Scene: Safeway in the Hechinger Mall. A young lady struggles with a package, apparently stuck, in the bin of the frozen-food department.

"Do you need any help?" I ask (purely out of the goodness of my heart).

"No," she replies quickly.

I continue on my way.

Young lady suddenly gazes up at me and asks with the earnestness of a 4-year-old, "Were you really going to help me?"

"No . . . I was just trying to pick you up," would have been catchy had I thought of it in time. I didn't. I answer, "Yes" and keep on walking.

That young lady was cautious. Granted, the unsolicited, hustler approach from strange men can be threatening. Who can blame women for being leary of public whistles, the loud shouts of "Can I go?" "What's up shorty?" or the elaborate "Ah baby, you look so good I got to kiss yo' toes?"

Although it's no secret that this approach is annoying to most women, it's still popular with some men.

Popular it was to Bobby, my former co-worker. He adored the hustler approach and used it whenever an opportunity arose. Our job was to assist the men who painted street intersections, parking L's, and crosswalks, which means we did a lot of riding around Washington.

Whenever we passed a female who wore a halter top, tight-fitting jeans, or looked "fine" in any way, Bobby said something like, "Hey baby, how ya doin?" or, "What's happening sweety?"

As the days progressed Bobby noticed that I never flirted with the girls we passed. Instead, all I did was ask questions . . . lots of questions. (Questions about the streets, stores, scenery.) This made him wonder. He even called me a pervert one day as he flirted with a girl while I sat back and read a magazine.

We sometimes had verbal differences at the main office as we waited to punch out. Bobby explained, or better put, complained, to the other workers about our situation. He talked as if I were from another world, another galaxy, because I didn't flirt with the bronzed beauties as he did.

My boss thought it was a big joke and urged me to get on Bobby's case when he tried to make me look like Howdy Doody. And now that I look back, it was a big joke--namely Bobby. Instead of wondering why most of the young ladies ignored him, he laughed at me.

Since a lot of guys are like Bobby, maybe you ladies are justified with your animosity. I can only imagine the mental torment of being on sexual display every other block. But what about me, (and maybe others like me)?

I'm 6-foot-4, have radiant brown eyes overlapped with thought-provoking spectacles; both underwritten with my Kool-Aid smile. I don't profess to look like Billy Dee, but I know I don't look like Kermit the Frog. When I see one of you I want to meet, I approach you in a more intelligent and creative way . . . if I can muster up the courage.

Unfortunately, I usually can't. I fear the unknown personality of the young lady sitting next to me, the one in line behind, and so on. The low-keyed ones aren't so bad; it's the hazel-eyed ones, the tall and slender ones, the short, sporty ones, the intelligent ones and the exquisitely dressed ones that make me tremble.

And that is why I believe the Bobby's of this world shout from the corner and whistle from halfway down the block. They're scared. The fear of coming face-to-face with an attractive young lady and holding a respectable conversation is just too much.

But don't cry ladies, we shy--but more respectful--types are working on our fears. I, for one, am learning not to dwell on such negative thoughts as: "I wonder if she hates men," "She's too good for me," "Did I forget to use my deodorant?"

I'm not as tongue-tied, as frozen stiff--and as for butterflies, they're little more than caterpillars.

Also, I try to remember that the process of approaching you neither enrolls me in the Foreign Legion, nor puts me on Death Row. I try not to take the situation so seriously; I'm just one human talking to another. Quite often I'll start a conversation simply to burn time: 20 minutes in the bank line talking to you makes it seem like 10.

The moral of this message is that I think you women are right for being cautious about the men you meet, but give me a break. Different from Bobby, I always encounter the women as if I have sense, ever trying not to offend.

So if I approach you at a Metro bus stop and say, "Excuse me Miss, but is this the bus to King's Dominion?" Don't drop your bags and shout "Help!" Instead, turn around . . . even show me a smile . . . and answer with a modest amount of respect.

That's what some of us -- the hustlers aside -- want to give you. And is that too much to ask?