Saw this walking home from the Lorimer L stop the other day:
Ten years ago, this was cutting edge. O to think what the future may bring…
The wild parrots of Brooklyn say hello to a member of the native species. Taken by me, on the parrot safari hosted by these guys.
I stepped onto the crowded subway at First Avenue, cold, wet and annoyed that my dentist was out sick after I’d gone all the way over to NYU’s dental school. The train car was packed almost to capacity, the five or so people who exited barely making room for people to enter. I noticed there was space near the midpoint of two entrances in the car, and got more annoyed. One of my serious pet peeves is when there’s a lot of people who need to get onto the train, and the people already on the train just stand there, blocking the entrance. It’s the kind of inconsideration that can make one miss a train when she’s already running late, and I’m always careful to move toward the middle in those situations. So I said, “excuse me” with detectable annoyance, ready to move into the empty middle space if the person next to me was determined to hold on to her hand rail.
Then I noticed that the terrible offender was a little girl. She looked up at me with wide eyes and hurridly stepped backward until she wound up in the middle of a crowd of people much taller than her with no access to a rail. I instantly felt bad, like one of *those* New Yorkers who give us all a bad name. She looked really flustered. “Do you have something to hold onto?” I asked her, managing a half-smile and moving slightly to make the railing available to her. She scrambled for a few moments to get situated with the tangled headphone cords plugged into her iPod mini, and I really thought she was going to go for a tumble when the train started moving. But she managed to get the earbuds in place and grasp the rail just before the train lurched forward.
I think it must have been her first time riding the subway alone. She was so small, couldn’t have been more than 10 years old, yet was dressed in the style of your typical Williamsburg-dwelling resident. Black peacoat, a long gray t-shirt over black leggings, brown and white Oxford shoes. Everything about her outfit was striving to proclaim an exaggerated maturity — except for the pink fabric flower clip that held back part of her hair. It was a kid’s item, purchased by a grandmother or aunt at a kid’s store, a dead giveaway.
I glanced down at her iPod and saw she was spasticly flipping from song to song, only spending about 10 seconds at a time on each. Curious as to what kids are listening to these days, I peered over her shoulder and glimpsed her screen.
Little girl, don’t you know what goes on at Snoop Dogg shows? Women sit on the shoulders of their male friends, waiting for the camera to broadcast them on the big screen so they can flash the crowd. He smokes blunts on stage and fires t-shirts into the crowd through an oversized bong. He raps about bitches and hos. What is an adorable, innocent girl like you doing listening to that?
Where were her parents?
I wanted to sit her down and talk to her about school, and priorities, and ask her why she was riding the subway alone at night. She exited the train ahead of me at Bedford Avenue, slipping between the crowd with ease as people ran into me, and walked up the stairs with faux confidence. Out into the night. I thought it a possibility that some bartender would be fooled by her hip outfit, overlooking her height and obvious age, and accidentally or apathetically get her trashed.
I don’t know why that girl fascinated me so much. I think that when I was 10, I was roaming cities by myself and listening to vulgar lyrics while not understanding what they mean too. I think she shocked me because I wondered if I was looking at her how other people look at me… as a little girl in a big city, striving to play a role that might be out of her league. And I think that probably, if I told that little girl what I thought, she would tell me to go fuck myself, just like I would tell someone who might say that to me.
There’s something about this city that accelerates life. It’s like a time machine that ages the minds of people at 10X the rate of people living in average suburban cities, while keeping their bodies the same. Sometimes it causes mental growing pains as the layers of comforting naïveté are removed, one by one, sometimes peeled other times ripped off. Maybe if you want to get by here, you have to get used to standing naked in the cold. If you want to make it, you have to like it, or at least convince yourself it’s better than being smothered in all that god awful comfort.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened Monday night (when a psychotic man tried to follow me home). The encounter really shook me to the core of my being. I’ve also been thinking a lot about how I handled the situation, and how other women could diffuse a potentially violent encounter.
I think one of the reasons the situation didn’t escalate to anything physical is because I did this:
When I turned around and fiercely asked “Are you following me?” instead of looking afraid and continuing to walk forward, it no doubt threw him off-guard and caused him to re-think his initial plan of simply tailing me. He was way bigger than me, and my doing that was the equivalent of what the little puffer fish puffing up to say, “Don’t even TRY to eat me or I will fuck your day up.”
Some other examples of this in nature are:
Woo. I almost just got mugged. Or worse.
