Art, and of Talking to the Stranger

I echo many parents in their sadness over the recent news of Carlie Brucia's death. Alexander has repeatedly asked me, "But why didn't she yell?"

I have taught Alexander that if a not-too-familiar adult encourages you to do something out of the blue that you're not totally Ok with, YELL. At worst, he'll think you're a freak. YELL, make faces (yes, Alexander, like that. Good Maori warrior mask face. Excellent.) that will scare the adult into not wanting anything to do with you. You know that feeling? Like when we walk the dog and it poops on a public sidewalk? Your YELLING will probably trigger the adult to disown his interest in you and get away.


We are also trained in the art of 1) knocking out lights from inside of a car trunk 2) flashing bedroom lights constantly to get attention 3) more yelling. Also, when to know that doing all the above will probably not be a very good idea and create a more serious problem.

A kidnapping must have the element of surprise in order to be successful. I cannot imagine the confusion such an act presents to the victim. I have a friend in Florida who was stuffed into the trunk of a car along with her husband by evildoers wanting god-knows-what, but my friend fortunately managed to escape. I have always repeated my belief to my son that if a child doesn't feel comfortable at the outset of an encounter with a stranger, and if that child is in a public enough area, he should YELL.

That said, I'll revert now to a recent outing to a French art exhibit in the trendy Lower East Side. A young boy, around Alexander's age, appeared at the exhibit with his mother. I had spoken to her earlier about the art on display. "So, what do you think of all this?" I asked the boy. I wanted to know how many exhibits this boy had frequented as well. He seemed very artistic, and his mother told me her profession was photography. Alexander might be intrigued, too. "MY MOM SAYS I AM NOT ALLOWED TO TALK TO STRANGERS," he replied. He said this rather confidently and rather loudly. I felt like a total shitter at that moment. I am a stranger? A criminal?

"I see," I replied. I then made my way to the cornichons and red wine.

I felt sorry for myself and for him. Actually, I felt sorry for our society, generally. We give a certain type of power to thieves and killers when we create disinterest in other human beings in the name of "personal safety." This boy's mother gave him a law without guidelines. Granted, he was young, and his mother probably felt he needed time to discern for himself who was a "safe" stranger and who wasn't.

Yet I couldn't help feeling oddly empty when I left the exhibit. Stranger? Criminal?

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