Monday, January 12, 2009

Why you're never too old to beware of strangers

On Friday I had two interviews for potential (and desperately needed) baby-sitting jobs. The first interview was chez a pleasantly scattered woman who immediately after sitting down with me hopped up to fetch us glasses of water, and then, returning to a seated position, opening her dossier, and anticipatorily clearing her throat, hopped up again to scurry around the apartment shutting off lights in a fit of energy conservation awareness. Finally settled in at last, she started in on the interview, alternating questions regarding my background and qualifications with tales of gruesome home accidents and toddler deaths; just the other month, only two streets over, a toddler and his baby-sitter were waiting to cross the street when the tot dropped his ball into traffic and darted after it. Dead, and it happened in an instant. And windows, she said, it only takes a second for a child to fall out an open window. It happens all the time. I found myself glancing worriedly towards the sunny living room window as I tsked and shook my head and raised my eyebrows high, trying for an appropriately horrified response. And I was horrified, although whether it was due more to the bone-chilling nature of the stories, or the fact that there are parents out there who invest so much time dwelling on all the possible ways their child might die, I wasn't sure. She wrapped things up and said that she had a good feeling about me, and I thanked her, but suddenly I wasn't so sure that I had a good feeling about me. My mind filled with images of horrific home accidents and their accompanying newspaper headlines: Negligent Baby-Sitter Lets Toddler Fall Down Stairs; Small Child Drowns in Bathtub; Three-Year-Old Chokes on Grape While Baby-Sitter is in Bathroom. Was I really capable of ensuring the health and well-being of one of these little creatures so apparently hell-bent on death and destruction? Of course I'm up to it! I told her with false bravado, and then I shook her hand and told her I looked forward to hearing from her.

My next interview wouldn't take place for another five hours, and so I crossed the river and ducked into a movie theater for an a.m. showing of Australia. That, plus a sandwich next door afterward filled the time quite nicely (because crikey, that movie is long). Then I jumped on the métro to meet my next interviewer further up line 13 than I really cared to go. I already had a weird feeling about this, ever since the man in question called me at 10:00 at night after I had already been in bed half an hour, nursing a migraine. I was almost asleep when he called, but I managed to drag myself out of bed, flip on the lights and rummage frantically for my phone, thinking that perhaps it was one of the teachers from school calling to tell me I didn't have to come in the next day (I hoped). I mumbled a bleary âllo, and a voice started speaking in rapid-fire French. By the time I determined it was not in fact a colleague, I had to ask him to repeat himself. Ah yes, I said, finally understanding, I did respond to an ad for baby-sitting. I also had to ask him to repeat his vague and open-ended request/demand to Tell me about yourself. I tried to pull myself together enough to formulate coherent sentences in French regarding who I was and what exactly I was doing here, until finally, blessedly, he interrupted, saying, Why don't we speak in English? Considering that both the ad and my initial voicemail to him had both been in English, I was unsure why he had begun the conversation in French in the first place, but I was more than happy to comply. After a very brief interrogation we decided on a time and place for a meeting, and I realized I knew nothing about this unidentified person with an unlisted number. Oh, wait, I said. Could I actually get your phone number, just in case? And um, what's your name? It's Sam, he told me, and gave me his number. Or at least I assumed it was a he, though it didn't seem like a question I could ask him/her to elaborate on over the phone, and so I went to our meeting place on métro line 13 not knowing if I should be looking for a man or a particularly deep-voiced woman. And so, due to the lack of details provided and this mystery person's baffling and slightly off-putting phone manner, I arrived already feeling a little strange about the situation. Perhaps already on edge from the morning's interview and its steady stream of reminders that danger lurks everywhere!, I told myself that I definitely wouldn't go to this person's house just yet; if he wanted to talk, we could do so in a café. I stood outside the métro stop where he had told me to wait, making overt and possibly overly friendly eye contact with every man, woman and child who walked by, until I realized that the reason people kept walking purposefully toward me was because I was standing directly in front of the entrance of the métro. Right. I cast my eyes downward, and waited. A few minutes later a man approached, saying, "Are you waiting for Sam?" He had a round face and wore glasses, and was otherwise so unremarkable as to warrant no further description. I removed my mitten to shake his proffered hand, and immediately regretted it as his hand flopped limply and fishily in mine. I mustered a smile and waited for him to lead the way, or perhaps ask me a question about myself. "Is it ok if we take the métro together?" he asked.

"Oh," I said confused. "Where are we going?"

"No, it's just, I think it's on your way, right?"

