Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Man in the Green Jacket

Today is smoke-free day 499, and time for Heads or Tails.
Today is TAILS - Tell a scary story (Real or otherwise).

I've alluded to this story a time (or two, or three) and this is the perfect chance to finally tell it.

Something just felt odd, and I was convinced that the heaviness I felt was the weight of his stare upon me. I was used to being stared at in Japan as the only gaijin (foreigner) in my little rice field area on the outskirts of the city, but this felt different. Once in awhile an inebriated man on the train would pay a little too much attention, but I always stayed super alert with an overtly obvious watchful eye, and either they meant no harm or I'd ruined the element of surprise, so nothing much ever came of it.

Having learned to trust my instincts and to kind of "test" the person to see if they meant harm before putting myself in a vulnerable place, like, oh, say on my granny bike in the middle of nowhere in the dark on a winter night surrounded by endless rice fields en route to my home, I'd started doing the stalling thing that in the past had always evaporated any perceived or real threat as the person either gave up and left or never intended any harm.

This night, when I felt odd about the car that had pulled up in front of the video store as I was leaving, I'd taken my sweet long time arranging the rented movies in the basket of my granny bike. When forever passed while the creepy guy hadn't started to even get out of his car to head into the store, I'd dawdled putting on my gloves and lining up the seams on each finger just so, as if I cared about such a thing. When another forever passed, I'd fidgeted with my heavy coat while my heart raced, and I considered my options and whether I was just being paranoid.

At some point, one of us had to do something to either move this game forward or end it. So I got on my bike and started to pedal, turning right out of one of the exits onto the side street. The car pulled out. And he turned right onto the side street. Co-inky-dink? I thought not. I quickly did a U-turn and headed back toward the video store. So did the car. From the store's parking lot, I thought surely that by now he had to know that I knew that he was following me and that maybe just that knowledge would end this little game since none of my previous experiences with wackos had gone any further than this stage. On that hope, I cautiously pedaled to the other exit, still on full alert, and turned left onto the sidewalk. Sure enough, the car also pulled out and turned left onto the street (which was right next to me because cars drive on the left in Japan), and I knew that this time was different, indeed.

So I turned around yet again, parked in front of the video store and went in. Surely this creep wouldn't be so bold as to follow me into the store. Surely the creep was bolder than I thought. I kind of "knew" one of the store clerks from my frequent visits where we'd exchange conversation in ridiculously simple Japanese about movies (such as "did you like the movie?" and "yes, I liked the movie," or about that level of fluency on my part), and I would have been comfortable trying to explain my situation to him even in very broken Japanese because he seemed so kind, but he was on a break.

For the next 20 minutes or so I pretended to browse movies while keeping one eye on the man I now knew wore a green jacket. He continued to play a really disturbing peek-a-boo cat and mouse kind of game with me in the aisles so that once in awhile he'd suddenly appear on other side of the wire shelving and make creepy eye contact with me. I would have peed my pants in fear, but, you know, that attracts some kinds of creepy guys, so I willed myself not to cry or scream or pee.

After 101 years later, the clerk that I "knew" finally returned from his break, and so I got in line. When I got to the register, I attempted to explain my plight while a line formed behind me. In the most basic of all Japanese, I made my attempt that went kind of like this:

Me: "Um. Bad person."

Clerk: (puzzled look)

Me: "I went. He went. I turned right. He turned right."

Clerk: (puzzled look)

Me: "I [insert attempt at gesturing for 'turn around'], he [insert attempt at gesturing for 'turn around']"

Clerk: (puzzled look)

Me: "I turned left. He turned left. I came to store again. He came to store. I went to Comedy. He went to Comedy. I went to Drama. He went to Drama."

Clerk: (puzzled look followed by light bulb moment look) Ah, naruhodo, sta-lkah (stalker, with an accent), da ne!

Me: (somewhat surprisedly noting to self for future reference: the word "stalker" has made it into the Japanese language, and it works faster than the above dialog) Hai, hai, hai! Stalker! That man. Green jacket-o man. (pointing, rudely)

Finally, finally, finally, once being pointed at and realizing that I would not let him win this game, the creep in the green jacket left the store. I couldn't really quite explain that in my country a clerk would then maybe call the police or something, so I settled for waiting until the coast was clear and then having one of the other clerks, a kid that looked like he was in about junior high but nice, accompany me home for the 20 minute bike ride through the dark rice fields.

I get the chills to this very day remembering that particular hour or so of my life, and I sometimes wonder just what the creep in the green jacket had in mind. Did he just want to tie me up and look at me and then let me go? (I've heard stranger accounts) Rape me? Kill me? Other shuddery things I won't share here that run through my mind? Whatever it was, I'm pretty sure he wanted to do something creepier and more sinister than just to practice his English with me. Those folks tend to just give me snacks on the train or buy me donuts or take me for haircuts (true story, different stranger, but not the stranger danger kind).

