Stranger Danger

I was a worry wart as a kid. I’m a worry wort as an adult, but I was a lot worse when I was much younger. “There’s a thunderstorm warning, which could lead to a tornado watch which could easily become a tornado warning…we’re all going to die tonight in our sleep”, I would usually start to cobble together in my large-ish head when the sky became a yellow-ish hue with a topping of carbon black. “Mom and dad are fighting over a game of Skipbo at 11:30pm on a Saturday night after one too many Strohs…my parents are getting divorced and I’ll be a latchkey kid”, I’d usually begin to assume whenever my parents argued. By morning I’d already have my multiple holidays figured out with each parent, widening the pit in my stomach even further(my parents are still happily married to this day after nearly 51 years together.) “They said I could go blind if I did this too much…I can already notice my sight fading”….

Well, you get the point.

I don’t know if this worrying thing was implanted along with the pale Germanic appearance and eventual thinning of my hair at conception, but it’s embedded and as much a part of me as the freckles on my face and the hearing loss in my right ear. My mom is a worrier as well, so maybe she gave me some of that which she carries around. But I’m of the opinion that a lot of this worrying was something I developed as a kid growing up in the 80s. Sure, the great fear in the 80s was that we’d get into a nuclear pissing match with Russia and we’d all be cruising the open roads with Mad Max looking for gasoline and unopened cans of dog food. But number 2 on the list of ways children would die in the 80s was kidnapping and murder.

The 80s was full of these horrific stories of child abductions. Every other TV movie of the week was about child predators preying on children at the ball pit at Showbiz, or as they perused GI Joes or Barbie dolls at the local Kmart. Ever heard of Adam Walsh? This poor kid was the poster boy for NOT leaving your children unattended at the store(it was also another TV movie of the week that terrified me to no end.) Unsolved Mysteries, America’s Most Wanted, and countless talk shows and magazine articles filled my elementary school-aged head with nightmarish tales of parents who’d lost their kids after turning away just a millisecond. By the time I was 8 years old I was convinced that every stranger looking my way was some mouth-breathing child predator monster looking to use my bones for game pieces. I trusted no one unless they were family, or were close family friends that knew who my favorite superhero was.

By all accounts the 80s were an incredibly dangerous time to be a young kid. I can remember countless times going into town with my parents and my dad pulling into the liquor store to grab beer before we headed home. They both would head into the liquor store and leave me defenseless, alone, and vulnerable to the miscreants of society in the backseat of the 1981 Omni Miser. The windows weren’t tinted. I was in there practically naked to the world, waiting for my horrific fate to befall me. Just as I thought the end was nigh, the front doors would open and in would pop my parents, handing me back a Slim Jim or piece of jerky as some sort of consolation prize.

There was also a time when I had gotten home from school and nobody was there. I was in the living room with a Capri Sun and a Nutty Bar when someone knocked on the door. I froze, but then quickly got up and looked through the peep hole. It was some stranger. Some guy looking kind of frumpy in a worn out winter jacket and a wool cap. I was instantly terrified. There was talk on the news of some guy trying to pick up kids in a town about 35 miles north of us. My mind instantly went there and assumed this frumpy guy was the creeper looking to grab kids(i.e., me.) I was as quiet as I could be and snuck into the hallway where I was at the only spot in the house where a window wouldn’t reveal my location. I made my way to my bedroom and creeped over to my window. There was the guy, seemingly looking for a window to peek in searching for some sign of life. I thought for sure he was going to try and open a window. I sat in the hallway waiting for the nightmare to end. Eventually the garage door went up and my parents returned home. I scolded them for leaving me all alone. I’m sure they both wondered what in the Hell was wrong with me. Looking back, this guy probably had car trouble and was looking for some help. These were the days before cell phones, so your only chance to contact a loved one in the event of an auto-emergency was with the kindness of strangers.

An anxiety-ridden 9-year old boy was not going to be that kind stranger, sorry to say.

There was the time my mom took me clothes shopping just before the start of 7th grade. I was convinced this guy was eyeing me in Sears and I figured he was going to try and nab me. He gave me a creepy look as my mom and I walked out of the store. I told her I was ready to go home, so the entire 45 minute drive home I had the front seat leaned all the way back so in case he was following us he wouldn’t see me in the car and follow us(I realize how absurd and neurotic that sounds.) It was an overwhelming fear. I let that fear ruin a stop at the record shop for the new David Lee Roth cassette and even a stop for some ice cream before leaving the mall. That anxiety of stranger danger beat out any need for dessert or Eat ‘Em And Smile.

The sad thing is that by today’s standards, the 80s were like the wild west for kids. Despite that fear of the creeper in the creeper van and the grocery aisle nabber, it was still a pretty freeing time to be a kid. I can remember going to my cousin’s house in the summer. He lived in town. Granted, it was a small town but it was still in town. We’d ride bikes all over the place and all day. We’d adventure out and about in the evening as well, hanging in parks and setting off “Works” bombs(yeah, we were idiots.) Then my best friend and I would hit the asphalt and head over to the small lake town of Oswego to the corner store and belly up to arcade games and gorge ourselves on candy and soda, not worried in the least about the freakazoid working behind the counter. Maybe it was just a matter of vulnerability that made it all so scary. Strength in numbers. Strength in stupidity. Maybe I was just a nervous kid with an overactive imagination. Maybe?

Fast forward to last night.

