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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My calling card

When I drove across the country last year, whenever I would stop at a motel, half the time the proprietors would treat me as if I were a con man looking to rip them off. If I approached people on the street to ask for directions, they would shrink back and give me a look indicating that they couldn't decide whether I was a rapist, a mugger, or just a panhandler.

It's all understandable; I was a man traveling alone. I have a vaguely ethnic look that tends to arouse people's suspicions. And (I should probably be happy that) I still look young enough to appear dangerous.

Somehow it all adds up to having "serial killer" written all over me.

But during my cross-country trip, I also stopped every other day to take a swim somewhere. And whenever I would start swimming in some lap pool, and it became apparent that I was a swimmer, people would inevitably be friendly. If I asked a question, they would respond in a friendly manner, and maybe even ask where I was from.

The lifeguards (even the female ones) smile at me approvingly, and people would sometimes even allow me my own lane if I swam butterfly.

In Kansas, I even started a conversation with an 18-year-old boy, also a swimmer, who was in the next lane. We chatted for a while, and even did a set together. I can pretty much guarantee you that had I tried to start a conversation with him a mere 40 yards away -- in the locker room -- I would not have gotten nearly as friendly a response.

I suppose it has something to do with the fact that if you're a swimmer, especially at a relatively advanced age, it gives you a certain innocence.

If someone has obviously spent a lot of time swimming, it means he has not spent his energy in more destructive pursuits (like crime). It means he has a passion for a sport (which is far preferable to, say, a passion for prepubescent girls, or for hard drugs). It means he grew up middle class and had parents who cared for him enough to cart him back and forth to practice. It means he's still solvent, otherwise he wouldn't have been able to keep up with the sport.

It means, essentially, that he's basically kept his nose clean his entire life.

People of course don't analyze it in that much detail, but it must all somehow register in the back of their minds, which causes a little light to go off: he's harmless.

In a way it reminds me of the kind of skills that upper class families used to teach their daughters, and the underlying social motive for doing so. My mother came from a well to do family in Japan, and as a girl she was taught calligraphy and also piano. These are of course utterly useless survival skills, and that may be the point. It's a way of advertising that you're upper class, because it means you had the leisure time to learn these "refined" things, since you didn't have to be in the fields working in the hot sun. (In Japan, pallor is also considered a desirable trait, probably for the same reason.)

Being able to swim up and down a pool rapidly has to go in the same category as an utterly useless skill. Everybody should learn to swim, of course, to keep from drowning. But beyond that, learning the different strokes and practicing enough to be able to do them with good form is the mark of someone with time to waste.

In any case, being a swimmer has always given me a certain low-level entree.

It's just unfortunate I can't figure out a way to show off this useless skill to people on the street from whom I need directions.

(The only other way I've found to defuse suspicion from strangers is to wear a suit and tie; but I foreswore nooses long ago.)

13 comments:

Steven said...

When I drove across the country last year, whenever I would stop at a motel, half the time the proprietors would treat me as if I were a con man looking to rip them off. If I approached people "on the street to ask for directions, they would shrink back and give me a look indicating that they couldn't decide whether I was a rapist, a mugger, or just a panhandler."

Now imagine how much more shit like that you'd have to deal with if you were black.



Steven said...

Swimming is useful for staying fit and healthy. That's arguably survival related.

Steven said...

I don't think you have to be middle class to swim in England. There are lots of pools where working class people can afford to go.

John Craig said...

Steven --
In order:

True, I thought of that while writing this; black people have to put up with higher level of suspicion. The difference is, I don't hold it against the proprietors that they're are more naturally inclined to be suspicious of people like me, since I understand that they've possibly had bad experiences in the past with Hispanics or possibly Gypsies, either of which I could be mistaken for.

Yes, swimming is useful as exercise; but doing all the strokes and turns just right goes beyond that.

True, you don't have to be middle class to swim; but generally, you have to be middle class to have grown up as a competitive swimmer, and a real swimmer is always distinguishable from a non-competitive swimmer.

A said...

The well-known Belgian pedophile/murderer Marc Dutroux was an amateur figure skater.

John Craig said...

A --
Just looked Dutroux up. The Wiki account doesn't mention his figure skating, but the Google results show pictures of the rinks which he used to select his victims. My guess is that if he did it in later life, it was purely as a cover for his pedophilia. I suppose I could be suspected of the same, but I think -- and forgive me here for boasting -- I swim well enough that it's apparent that I'm into the spot for is own sake. I doubt Dutroux was able to stay in shape enough during his earlier criminal career and jail stints to appear truly competitive himself.

