What did this woman think I was doing?

Background: I am a behavior therapist who works with autistic children. I have a 3-year-old client who, as part of his program, I take walks with every day to work on behaviors such as responding to “stop” and staying on the sidewalk. I carry a clipboard so I can take data on how he is doing with his goals.

So, yesterday, the kiddo, the nanny, and I were taking our usual stroll around the neighborhood when an older lady (60’s) came out of her house as we passed it and asked in an unfriendly tone, “May I ask what you are doing? I see you every day with that clipboard walking by here.” (This, by the way, is not true. We take a different route every day, so she probably sees us about once a week.)

Because of confidentiality issues, I can’t talk to anyone outside the family about who I am or what I am doing with the kid. So I said, “Oh, we’re just going for a walk.”

At this point, she got REALLY angry, and said, “Oh no, you’re not! You’re certainly not from THIS neighborhood!”

In response, the nanny and I literally laughed in her face and we all kept walking, joking about how I should stand in front of her house and just pretend to scribble on my clipboard intently.

Yet, I am still baffled. What did this woman think I was doing walking by with a clipboard and a toddler? The “you’re not from THIS neighborhood” almost sounds like a racial comment. However, although nanny is Hispanic and kid is dark-skinned Asian/Caucasian, I am white, and the comments were clearly directed at me and my nefarious clipboard. Any insights as to what sort of insidious purpose she thought I might be up to?

If I saw you walking by my house with a clipboard, I might think you were the tax assessor. Or you could be casing my house for a burglary. Or maybe you’re a Jehovah’s Witness in training.

(The toddler is with you to make you look harmless.)

Don’t want no multi-ethnic multi-gender multi-age gangs in MY neighborhood, Sonny.

But that’s just it. She doesn’t know what you’re doing there. She just knows you don’t belong there, and that you’re doing something out of the ordinary (carrying a clipboard with a child in tow).

If someone new was in my neighborhood repeatedly, I’d sure ask them what they were doing. I might think that you were a canvasser but then I’d think it was mean to drag along a child. And then when you said something that didn’t compute, I’d be mad that you were lying which makes the whole thing more disconcerting.

People really do notice this sort of thing, and it legitimately worries them. One day earlier this year, there was a police car down the street with a crowd of my neighbors around it. I got there too late to talk to the cop myself, but the rest of them quickly filled me in - there had been a car with a strange man in it parked up the street most of the week, and pretty much all of the parents had noticed it.

(Turns out that he was a private investigator - he had been hired to provide evidence in some sort of divorce dispute.)

I would think, in order of decreasing likelihood:

Therapy for the kid (but probably only because I had a kid in Early Intervention, so I’m familiar with the look)
Doing surveys
Surveying (as in, properties, assessments, etc.)
Selling stuff or following up on sales
Petitioning
From some sort of utility/city checking up on equipment or employees
“Casing” the area for later theft
Terrorist :wink:

I’d be a little perplexed if discarded the therapy notion and I noticed that the kid was with you more than once, but I might surmise the kid was yours and the nanny your au pair.

Maybe she thought you were assessing the neighborhood for a possible introduction of darker-skinned people.

Does it say in big letters on the side of your van

THERAPIST

?

That could be a problem right there. :stuck_out_tongue:

Only to Sean Connery :wink:

It occurs to me the lady may not have all of her marbles, maybe age-related or due to some other cause.

In my experience people whose minds aren’t working quite right ascribe importance to inconsequential things.

Maybe I’m just not a staunch defender of my neighborhood, but I couldn’t care less if some random guy, a little kid, and a nanny wanted to parade around as long as they’re minding their business and not doing anything wrong. I might be curious, but not enough to demand an explanation from them.

Is his name Nosmo King?

People can be very paranoid - I got a message from our block watch the other day, saying that a neighbor noticed someone in a white Lexus taking photographs in our neighborhood. The block watch “captain” said that he was going to report the license plate to the police. I tried to point out that doing that might be a wee bit of an overreaction, but he was convinced that they could be up to no good.

Likewise. I figure that as long as you’re not being loud or breaking any laws–hey, it’s a public street. It’s none of my business what you’re up to. I’d be curious, but I certainly wouldn’t ask.

I think you’re right on target about the doing something out of the ordinary that’s making her suspicious. My supervisor made a similar comment when I told her this story, saying it was the clipboard that confused people.

However, I can only conclude that we are experiencing a cultural disconnect when it comes to strange people in the neighborhood. I live in the city of Los Angeles, and I see unfamiliar people in my neighborhood every day. I even see unfamiliar people inside my small apartment complex frequently. I’m not bothered unless they are acting threatening (which they never are).

The neighborhood where the kid lives is several square miles of houses. There is NO WAY this lady could know I was not from this neighborhood. There is no way she could know I wasn’t from one street over. I can understand (but not sympathize with) an attitude that makes you fearful of people doing unusual things, but the neighborhood comment? Weird.

I live only a few blocks from a big park that services multiple neighborhoods and a shopping center. I get all kinds of foot traffic around here. I couldn’t imagine being inquisitive about every passer-by. I would be consumed by it.

“I’m the child’s secretary” should both answer her Q AND freak her out. Win-win.

I live in a neighborhood like that. I think the part about you not being from the neighborhood just means you’re a stranger doing weird things, and that’s part of what is squicking her out. If she’s home all day long, she probably is bored and watching everyone who goes by, knows who lives in what house, etc., and feels territorial about her block. You’ve suddenly appeared in her territory doing weird things.

The woman who used to live across the street from me (she died last month) was like that–very aware of who was in the neighborhood and keeping track of people. She’d even sit in plain view spying on people with binoculars through her living room window. She was a little nuts, and I admit I sometimes walked around my living room naked hoping she’d get an eyefull, which likely would have perturbed her.

But around here, even living in the neighborhood and doing something perceived as odd gets you noticed and draws comments. For a while, I used to walk around the block bouncing a basketball. It was good physical therapy for problems with my arm muscles, and I got a walk in at the same time. One nut down the street called out to me one day to get the scoop, and was surprised to learn I wasn’t “kooky” (her word). But a lot of normal people, to this day, will mention my habit of walking around with a basketball if they see me, and I haven’t done that in a couple of years.

I had an experience earlier today being the strange outsider in someone else’s neighborhood.

Mrs. J. and I were walking our Labrador through a fairly nice development a few minutes walk from our house (it’s good for walking dogs because there’s little auto or pedestrian traffic - in fact the near total absence of other humans has led us to nickname it “Neutron Bomb Estates”). The dog developed shortness of breath (probably some exercise or excitement-induced asthma) so I volunteered to stay with the dog and give her rest while Mrs. J. went to fetch the car.

There I was with the dog on an exposed corner, no one in sight, the minutes ticking by. I started getting paranoid wondering if anyone was watching from indoors and getting suspicious of the strange bearded man and his large dog just sitting on the curb. It didn’t help that a guy cruised past seemingly giving me the eye, talking on his cellphone. Thankfully Mrs. J. pulled up with the car before I could be arrested and taken down to Headquarters for interrogation.

Excellent!