Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Too much information

A man came to my door yesterday afternoon, asking for money. That happens fairly often here in Tucson, and I find it very unsettling. It’s fine with me if they want to ask for money in public, well traveled areas of town, but to come to my private residence and knock on my door – security door, as it were – is just too much for paranoid me. Yesterday’s encounter scared me even more than usual.

I said that he was asking for money, but to tell the truth, he never got around to telling me what exactly it was that he wanted. I left the security door bolted so I could see out, but he couldn’t see (or get) in. He was very agitated and was talking a mile a minute, but at the same time he wasn't as unkempt as some door-to-door people we get around here.

He began his story by saying that he had a big problem and he needed my help. According to him, he and his two kids lived “in the house at the end of the lane” and he had a babysitter who was supposed to show up on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 2 – 5 in the afternoon. Before he went on, I told him flat out that I was acquainted with everyone on our lane, that I had never seen him before, and that I knew for a fact that none of my lane neighbors had kids. He quickly backtracked and said that actually, he lived to the left, in a house. Then he started telling me how one of his kids had acid reflux disease – had I ever heard of it? Anyway, he could really use my help. Then there was a big, silent pause. I can only assume that he was waiting for me to open the door.

Of course I didn’t. Besides a gut feeling that this guy was up to no good, or at the very least not telling the truth, I remembered a thing or two from the book The Gift of Fear. The general, underlying principle of that book is that in most fight-or-flight situations, you can trust your gut more than your mind. And if you take a look at what he said (or if you listened to it in real time, as I did), it all seems to make sense.

But think again. One of the things The Gift of Fear taught me (that I didn’t already know) is that when predators of any kind lie, they add in extra details so that their lies ring truer. What they don’t realize is that their lie only sounds like a lie to themselves – most of their listeners will be inclined to take what they say at face value. The extra details actually make what they say sound less credible to our ears.

So a man who was telling me the truth would probably have said something like, “Hi. You don’t know me, but I live nearby. My babysitter didn’t show up and for some reason I also need to share with you the seemingly unrelated information that my son has acid reflux disease.”

That’s all there is to it. No unnecessarily specific babysitter schedule, confusion about what house he lived in, or awkward, unnatural house directions like “left” (that doesn’t make sense in the particular area where we live). You’ll notice that in all the talking he actually did, he never got around to telling me what he needed. I found out from a neighbor later that he was asking for $30 for medication for the aforementioned son. She referred him to the large medical complex next to the hospital extension just down the street.

I wish I had thought of that.


Liz Johnson said...

Ew. That freaks me out. I once had some chick come up and ask me for grocery money in the parking lot at Macey's, because she had just moved there and her kids were hungry and then went into a long & boring explanation of what her kids will and won't eat. In the meantime, I thought I heard something, so I look back, and there is some dude crouching behind my car (did I mention it was just after dusk?). She sees that I see him, and they both take off abruptly. In my confusion and terror, I yell to them that the food stamps office is two blocks away and to go apply tomorrow.

I have no idea what was about to happen to me, but I'm glad it didn't.

Bridget said...

Liz - freaky!!!! See what I mean? Way too much information from that lady. I don't even like to think about all the stuff that almost happens to us, but doesn't, and we don't even know it.

Bridget said...

Also, I love the stupid, pseudo-helpful things we say in a moment of fearful confusion. I think it's awesome that you chose to refer two potential car-jackers to the food stamps office. I think it's our mind's way of trying to make the situation as normal as possible, even while our gut is saying "get the heck out of here!!"

Lilianne and Jason Wright said...

Yikes! I can't believe that he came to your door! That has never happened to me yet. I'm glad you're safe and that you weren't "stupid" enough to let him in your home. Sometimes I see specials on TV where the women are so trusting, let the crazies in and then they end up in really bad situations. Anyway, while I feel badly about not helping a lot of these people, (because they are obviously hard up for something), I feel like there is plenty of social/city/state resources to help those who are really in need of help. I have also felt frustrated that when I do offer to BUY food for those who claim they are hungry just laugh in my face and choose to not accept it. That happened to me on at least eight different occasions in Washington, DC. They don't want food, they want money for who knows what!

The Ensign's said...

how creapy. i hate it when anyone i dont know comes to my house during the day.
also.... i read you friend liz's comment and that's soooo scary. thanks goodness nothing happened to her.

Jen said...

What are the chances that would have happened to me if we had moved to Tucson? Because today I found out that says Massachusetts is the 5th safest state for children... Just sayin'.

Arielle said...

I watch way too much CSI to live in Tucson where crazy men keep coming to the front door. I'm going to check out that book next time I go to the library, it sounds interesting. Congratulations on the pregnancy!!! We have over twenty women pregnant in our ward. I call it the maternity ward. I think it's something in the water. When are you moving east?


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