The Lory Student Center Plaza is a wonder of free speech. It's a special zone where anyone can say anything at any volume for any reason, and this makes it scary. There are a lot of types of "anyones" out there, and it's hard to identify, as you cross the Plaza, if that's a stranger with candy or a stranger who wants you to join him in his rocketship cult.
As per usual, I'm here to help. Usually there are subtle "tells" as to the nature of the Plaza-dweller approaching you, such as 20-foot signs or beards. I'll cover the basic types, give you some defense strategies and let you all out early for lunch. I'll tell your teachers/parents/parole officers that you're excused.
You're walking across the Plaza. It's a bright, sunny day, birds are chirping, the wind is blowing a refreshing breeze. Suddenly, out of a dark shadow, a figure approaches! Could it be the…
Political Militant! Quick, check, does the subject have an unnerving, too-large grin and a clipboard? Is his eye contact forced and desperate? Does he smell vaguely of hemp? If you've answered yes to two or more questions, you are about to be asked for money.
Sometimes it's neat to do the charity thing. Other times you just wanted to walk to class without being told that 60 fuzzy bunnies died of hug deprivation while you slept through history class. To escape, tell the Political Militant that you root for the other team. If she wants money to save the rainforest, tell her you are actually a huge fan of CO2 and cheap pencils.
But wait! This shadowy figure has a stack of leaflets. What horrible fate awaits you at the hands of the Publicity Pimp? Actually, Pimps are one of the few good things on the Plaza. The Pimp is a friendly stranger who usually has nice candy. There will be a short speech promoting a political candidate or dance or ritual sacrifice, after which you are free to clutch your Tootsie Roll and scurry away.
If for some mad reason you don't feel like taking candy from a stranger, here's how you dodge. Firstly, wear industrial-strength headphones coupled with a "My God, the sidewalk is fascinating" downcast stare. If that doesn't work, kick him in the owwies and run. It's a free-speech zone after all.
What if said figure has a beard and/or a megaphone? This can only mean you have been approached by a Religious Cheerleader. The Cheerleader starts out with something attention grabbing such as: "Nice day isn't it. Much nicer than the ones you'll be seeing… in Hell! Bwa ha ha!"
Shaking a Cheerleader is relatively simple. Shout, "Look over there! It's the End of the World!" And as he adjusts his tie so he looks good for the Big Dude in the Sky, you take off at a sprint and/or kick him in the owwies. Freedom of speech, and let your feet do the talking, so to speak. If the police complain, tell them I've excused you from jail to go to lunch early.
Johnathan Kastner is a junior English major. His column runs every Thursday in the Dish.