I preach situational awareness and “responsibly armed Americans” to the neighbors. I know which friends respond positively and which don’t. But sometimes, well … here’s what happens.

Yesterday I returned a book to the Central & Unser library branch on old Route 66 here in Albuquerque. New. Clean. Computers. Helpful librarians. Barely two miles from my home in South Valley.

I stop at the book return, then go inside, suddenly thirsty in our high desert air (Albuquerque is higher and more arid than Denver). Water fountains are at the opposite end of the building. I walk down the central aisle and notice two men watching me. They’re sitting near the water and bathrooms, far from the entrance and the librarians, somewhat shielded by stacks of books and magazines. They’re scruffy looking, rough, with dirty backpacks. They stare. I move past them to the water, then back to a computer to search the catalog. Without taking their eyes off me — as far as I can tell — they gather whatever is theirs and head toward the door, passing close on my left.

I have no idea who they are or what their issue is, but I momentarily keep them in my peripheral vision. The librarian helps me at a standing computer terminal; then I’m on my own.

The toughs have walked out the double glass doors. I assume they’re gone, forget them, concentrate on a book search. Suddenly one of them (Were there three?) is in my face at the computer.

“What’s your name?” he asks. Not threatening, just unwelcome.

I say, it’s none of his business. Then my middle-class upbringing takes over. Am I being unnecessarily rude? “Rick. What’s yours?” I stick out my hand. He is carrying a heavy cudgel as a walking stick. It could bash out my brains with one blow and he looks like the kind of guy who might use it and not think twice.

“You know my name,” he says. “You know who I am.”

Do I resemble some retired cop or probation officer? I suggest that if he doesn’t know how to check out a book, since he’s so very close, barely arm’s length, he should and learn. I don’t stare and make an effort to ignore him.

Should I play it cool? Say something clever, insulting? Like Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday facing Johnny Ringo? Then I decide, probably wisely, since he is half my age and appears to be quite the roughneck, to step back and place my hand on the back of my belt. I usually carry a .380 in a Sticky Holster there. But it isn’t there now and I think, this is ridiculous. This is a public library. Several dozen people are present and this guy doesn’t look like he’s smart enough to read. I correct my thinking. Whether one can read has no bearing on impulse control … and the walking stick looks wicked.

When I back away and put my right hand in the small of my back where I normally carry, the man steps back, pulls out a cell phone and appears to snap my picture before turning and walking out. That’s excellent because I’ve left home without my carry: “Just popping out to the library,” I tell my wife. “There and back. Won’t be five minutes.”

Later, I think through the confrontation and realize it took place in the classic manner: unexpected and sudden. I didn’t know the man, had never seen him before, and I had chosen not to — or simply neglected to — carry for such a quick, innocent trip to a very public place. I had let the man get close; lost eye contact. I was lazy complacent and could have been dead in a second.

In believing that I was “just popping out” to a safe place, I neglected the possibilities. I’ve carried a thousand times and have never been involved in a confrontation. The one time I didn’t carry…

It was a lesson. One I won’t repeat. But who was that guy?