Wednesday, May 2, 2012


My wife, hoping to motivate her students to study on their own, set what she considered to be an improbably-lofty academic goal. Each student to reach this goal would receive a $10 gift card from Toys-R-Us and knowing that we would be funding these rewards out-of-pocket, my wife assured me that it was unlikely many of her students would qualify for the reward given the timeframe. Needless to say two of the youngsters had earned the gift card in just a few weeks and I was tasked with procuring the reward.

So late one evening, I drove to the local Toys-R-Us and walked up to the register. A middle-aged woman greeted me warmly and politely listened as I explained that I needed two $10 gift cards. She then looked at me and asked me if they were for a boy or girl. Having never seen a gender-specific gift card, I was ill-prepared to answer since my wife had not told me the sex of the winners. I offhandedly replied that I just “wanted a design that a small child would like” and didn’t wish to specify a gender.

In hindsight I realize that an unaccompanied grown man requesting a Toys-R-Us gift card for as yet unidentified children might seem suspicious, so like any observant adult I made it much worse. The discourse continued:

Cashier (her brow slightly furrowed) - So you don’t know if these are going to a boy or a girl?

Me (glancing around) - No, I don’t know which kids will be getting them yet.

Cashier – Soooooo…… Are these like prizes?

Me (turning my attention back her) – Yes, my wife is an elementary school teacher and these are academic rewards.

Cashier (visibly relieved) – That’s wonderful! Where does she teach?

It is at this point I experienced what can only be described as total cerebral failure. For the life of me I could not recall the name of the school my wife has been teaching at for the past two years. I simply stood there like a deer in the headlights as I racked my brain for the requested information. After about 20 seconds of complete silence I began to panic and my internal monologue was screaming, “JUST NAME A SCHOOL! AT THIS POINT IT DOES NOT MATTER IF YOUR WIFE EVEN TEACHES THERE BECAUSE THIS WOMAN WILL HAVE NO WAY TO VERIFY WHAT YOU TELL HER! YOU GOAL IS TO IMMEDIATELY STOP ACTING LIKE A SEXUAL PREDATOR CAUGHT IN AN ILL-CONCEIVED LIE!!!!”   

Try as I might, I could not conjure up the name of a single school. I believe I just stood there mumbling something about it being a school for “small children” until the woman (whose brow furrow had reappeared with a vengeance) said, “it’s no big deal just enter your pin number on the pad.” By now she had undoubtedly triggered the pedophile alarm and I could feel sweat starting to form on my forehead. I made one more effort to exonerate myself by pleading, “she really is a teacher” but it didn’t even sound convincing to me. As I walked to the car I envisioned the on-duty manager frantically pulling the security footage.

This incident would not have been so bad were it not preceded by a more suspicious one. A few years ago I was completing an outdoor access-point site survey for work. This generally consisted of me pulling up in front of the proposed location (usually a building) and using binoculars to check line-of-sight to where a client might conceivable wish to connect. Once I had established the best location for the AP, I would take several photos of the building using my camera to guide the installation team.

While I routinely used a marked company vehicle for these errands, I decided to stop by and survey one last location while on my way to a late lunch. The location happened to be an elementary school and I parked on the road directly across from the main entrance and began sweeping the area with my binoculars. Once I had settled on a likely installation point I removed my Canon DSL camera from its bag and began photographing the front of the school.

Now as I was doing this, students began passing through the front door. While looking through my camera’s viewfinder I noticed what I assumed was a teacher was shielding her eyes as she glanced in my direction. Thinking something interesting must be happening behind me I turned around but saw nothing remarkable to hold her attention. By the time I swung the camera back around there appeared to be two teachers looking my direction.

It was then it dawned on me, I was what they were looking at. Here I was, a grown man with a pair of submarine-captain binoculars around his neck snapping photos of children through a telephoto lens while illegally parked in front of a school. To make matters worse, I was in my personal vehicle so there was no evidence that I had a reasonable explanation for my behavior.

So, deciding that trying to approach the staff and explain my presence would only deepen their suspicion, I hastily threw my gear in the car and sped away. With any luck, a police sketch of my face is still hanging in the school office. Perhaps the Toys-R-Us cashier will notice it as she drops her kids off next week….


  1. Hey - they only ever ask me if I need to buy batteries - even when buying coloring books. Company policy I guess. Did they ask if you needed to buy batteries?

    1. Exceptional MediocrityMay 29, 2012 at 9:23 PM

      Strangely enough they did not. Perhaps they just wanted to get me out of the store or they were worried that I would use them in my kidnapping taser....


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