Thursday, January 12, 2006

If there was ever a story to convince people that wearing a nametag 24-7 is not a good idea, this would be it

His name was Steffan. He was a 55 year old recovering-alcoholic-mechanic who had an abusive childhood and suffered from Social Anxiety Disorder.

I only know these things about Steffan because he was a complete stranger who called my cell phone in the middle of the night on December 30th, 2002 and TOLD ME.

And that's how he became my first stalker.

"Um...yeah...I read that article from the Portland Tribue about your nametag idea...I think it's...um...r-r-really great," said the creepy voice on the line.

"Oh...thanks," I said as I stumbled around my dark room. I was home for the holidays at my parents' house in St. Louis.

"Yeah, you know, I've always been...well, afraid to talk to people. Especially since I was young. I come from a pretty...uh...'rough' past, if you know what I mean."

I didn't know what he meant. I didn't want to know what he meant. But he just kept talking.

"Oh, I see," I replied, "yeah that sounds pretty rough. I couldn't imagine." I was still half asleep. The clock told me it was 12:47 AM.

Steffan continued to ramble about his fear of talking to strangers, an abusive/alcoholic father, and how my article about making people friendlier was an inspiration.

"Well, I just wanted to...uh...say thanks. I think what you're doing is a good thing."

"Yeah...well uh, no problem. You're welcome. Hope you have a Happy New Year," I said as I crawled back into bed.

"I hope so too. See you around Portland, Scott."

Click.

Holy shit.

Three dozen Ambien couldn't have put me to back sleep after that phone call. God almighty! Who was this guy? Was he crazy? Just a fan? Or would he be waiting at my apartment when I returned to Oregon a few days later with an ice pick?!

Eventually I made it through the night. I didn't tell ANYBODY. And when I returned to Oregon a few days later, he wasn't waiting for me. However, there were three messages waiting on my machine:

"Hey Scott, it's Steffan. Just uh...wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I'm not gay or anything. I just like what you do. You can call if you want, if not, that's ok."

"Hey Scott, it's uh...Steffan again. Hope you're doing well. Thought I might catch you at home today, but, uh...looks like I missed you. Oh well."

"Hey there Scott. I don't want you to think I'm crazy or gay or anything, but I just wanted you to know that I loved reading that article again. You're doing a great thing. If you want I can drop off a few extra copies for you."


Oh - my - God.

Fearing for my life, I hopped onto Google and typed in serial killer personality. Sure enough, I learned that most serial killers were middle aged white males with alcoholic or abusive pasts.

Perfect. That was him. I was dead.

Steffan continued to call me every day for the next two weeks. And every time the caller ID read, "Portland Mechanics," a chill ran down my spine. I never picked up the line. I figured if I ignored him, he'd go away.

But he didn't. And a few weeks later, he showed up at my work.

At the time I sold furniture at a downtown store, while speaking and writing books part time. And one day I heard a customer call my name from across the isle. I turned around and noticed an older man in a mechanic's jumpsuit walking towards me. His name tag read, "Steffan."

Holy shit.

He held out his right hand to shake, but averted his eyes. (People with SAD are known to do this when meeting new people.)

I froze. I didn't touch his hand. He continued to avoid eye contact.

"I uh...just wanted to meet you in person."

"Oh. Well, cool...but uh, I'm really busy. I have some customers I'm working with, so I gotta get back."

"Oh yeah, of course. Well, anyway...nice to meet you. Have a good day Scott."

And that was that. He walked out of the store and I never saw or heard from him again.

* * * *

Honestly, just thinking about Steffan gives me the creeps. (FYI, his name was changed for anonymity reasons...ironically.) And I know it was a pretty long post, so I'll finish up in a sec. But this story has so many lessons embedded in it, that I wasn't sure which one to close with. The value of anonymity? The ease with which the Internet allows people to contact each other? Why people shouldn't wear nametags 24-7? The seriousness of SAD? The dangers of stalking and victimization?

I dunno. You pick.

LET ME ASK YA THIS...

What can we learn from Steffan's story?

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag
www.hellomynameisscott.com