I was a young woman when I was a student at the University of California in Berkeley, California.
The problem was that I couldn’t take the fact that I was a woman seriously. I tried drilling it into my head. I knew it mattered. Clearly it mattered. I was quite nice looking as a young woman, and the attention (assaults) that resulted from my appeal to members of the opposite sex brought home how serious it was to be a woman in the world.
Nevertheless, I still couldn’t take the concept (and the care about it) seriously.
One day I walked the mile or two to the nearest BART station (BART being the subway system in the Bay Area; of course, being from Maine, I liked to pronounce it Baaaaaaht, but that’s of no real matter). It was a nice day.
I did whatever I did in the city of San Francisco, and then, on a whim, I stayed in town to watch a play.
Which meant that I returned to Berkeley after dark.
And I hadn’t driven to the station, I had walked.
So I had to walk home after dark. And it wasn’t the shortest walk home I’ve ever had.
Kind of lengthy, in fact.
In those days, there was an headline-grabbing fellow who was not lovingly named “Stinky” by the press. He was quite successful in raping women in the East Bay by overwhelming them with his stench. Apparently, he covered himself in dung and other odoriferous matter.
As I came up the escalator from the subway platform into the North Berkeley air I was met immediately with a horrific odor. The first thing that came to mind was, ah, Stinky’s here.
But I saw nothing. As much as I looked. I saw nothing.
So I continued out onto the street.
I was going to work at taking this potential threat seriously.
I started walking up the first block, and, then, bam, there he was, by my side. All six feet of reeking malodorousness. Just walking alongside of me.
So I thought, well, this is interesting.
But then, I had an idea. A police car was driving toward me. I would flag it down.
But no. Before the police car reached the block I was on, it stopped, did a U-turn, and drove off the other way.
So I thought, well, this is interesting.
So I kept walking.
The only topic of conversation I could think of was, how do you get all that stinkiness about you? Does it take much time to adorn yourself thusly?
But I didn’t think that would be a good approach to the situation.
So I just calmed very much down and walked. Leisurely. It was a nice night after all.
Well, nice except for the putridness assaulting my nose. But what is a nose? Just a means to sense.
And I kept walking.
And he kept walking.
We kept walking.
Then, we came to a street corner. Across the street was a large, old brick school building. It took up the whole next block.
On the street right before it, we stopped. Good citizens that we were. And then he cuts in front of me and walks down the street.
Good-bye, I thought. I wasn’t nice smelling you.
And I continued to walk.
I walked past the large, old brick school building. All the way past.
And as I came to the end of that long block and stopped on the corner, good citizen that I was, who should slam right up in front of me?
Well, you guessed it.
Funky Smellman was back. And right in my face.
I guess I was supposed to be shocked. Unnerved. Undone.
Stinky had never met me, it appeared.
I just raised my eyebrows. Sort of like, well, I didn’t expect to meet you here, but here you are. How do you like them apples?
And it was so very clear that I had just let the man down. Disappointed him right down to his sludge-caked shoes.
I didn’t scream. I didn’t cry. I didn’t back up. I just stood there, nose-to-nose, as it were, with my eyebrows raised, looking at him, as if to say, Yes? Something on your mind that I can help you with?
So he began to stammer. Looked around him. Found a thought.
Do you know where So-and-So Street is? he asked, attempting to respond to my clearly relaxed state. Of course I knew exactly where that street was. I lived in Berkeley. I drove in Berkeley.
It was completely on the other side of Berkeley.
He was lying to me asking me that question.
So I lied right back.
What the heck.
I kept my eyebrows raised. And I widened my eyes.
So-and-So Street? I said. Why, no. Is there a So-and-So Street in Berkeley? I’ve never heard of it before. You see, I don’t drive.
And I smiled. Not a big smile. Just a you-understand-don’t-you-and-feel-sorry-for-me-don’t-you kind of smile. Tender. Sweet.
I became simple. A sweet simpleton, walking home from the subway station.
And he became completely lost in my simpleness.
So he walked me all the way home. Made sure I got safely in the door.
And walked away.
And I thought, well, Mr. Wolf, how do you like that? Little Red Riding Hood still has her basket. And her life. Intact.
And I always have wondered why after that night I never saw another reference to Stinky in the local newspaper.
The journalists must have become more interested in some other story.