Stranger danger.

I am afraid of people I don't know. Strangers. Don't know 'em. (I think that's the point). But why do I get a funny feeling in my belly and a burning in my cheeks when I have to confront one?

I don't know if I ever received the "stranger = danger" talk when I was a wee one. But looking back on it, kidnappers and child molesters didn't run rampant like the bird flu in the late 80s as they do now. So maybe the "talk" wasn't as important then. Nevertheless, clearly I didn't need the talk. I've convinced myself quite well to avoid strangers at any and all costs.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't fear strangers the way one might fear a one-armed pirate with an ax to grind. Or the man in the trench coat who stands on the corner talking to himself. I don't think all people with whom I'm unacquainted with are going to sling me into the back of a van and bury me alive. But they do make me quite uncomfortable. And they're awkward.

If I go to the doctor, or the dentist, or the hair salon - anywhere that requires sitting in a "waiting" area - 94 percent of the time I'm going to sit in the "safe zone." And by safe zone, I mean: empty chair to my left, empty chair to my right and no one in front or behind me. Safe. It may just be me, the Stranger and a whole empty room with nothing but the sound of the ticking clock, but as long as I'm not directly in a path of communication (i.e. next to said Stranger) I really see no need to talk. Talking is so awkward.

"Um, hello. Nice weather today. So, you here to get that rash checked out?"

NO. It's absurd. Don't talk to strangers in the waiting room. That's my philosophy. Maybe I'm not so much afraid of strangers as I am of awkwardness. Or awkward silences.

Flash to scene in an elevator: me, alone, merrily riding the elevator with nothing but my peace of mind. Enter a Stranger. Suddenly there's tension. Do I talk? Do I look at the wall? Where do I put my arms? Should they hang at my side? I'll stare at my shoes. Yes. If I don't make eye contact, Stranger can't see me. And then the unthinkable - Stranger speaks. To me.

Crap.

I never know what to say. My cheeks flush, which in and of itself embarasses me, and makes me turn a deeper shade of humiliation. Why, Stranger, do you have to speak? And to me? Don't you know you're just going to exit this elevator, carry on with your day, and never see me again? Why make it unnecessarily awkward and make me converse?

Strangers make my pulse quicken, my palms sweat and suddenly I'm in fight-or-flight mode. And I tell you, I'm a flight-er. Not all strangers make me panic, however. The stranger who sells me my morning coffee (or tea, rather), not scary. But the women walking in the door
(directly into the path of awkward conversation) as I'm walking out, scary. Her and I, we weren't meant to talk. But the guy who prepared my steaming Earl Grey, he had a purpose.

I believe all of this stems from my immense fear of public speaking. It's real. An actual phobia. I just saw a commercial last night (for a chicken sandwich, no less) that said the number one fear of humans is public speaking. Second to that fear is death.

So, the commercial asked, you're telling me you would you rather die than give a book report (to a room full of strangers)?

That answer, friends, is yes.