About a year ago, my sister and I moved into a new apartment, that just so happens to be located right across the street from a park. Living next to a park, in a predominately Black neighborhood, in New York City, affords one with all types of unique experiences. There is always some type of party, a fish fry and a group of people you come to know as Park Ninjas. (I’ll use ninjas here, for the lurking White people who frequent MadameNoire.)
Park Ninjas are people, mostly men, who, no matter the weather or time of day, make it a priority to spend at least 5-10 hours in or around the park. They talk trash, eat snacks, shoot craps or attempt to pick up women.
That last one, unfortunately, is where I come in.
On any given day one or more Park Ninjas will attempt to strike up a conversation. To their credit, most of the time they’re polite about it, saying hello before asking your phone number or commenting on your body. And for most of them, one rejection is enough to get them to leave you alone. That was until I met a Park Ninja, we’ll call King.
As I said, I’ve been living here since last October and King never noticed me. But at the beginning of the summer I decided to dye my hair gold and all of a sudden, he felt compelled to speak. Realizing that the standard, “can I get your number?” line wasn’t going to work, King devised a surefire way to get my attention.
King, a smoker in his early to mid forties, has a voice like one of those people who now needs a voice box to communicate. And with his unique, nicotine-induced rasp, he shouted down the street:
Being that I was the only person on the street with locs, I turned around.
“Hi Pretty Dreads!”
I did a half smile and wave before picking up the pace towards my apartment, just in case he decided to continue this conversation.
This pretty dreads thing went on for months, from May until September. I would hear it when I got off the subway, just before I made it to my apartment complex, when I was walking into the bodega next to my building. He would scream Pretty Dreads across the street, say it with a smile as he ran past me or whisper it creepily if he managed to see me before I saw him. Most of the time King just wanted to say hello but as you can imagine, it was rather annoying.
He once introduced me to his daughter, Queen, and finally asked my real name, but he never committed it to memory.
The only reason “Pretty Dreads” stopped was because he finally asked me out on a date.
I was on my way to work when King, standing with his arms extended in a “it’s me baby” stance, gave me his typical “Pretty Dreads” call. But this time, when I smiled and said good morning, in a rush to get to the train, he asked me to wait up.
Before he even started speaking, I let him know that I was in a rush. King, who never, ever seemed to be in a rush to get anywhere, nodded like he understood but kept on talking anyway.
“Well, you know I been calling you pretty dreads for a while now. And I was just wondering if there was any way I could take you out to dinner sometime.”
Before I could even sugarcoat it, the answer flew out of my mouth.
I wasn’t rude but I didn’t let him down easily either. All I could think about was what do I look like sitting down to dinner with a man 20 years my senior who, as far as I can tell, has a young child, an addiction to cigarettes, poor memory and conversation skills and no job to speak of?
But, like many of these street hollerers, King wanted to know why I didn’t want to go out with him.
And instead of telling him that I wasn’t interested in dating a Park Ninja, in my haste to get to the train, I told him my tried and true lie, “I have a boyfriend.”
King shook his fists in mock irritation towards the heavens and I walked to the subway.
I hate to lie. And while I won’t tell another one by saying it’s something I never do, I try to keep my lies to a minimum. Walking to the train, I was sad that I had to waste a lie on King and his ridiculously ambitious invitation. On the train ride to work, I realized I didn’t lie to spare his feelings but I lied for my own protection and safety.
There’s no doubt in my mind that if he doesn’t know already, King could very easily find out where I live… very easily. And aside from the fact that he smokes and has a daughter, I don’t know what type of man he is.
I had to reject him in front of his friend, and telling him the real reasons why I would never date him might embarrass, or worse, enrage him. I just couldn’t afford to take the chance of telling the God’s honest truth, simply because I didn’t know what it would mean for me and my safety.
Which also made me sad. It’s a shame the ways women have to navigate the world, considering our safety in something as trivial as rejecting a request to go to dinner.
Since I had to let King know I wasn’t available, I’ve seen him around. But there are no more of the “Pretty Dreads” comments. Instead, he just waves silently, averts his eyes and keeps on walking, making his way to yet another area of the park.
I was lying, initially, to protect myself. And honestly, I’d probably do it again. Just because you never know how crazy people truly can be. But there was an unexpected perk, no more gravely, smoker-voiced man hollering “Pretty Dreads” in my direction. A lie that potentially protects and removes a small annoyance from my life certainly sounds worth it.
Ladies, do you find you use the “I have a boyfriend” lie instead of straight rejection? Why do you do it?