To this day, I am overly cautious in public to the point of almost silly, I've lovingly adopted and try to live up to my playful name of "safety girl" given to my by my student for no good reason, and I always trust my instincts, even if I'm grateful beyond grateful that I've been wrong ever since that night. Well, either wrong or perhaps have carried myself in such a clearly aware kind of way as to avert danger, which I also think is entirely possible - of course, that's not foolproof and wasn't working on it's own in my situation above anyway. Apparently it only works on stalkers-light, not the kind with all the calories and twice the nuts.

I also vow to learn the one simple word for stalker before setting foot in any non-English speaking country. Just in case.

(If this wasn't already the longest post in the entire world, I'd tell you the next interaction with the clerk a few days later, but that will have to remain another post for another day.)


  1. oh jebus hunny! That's scary!!

    I used to be afraid to go out at night by myself. Still cautious, but will do it. Oy.

    Maybe not after that story! LOL

  2. Holy hell. thats freaky! Glad you went with your instincts on this one!

  3. wow. i lived by myself in japan for years, and there are creepy characters there, well just like any other place i guess, but the communication barrier doesn't help at all.

    i hope you continue to protect yourself. it's better to be safe than sorry ...

  4. really scary!thanks for dropping by..(please click on the word "Scary" and "here" for you to enter in my scary story which I posted in my PhotoHunt meme).

  5. sheeesh, that IS scary. and better cautious than sorry any day!

  6. I started making my morning coffee.. and I heard it finish when I was about halfway through reading this. I could not tear myself away to go grab a cup!

    What an awful thing for you to have gone through. :(

  7. A very freaky experience. Thanks for sharing that.

  8. No THAT was scary!!! I'll keep my eye out for any dude in green now for a while.

    And happy HoT day.

    My scary story is fiction. A LONG short story. LOL Come on over, sit a spell and enjoy the thrills and mystery!!

  9. Eek! You know it's has been proven that women have a 'sense' about things that men just don't! No, like seriously! I mean I KNOW men don't have a whole hell of a lot of sense, but apparently they don't have ANY 'sense' either! Anyhoooo - yeah, trust your 'sense' Maggie! It very rarely steers women wrong!

    Oh, but I have a similar FUNNY story involving the translation, or rather the non-translation of an American word in Japan. I'll have to tell it sometime.

  10. That is SO creepy!
    You definitely did the right thing in this instance. Better safe than sorry.

  11. That's so scary. For a minute, I thought the clerk was going to say he knew that guy, and that he had a legitimate reason for following you. I can't imagine having someone driving after me in their car while I'm on a bike--so scary!!

  12. how horrible and freaky is that!

    ill run a mile from anyone in a green jacket for sure!

  13. I always say, trust you gut. Man that would have scared the jeebus outta me.

  14. I keep going out at night, hoping some girl gang will want to have their way with me - but I guess they're to picky or somethin' cause I always seem to get home in one piece - so to speak.

  15. Okay.. so far you win my vote for scariest story on HoT! That would have freaked me out. I'm glad you kept your head about you. Living in a foreign country is difficult enough without things like that happening. I'm going to have to read your back posts to find out more about you and Japan :-)

  16. That seriously sounds like a scene straight out of a horror flick!

    I am so sorry this happened. But you handled it very well.

    I would have pee'd my pants and then proceeded to carry mace the size of a fire extinguisher around with me at all times.

  17. Holy crap! Thank goodness you were so smart! Whew!

    I am super aware every where I go too, although I have done some super dumb things in my youth.

    Great story, and I'm glad it ended so well. :)

  18. Holy crap. How awful. Good thinking though.

  19. That is as scary as a couple of things I've had happen to me. You were wise to follow your instincts and go back to the video store. Glad you are safe and could write about this experience.

    I'm new to HoT. My true ghost story is over at www.whileyoureup.blogspot.com

  20. STALKER-LIGHT! THAT'S HILARIOUS!! Meantime, I was hanging on every.single.word. Whoa! I'm glad it went the way it went and that you are uber-safety-girl. Very scary to have happened to you!! I too am a safety girl but I blame my years of covering news for my paranoia (missing joggers, home invasions, kidnappings, murders, muggings, etc etc etc. they keep me up at night. I've always got my guard up.) i like the stall maneuver, though, that's a good one. I hate that there are shady creepy characters about in this world that have to make us so cautious paranoid and untrusting. Anyway, great storytelling!

  21. I don't think I'd ever ride my bike to the video store again!


Talk to me.