"Um, pardon?" I said. "I don't really understand..." My mind raced as I tried to come up with an explanation. Perhaps this wasn't Sam. After all, he hadn't identified himself, only asked if I was waiting for Sam. Perhaps he was going to take me to Sam. Or he wanted to take me to his apartment, or maybe to meet his child.

"No, it's just...Where are you going, after?" he asked.

"Uh, Gare de St. Lazare," I said, confused.

"So, yes, it's on the way," he said. "I have to go back to work. I was here, working, and now I have to go somewhere else, for my work. I travel a lot, for my work."

Questions regarding this mysterious line of work aside, I finally began to understand. "Oh," I said, "sure, no problem." I followed him down the stairs and fumbled for a new métro ticket, my internal monologue muttering that if I had known we were just going to get back on the train again, I would have met him inside the métro and not had to use another ticket. He asked me a couple questions as we waited on the platform, and I smiled politely and gave the appropriate responses. "Boston," "English assistant," "Oh yes, lots of experience with children." He then seemed to run out of things to say, and so I jumped in with some questions of my own.

"So, how old is your...child?" I asked, realizing I didn't even know if it was a boy or a girl, and hoping he would fill in the proper pronoun.

"The child is four years old," he said, "yes, a four year-old child."

Ok. I decided that two could play at this game, and so I asked, "And does the child speak English?"

"Oh yes," he mumbled, "French."

"Er..." I started, and then changed my mind and nodded instead. A train pulled up to the packed platform, and I started to wonder how we were going to continue this interview in such a crowded venue. The doors of the train opened to reveal cars packed to capacity, and no one getting off; it quickly became clear that neither of us were going to be able to make it on the train at all. I shrugged my shoulders at him and resigned myself to waiting for the next train, but he started inching away, saying, "Well, I'm going to try to get this one." Then he said "I'll call you..." over his shoulder, as he fought his way through the crowd. I stood there, stupefied, by what had to have been the shortest, least productive, and most unprofessional interview in the history of interviews. My internal monologue rolled its eyes, and I went to find a seat and wait for the next train. I idly looked around, and noticed my friend, Squirrely McLame-o, making his way down the train car by car, and unable to push his way onto any of them. Then, arriving at the car directly in front of me, he pulled a completely dick move and attempted to pry open the doors of a fully packed car, as they were all but two inches from closing. He managed to get an entire arm inside and wave it around for a while, as everyone inside the train gave him the evil eye, and everyone on the platform pointed and laughed at him. Though he struggled valiantly (and for much longer than any reasonable person would have), he was ultimately unable to wedge the rest of his body through the doors, and so after he extricated himself the train was finally able to continue on its way. I turned my head and pretended to inspect a particularly fascinating advertisement to my left, and he pretended not to notice me not noticing him and casually strolled away, as if nothing had happened. And so we both waited for the next train and ignored each other from opposite ends of the platform. And to think that I had hung around Paris wasting time for five hours, watched a two-and-a-half hour movie that was mediocre at best, and wasted a métro ticket, for this guy.

So, in the case of Madame Overprotective vs. Monsieur Squirrely McLame-o...Um, I'll take 'Plastic Bags Are Not A Toy' for $200 please, Alex? I swear, if I get this job the first thing I'm going to teach little Louise is to never, ever meet with skeezy men from the Internet, and she'll save herself a lot of time and effort. And maybe, while I'm at it, I should start following my own advice.


  1. Oh god, how creepy. I'm glad that you were in a crowded area. What a weirdo.

  2. ph god i died laughing. the reader was very pleased!

  3. Hi there, long time lurker!

    That guy was creepy with a capital C. I bet he didnt even HAVE a child. As a mom of three, after you asked about "the child" I would have naturally rambled off ages and genders...not to mention, you know, NAMES.

    Creepy McCreeperton.

  4. hello! i am just randomly trawling the web because i don`t want to work (Prrrrrrocrastination!)

    you live in france?! thats really quite cool. how long have you been there? always been kinda scared of the french. back in high school, my french teacher was this crazy lady - granted she had moved to south africa from the french speaking part of the congo and so she wasnt french as such, but she was still nuts.
    the end.

  5. Ewwww, I HATE the limp hand shake. It's one of the reasons I hate the Bisous, because you can never tell if a person has a weak handshake. But DAMN, what a creepizoid. I often wonder how such people get along in this world... I hope you never hear from him again!

  6. You are so good with your description, I can almost picture the both of you at the train station and ha..........was it funny :) I enjoy reading all about your little adventures, keep them coming!