A said...

Unfortunately you have to step outside the Anglosphere for the best information about Dutroux. I remembered his skating from the book "Het stilste jongetje van de klas". There is also this article, entitled "The king of the skating rink - the bizarre love-life of Marc Dutroux":

http://www.nieuwsblad.be/article/detail.aspx?articleid=HNO19022004_028

He started skating at 17, not sure if you'd call that late in life. At the same time he was apparently a gay prostitute. He rates himself as being very good at skating, but this could be exaggerated of course.

A said...

Unfortunately you have to step outside the Anglosphere for the best information about Dutroux. I remembered his skating from the book "Het stilste jongetje van de klas". There is also this article, entitled "The king of the skating rink - the bizarre love-life of Marc Dutroux":

http://www.nieuwsblad.be/article/detail.aspx?articleid=HNO19022004_028

He started skating at 17, not sure if you'd call that late in life. At the same time he was apparently a gay prostitute. He rates himself as being very good at skating, but this could be exaggerated of course.

John Craig said...

A --
Went to the article, but I can't read German. (I'm your typical ugly American, can only speak English.)

I think 17 is too late to really become a good skater; with swimmers you have to start by 10 these days, although there have been exceptions to that rule. And with skating, I would imagine it would be a similar age, given that it requires a as-the-twig-is-bent-so-grows-the-tree type of development.

Pretty impressive, actually, for a guy to make money as a homosexual prostitute when his basic orientation is women and little girls (Dutroux was married twice, and I think had five children). Takes a certain toughness, or…..something. Maybe just a certain sociopathy.

There must have been quite a bit of publicity about it in Belgium when he escaped jail that time, however briefly.

hooter tooter said...

That's not German, John.

I don't know whether you can ascribe your experiences to racial considerations, you may just male.

I recall being pegged as a perv, because I happened to moving in the same direction as a female in a video. I'm guessing the clerk must've been watching the lady and found my search suspicious.

There was a time at Walmart, of all places, where store security followed me around. That was a funny one, because I confronted the fellow, then ranted at the store manager for fifteen minutes.

And, don't even get me started on playgrounds. You can't even walk by these places without getting the evil eye. With a dog, which I'm obviously walking, and have walked for over a decade. It's really annoying, because the ditzy broads show up twice a year whereas I'm by the place twice a day, come rain or shine.

Perhaps the Muslims are onto something with those tents they make their women wear?

John Craig said...

Hooter --
Ha, shows how much I know. Just took another look. Is that Dutch? Flemish? I haven't a clue.

Yes, you're right, a lot of it is just being a male traveling by himself. (I never get these suspicious looks when I'm with my family.)

You're absolutely right about playgrounds, especially school playgrounds. The security at the public schools in my hometown is quite tight, although if anybody were really bent on massacre it would be pretty easy to get through.

But yes, to a certain type of woman, every man is a pervert. One time in my hometown I was driving to the Y and saw my daughter, around 10 at the time, and a bunch of her friends standing on the sidewalk. I pulled up (it was at a stop sign) and spoke with her for about twenty seconds. I didn't see this, but evidently the woman in the car behind me stopped and asked my daughter what "that man" had wanted. When I heard about it, my immediate reaction was rage at that woman, though on second thought I realized I should probably be glad that the woman was, in a sense, looking out for my daughter. (It didn't entirely assuage my rage.) On third thought, it occurred to me that the woman was probably also the type of busybody who does her best to make life miserable for everyone around her.

Mike said...

My wife tells me I can have a definite "go f--k yourself" look at times. Nobody seems to call me on it, but then maybe it doesn't look so mean after all.. As to your look, critters and humans like to run with their own- I have 6 dogs- 5 are German Shepherds (used to have 2, you can figure the rest) and the one is a mix that my cousin asked me to keep for "awhile.." The shepherds treat him like a red- headed stepchild, but are friendly with other shepherds they encounter. They actually form into a pack. Remember the rhyme "I do not like thee Dr. Fell, the reason why, I cannot tell"....Might explain people's animus..

John Craig said...

Mike --
I've been told I look angry too, even though most of the time I'm not.

I exaggerated the unfriendly reactions I got (a little) to make the point of the post, but I think there's definitely something to what you say. The thing is, half the proprietors at the motels I stayed at were of South Asian (Indian) descent, and I look more like them than the average white person does. So I think it probably has more to do with me having been a middle-aged guy not dressed up in a suit and tie traveling by himself.