he in a Paul Bunyan checkered shirt and baggy jeans. He rushes to the box office, buys a ticket within earshot "for one," then walks into the lobby. I pay my own way, follow, figure this could be a friendship, as I hadn't wanted to date since giving birth to my child, soured from a dissolved marriage. He isn’t my type anyway. I am young and adventurous. He is middle aged and seems socially awkward. Inside, he sits gripping the chair and glued to the seat. "This guy is really into cinematography," I think, "and maybe he can teach me something."

After the film, I have no second thoughts about going to his mother's house where he lives in a third-floor studio. And where he has a darkroom. You may be thinking by now: "Walk away." And you are probably right because this is where it gets really creepy.

He shows me chemicals, photo paper, negative strips clipped to a line, printer, blower. He offers to set up a darkroom for me in my apartment closet he says is large enough, a closet his friend spied when he used my bathroom. As I browse through several printed photographs of sand dunes and beach scapes, I sense a strange breeziness around both sides of my body. I turn abruptly to see him massaging the air around my body, as if there is some aura only he could sense; and in one of those low and longing voices, he moans: "I can’t seem to keep my hands off you." Oh, and you haven’t missed anything here—he never touches me. I make my exit, fast. That's likely what you think I should have done before. Yet it does not end here.

He calls a week later, asking if I'd like to come by and develop some film in the darkroom. I politely bow out from that and him, feeling weirdly violated in a way I can't quite get a fix on. Then I start to bump into this guy—at the Giant Eagle Supermarket, in Schenley Park playground with my kid, then at the Pittsburgh Playhouse Film Fest for a showing of Zabriskie Point with its acclaimed badlands vistas. I am wearing my wedding ring again, so when I see this creepy guy gawking at me, I angle my hand toward him to flash the ring. He doesn't know the man I am with is my brother, who nods in approval.

Creepy guys like him do understand one thing—territorial rights—so the ring is a talisman to keep him and those like him at bay. You might think this a stopgap measure, and I agree; but at least with this, he and his kind are the ones who walk away—even if only for one night at the cinema.

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