If you're open to weirdness, weirdness will always find you, especially in a city - even this city, where you envision the professional, buttoned-up likes of Olivia Pope & Barack Obama & Michele Bachmann & Jed Bartlet & whoever else the general populace associates with Washington, D.C.
This afternoon, I encountered a special & new-to-me variety of weirdness.
I sat in Meridian Hill Park reading a book in the sun, a yoga class happening next to me & "free energy healing," whatever that is, taking place a few benches down. A middle-aged man, looking appreciatively down the length of the park, turned to me & said in a thick accent, "This is a great park. I'm visiting from Florida, & I could just stay in this park all day." He asked if he could sit at the other end of my bench, & though I wanted to keep reading, I found myself chatting with him a bit.
He introduced himself as Winston, a photographer & a painter who had spent the weekend in D.C. taking strangers' portraits. "Two minutes," he told me. "It will only take two minutes."
I wasn't super-keen on talking to Winston any more, & that's when I probably should have said no, gone back to my book or just walked away. Something about him made me a little bit uncomfortable, but I told myself I was probably just being uptight, as I sometimes am, so I agreed to let him photograph me. After all, it was a public park, & there were dozens upon dozens of people around us. Maybe, I thought, this will be like Humans of New York!
Winston asked me to sit on a flight of cement steps & snapped four or five shots, some close-up & some from further away. It all seemed very normal, & I began to feel less weirded out. After a few shots, he asked me to swing one leg over the side of the stairs, sitting sideways. As I repositioned myself, he touched my foot to move it into place, & I recoiled at the unwelcome contact. Not OK.
And then it got weirder.
"Would it be OK..." be began. "Would you mind if I take a photograph of your thigh?"
HEY, HUGE RED FLAG. YES, I MIND THAT.
I gave him a firm no, & when he asked why, I told him it made me very uncomfortable. "This wouldn't be for portraits," he said, "just for me." As though that was going to make me say yes? No, Winston. No, no, no, no. As I stood up, he asked to take one more photo - a normal one - & then told me, "OK, we're all set. I told you it would be quick! Thank you so much," as though he hadn't just creeped me right the hell out.
I asked if he had a card or a website, someplace I could see his art (& yes, I recognize that I should've asked this before agreeing to be photographed). He told me he was hoping to have one soon, then he asked if I'd like to see some pictures of his work. As I stood at a safe distance, he clicked through photos of beautiful paintings, tilting them my way. "I sell these for thousands of dollars," he told me, "to very rich people."
One of the photos was Jan Vermeer's very, very famous "Girl With a Pearl Earring," painted circa 1665.
OK, Winston. That's enough. We're done here.
It was only then that I started to walk away, bidding him adieu & wishing him well while trying to effectively cut off all further communication. As I made my way toward a bench closer to the yogis & the energy healers, the last thing I heard Winston say was this: "I do nudes, too, you know. But I don't sell those in galleries."
Keep your eye out for nude paintings with my mug superimposed over them, please, as I try not to think about whatever that so-called artist is doing with photos of my face in in his private collection. And maybe just... don't talk to strangers.