“not too tight or loose, gentle, like you care.”
It was my first attempt at going to a shopping center to meet a stranger. A destination filled with many guarded people. Made sense. After all, it is at the mall where endless unsolicited sales approaches happen; and as per what I was doing, how could anyone easily separate me from all the others who had product or services to sell. But, I was there. Ready to follow through in an experience of discomfort. A close to end of day and desperate attempt to find a new friend to interview, and after quite a few days of close to nine p.m. outings, late evening shoots were starting to wear on me. On top of that, with an hour-and-a-half of mall time already committed, I was determined to meet someone.
Yet, even with my stubborn commitment to staying at the shopping center, I had reached my breaking point. I needed to get out of there! If I had to take even one more lap around level two I would have most likely jumped over the railing as a plea to break the monotony.
The place was a maze and, with my desire to meet anyone numbed by the buzz of countless people, all I was fixed on was finding an exit. Thinking purely of the freedom of the empty streets and getting away from the filtered air that was filling my lungs. I didn’t care if I had to shoot at eleven p.m. that night. I just wanted out of the mall!
Eyes straight ahead, I was almost to the door when I came across a different type of mall goer. A group of very edgy looking kids, chilling as they stood in a circle. At first I questioned approaching them. But as I walked past I could not ignore overhearing their conversation as they showed off their tats to those around them. Their words were aggressive, loud and disrespectful, quite the contrast to the overall shopping center vibe of canned music and conservative shoppers. My first instinct was to avoid them, but my intuition nagged at me, telling me I had to find out more.
So I listened, stopped to talk with them–my introduction a little shaky as I pushed into their gang formation. Was I nuts? Stepping head on into a bunch of tatted and signing kid standing in an unapproachable attitude. But somehow, maybe it was my blend of anxious sweat and direct-eyed confidence; I managed to break through their walls. Took only about ten minutes to get comfortable with each other. Now, not all of them were interested in being photographed, yet all were willing to hang for the ride. They had let the conservative dad-looking white guy into their tribe, and strangely, I felt safe there.
We walked the mall, and as we did I could see the looks of other mall patrons trying to figure out my fit in the group. An experience, that in a most substantial way, taught me the sting of judgmental eyes as we found an open spot to take photographs. Three of the group volunteered to be photographed.
Readers, please shake hands with Jose, Franke and Jonathan. Needing no direction, and enjoying the curious looks of the girls passing by they independently posed for the camera; when, only four frames in, security came out of nowhere and shut us down. There were no questions. No listening ear; just a very one-sided push to not only stop taking photos, but to leave the shopping center all together. It torqued us all. We were not a commercial shoot; just a couple of people taking a few harmless snap shots, and with me in the group the gang had managed to keep their tone quite low key. There was no need for the strong arm.
All guards were down as saw past the rough exterior of group of teens who perhaps were trying to figure life out; and with the degree of respect they extended to me, I wondered if they were looking at me as some type of father figure. Yes, a romantic notion on my part, but what if? In later stories an overwhelming truth to my reasoning to be there came into view. An experience that in a most humble explanation can best be described as remarkable. But I won’t let the secret out of the bag in this story. You’ll just have to stay with me to find out.
The mall cop was adamant; we had to wrap. The guys wanted to chest up, but I talked them down as we sort of complied. It was not worth turning the event into a big deal. I already had a couple good frames, so I was good to go as we accepted our interview had been cut short.
We shared departing handshakes and with they’re first smiles shown, I was accused of having a weak one. With a brotherly bond, they schooled me in the art of proper three-part handshake. The student I was as my new friends instructed, “not too tight or loose, gentle, like you care.”
In the end, there were no worries in regard to mall cop’s total annihilation of our shoot and of his breaking us up; nothing could stop us from becoming new in-the-moment friends.
My take away that day–“we should be cautious in not letting first impression overly affect us.” Even though these kids carried a tough facade, I found them warm, welcoming and genuine; and if I were to cast them off as useless gang members, perhaps my influence upon them would have never happened. They were, in my opinion, simply struggling teens. I had no window into their lives, pasts or knowledge of any pain or abuse they might have been subjected to. All I knew was their acceptance of me was real. So I’ll own my outlook. Call it my fantasy, and with optimism, I’ll keep it in my heart as such. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, in a few more essays there is a big reveal coming that will push this concept to the limit. If you need to know now, click here.
Talk tomorrow my good friends,
Readers, if you are returning, so nice to be with you again. If you are new, looking forward to getting to know you.
To all: please comment, like, and forward. Every engagement goes a long way toward connecting us; as together, we grow a movement that betters the way we view and treat one another.