Duck and Cover

Sometimes we avoid people in public on purpose

By Al Carlos Hernandez
Published on LatinoLA: November 25, 2002

Duck and Cover

I don?t know about you, but there are some people I just don?t feel like dealing with in public, so I do my best to avoid them.

There has been many times -- at the mall, at a store, walking down the street -- when you see the neighbor from across the street, or a guy you used to work with, or some distant cousin's drunken friend, or one of your kid?s Homie's parent, so you take evasive action.

Depending on the severity of the potential chance encounter, evasive action could include a simple pretension of looking the other way, to getting into the car, going home, not answering the phone and never shopping there again. Or if you're ethnic and the chance encounter includes an ex-significant other? moving.

Women are particularly good at the duck and cover technique. Moms pass this ability onto their daughters, but rarely to their sons. Maybe they try teaching them a particular social ambivalence, but boys never really pay attention. In public, boys are all about looking at babes, tennis shoes or something to eat.

Typical female evasive moves include: going in the nearest store and sticking their heads into a rack of sweaters, taking a sharp turn into the underwear section, or taking a kid to the restroom against their will.

For men, it is different. Our reaction time is too slow. We run sometimes on a five-to-45 second delay when it comes to perceiving a potentially uncomfortable social situation that is starting to manifest. We are hard wired to ignore everybody and in the worse case scenario will grunt out a ?What?s up??

Men have no idea who a woman wants to talk to and who she wants to avoid. I have erred on the side of "Hey Babe, look who I found? See, she ain?t that fat anymore" to ?What do you mean you saw my Tia and didn?t say Hi, and tell them where I was? Did they see you? They did and you still didn?t say anything??

I said, "What?s up?"

Women have certain social radar when it comes to avoidance behavior, anticipating putting themselves in an embarrassing social situation, and when cornered can improvise better than the comics on ?What?s My Line?? Women have a caring social finesse -- men are usually blunt to the point and blurt out inquiries like, ?Why were the cops at your house last week? Whose Camaro is that in your driveway when everybody is at work? You still hitting the loudmouth soup pretty hard? Your brother-them out of jail yet? Who got a bucket for sale??

Men should be aware that in any improvised surprise unintentional social encounter, he is responsible to explain every extemporaneous question to the woman he is with -- be it wife or daughter at length -- when he gets home. The axiom for men is remedial: The less smack you talk in the street, the better the odds of getting something good to eat.

Catching people off guard is a good way to get the scoop. Their comments are usually unrehearsed and they give up the Readers Digest version of the most important things going on in their lives. Some women are particularly adept at grilling the unsuspecting encounter. If and since this is true, this leads me to surmise that if women are smart enough to avoid an uncomfortable chance encounter. They are indeed smart enough to orchestrate a social ambush.

How many people that I know, or know me have successfully avoided me in public? How many of the ?chance? encounters I have had with people I don?t usually associate with is set up -- an ambush -- knowing that if I?m cornered I am na?ve enough to give up the family business when my wife is not there to edit me?

I have found that the best way for me to avoid an uncomfortable chance encounter is to always go out in public dressed in such a way as to make a normal middle class person to be embarrassed to be seen with you.

This can be easily accomplished by wearing wrap around sunglasses, biker sweatshirts, Pendleton shirts buttoned to the top, beanies with James Desoto Bail Bonds embroidery, and selected police issued baseball caps, my favorite being Oakland PD.

We were at the mall last night, the holiday decorations in full bloom. I told my wife, "Don?t you think it?s weird, that with all the people we know, we never run into anybody we know?" She smiled and shook her head knowingly.

They were there.

About Al Carlos Hernandez:
Al Carlos is a national columnist and a screenwriter who needs a new agent.

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