I’m driving my oldest over to her friend’s house where a bunch of her old school crew are getting together for snacks and a Disney movie. As we drove over my daughter’s phone rang. It was one of her best friends calling. She was at a local grocery store buying snacks for the night. She was scared because some guy in a wheelchair had cornered her in the store and wouldn’t let her leave. He initially asked her for money for a cab and she kindly(and naively) gave him $5 hoping he’d leave her alone. He then began talking about Jesus and how Jesus has affected him. He had her cornered for over 40 minutes when she called my daughter. We were on the way to the party when I changed gears and headed to the store. By the time we got there my daughter’s friend had made her way out and was in her car heading out of the parking lot. Apparently this guy had come out into the parking lot as she was leaving, made his way to a van(creeper van, I’m sure), and gotten in. He drove around the parking lot, parked, then got back out and into a wheelchair and made his way back into the store. No cab needed? My daughter’s friend was shook up but okay. She knew enough to call someone.

I may have been a paranoid, nervous kid growing up, but I think it served me well. I don’t think it’s any more dangerous now than it was when I was growing up. There’s just easier ways to get to kids now. Creeper vans have been upgraded to message boards and social media. The toy aisle and the walk home from school has been upgraded to coffeehouses and fake profiles. It’s good to raise your kids to be thoughtful, kind, and helpful human beings. But with just the right amount of trepidation, doubt, suspicion, and caution towards the “friendly stranger”, that can go a long way, too.

Just look at me. I’m doing great.


13 thoughts on “Stranger Danger

  1. Great post. I too had a vantage point in the house from which I could observe door knockers without being seen.

    I wasn’t so afraid of strangers. I was good at avoiding. But when I was home alone sometimes I’d be terrified that there was an accident and my parents weren’t coming home.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A great post, JH. I was never a worrier as a kid… or at least I don’t remember being one. I’d hang out with pals till late (on more than one occasion I ran home when I heard my parental unit shouting my name in the distance… hoping to beat her back to the house and ask her, all calm like, “where you been?” when she walked in the door) and I’d have my parents worried about me. I didn’t become a worrier until I ‘caught’ OCD (I say caught, cause it seemed to just happen) in my late teens and, well, now I worry a lot… about stupid things.

    Anyhoo, that’s another story… the stranger danger was always there (same stories as thouse told in your place – perhaps the bad guys travelled to Scotland when they realised the locals were onto them?), but I just didn’t worry about it. Even when I got lost in the big shopping centre one Easter. I had my walkie talkie with me and my brother, who was with my mum, tried to contact me. Now, I’m sure those things didn’t have the range, but we chalked the lack of communication down to the battery being dead. A security guard identified that I was wandering around lost and he put a call out. I was more annoyed that I got lost than I was frightened or worried about stranger danger.

    Now, as a father, I worry about those kinda things… I scout the park or suchlike when I enter with the kiddos and I don’t let them out of my sight. Not even for that millisecond. And then he ran the other day when we were in the supermarket… out of site for a milisecond… so he’s had the talk. He’s still young, of course.

    But aye, there’s horror stories everywhere… and not necessarily more now, it’s just as an adult I’m more aware of them (watching the news or picking up papers or news sites)… but I try not to let that worry radiate, cause I don’t want him to feel anxious about something.

    That was a bit of a ramble, eh? I hope I made a point in there…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You sure did make a point. You sound like you were more of a care-free kid than I. I wasn’t always freaking out, don’t get me wrong. But I seemed to feel that sort of anxiety much easier than most.

      As a parent the worry no longer seems to be about me. It’s for my kids. But not like it was in my childhood, thankfully. They know the rules and follow them well.

      Creepers everywhere, for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, timely post! I am a worrier too. My friend and I were just talking about Stranger Danger and how the kids around here don’t walk to school anymore. I proposed the reason was the era we grew up in in the 80s with Stranger Danger and the media concentrating on missing children and Adam Walsh. That TV movie…good lord – with the end credits and all the missing children my age scrolling by. That scared me.

    And then closer to home, there were several big profile abductions – Nicole Morin in 1985 who was taken as she took the elevator of her apartment building to the pool. She was never found. Then Christine Jessop, who was found dead…the point is these kids were around MY age when they went missing.

    I was a latch-key kid and often had to do things by myself. I often walked to school alone. I was a shy kid too but could assert when necessary. My mom always said not to answer the door if she wasn’t home, and to say that she couldn’t come to the phone right now if I had to answer with no one home. Our school would frequently have Stranger Danger drills too. Later in my 20s when I lived alone, I was always aware of my surroundings, always walked with authority with my bitchface on lol.

    That said, I was always very aware of the evils of the world, and worried about them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I sometimes worry that I’m overprotective of our kids, but I know I’m not. We’re raising them to think for themselves but they’re still just kids and they still need us.

    As for the wheelchair dude, did she call for help from the employee of the shoppe? Or any other customers? What about kicking the f**ker in the chest and running for it? I dunno, 40 minutes seems like a long time. Anyway, I’m glad she got out safely. Were authorities called?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. By the time we got their she was out of the store. My daughter told her to find an employee. I think she was too freaked out to find someone. She just got out of there.

      I’d rather be overprotective than not enough.


      1. Oh for sure. I’ve already told our kids they’re gonna have to tell us to go away eventually! Haha But there’s a line there, still have to allow them to do things, even though you’re there to pick ’em up if they fall. Gah! I wish this parenting gig came with a manual!

        Liked by 1 person

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