After a night of baking pumpkin bread (well, consuming pumpkin bread. I didn’t actually take part in the baking) and watching the original version of Beauty and the Beast with one of my lady friends, I stopped in to have a margarita at my favorite bar. I tutored the bartender’s daughter in chemistry this spring, and he wants me to help his other daughter pass a test now. I’m not good with little kids but I’m great with teenagers. I still remember what it was like to be one and can relate. I took a car service there, $6 to anywhere in your neighborhood, and the driver told me how he used to live on my block, and how it used to be dangerous. “Is it better now?” I asked, knowing that many people are restful towards the gentrification. “Oh yes, no crime is always better than crime.”
After a rousing conversation with Charlie, the bartender, I began to walk home, the same route I’ve treaded hundreds of times since I moved to this apartment about a year ago. Not that I have gone to that bar hundreds of times, but it’s on the way to lots of stuff, and from it.
Anyway, I was about to turn onto my block when i noticed a man in front of me. He appeared to be in a daze, like he was tipsy or on drugs or something. But when he saw me, something in him kind of… changed courses. He perked up, slowed his step and turned his posture to address me when I walked past.
“Hey, do you have an extra cigarette?” he asked, smiling congenially.
“No, sorry,” I said and kept walking. There was nobody else on the street but the two of us.
“Has anybody ever told you how beautiful you are?” he called after me.
It’s lame when people use those kind of crap lines on women in the middle of the day, to impress their friends or something; it’s scary for it to be communicated in isolation in the middle of the night. “Yeah, they have,” I muttered, quickening my pace. After I’d gone about five steps I heard the man’s footsteps slow to a halt. A few more steps and I realized that he had actually turned around and was walking behind me, following me, going in the complete opposite direction from which he’d come. I felt my sympathetic nervous system activate as I turned onto my street.
I walked passed the corner bodega, and looked over my shoulder. Sure enough, the man had followed my onto my street and was moving faster.
I think this must the point where some people freak out. Or where women don’t freak out like they should and second guess themselves out of the instinctual distrust they feel towards certain individuals, and keep walking — and eventually running towards their apartment. Because they’re so close, almost there, even though they’re moving away from potential help. It’s the horror-movie scenario that was mocked in Scream: Why are women always running upstairs when they should be running out the front door?
Well, I’ve scoffed at enough dumb broads in horror movies to not let myself become one of them. My mind was racing, and with every step I took forward, I felt my options being eliminated. So I stopped walking. I turned around, looked the guy in the face, and started walking toward him.
“Are you following me?” I demanded to know.
“What’s your name?” He asked. He leered creepily at me.
“Because it really looks like you’re following me, and that’s not a good idea.”
I was completely talking our of my ass, of course. Probably. I’ve gone to one Kung Fu class and one Krav Maga class, and between the two I feel like I could’ve landed a solid punch if I needed to — I was ready to — but obviously I didn’t want to have any physical contact.
“I just wanted to know what your name is, so I could tell you how pretty you are,” he continued, stepping to the side to intercept my path. But he was too slow, and I darted past him.
“I’m not interested,” I said, making a go for the bodega. When I reached it, my momentum was met firmly by the resistance of the locked door.
“They’re closed,” he said, smiling turning and walking toward me again. “There’s nobody there.”
Neighborhood secret: The bodega is open 24 hours. And while the worker may lock the door at night, someone is still there to make sales through the bullet-proof window.
“Habeeb!” I yelled, banging on the glass. It’s a term of endearment in Arabic that my roommate and I refer to the bodega guy as. My roommate doesn’t know Arabic, she just heard me say it and started calling him that one day, like it was his name. It was funny and it stuck, and he’s come to know that it’s us behind the glass when we call through it to get beers at 4am or whatever. And tonight he knew it was me at the door, and he rushed around to open it.
As he fumbled to find the right key, I turned around and looked at my potential attacker, who was backing away, and I glared triumphantly at him. Not this time. And when Habeeb opened the bodega door, I collapsed inside, and he locked it behind us. Bodegas may not be stocked with tampons when I need them, but they sure do come in handy sometimes.
I stayed in there for about 10 minutes, called my roommate to see if she was home and tell her what happened. She was at her boyfriend’s, so Habeeb went outside first to make sure the guy was gone and stood on the corner and waited for me to walk down the street to my apartment.
I don’t know what would have happened if I had handled the situation differently. And I’m glad that I don’t have to know, to have to bear the memory of an attack for the rest of my life. But it could have been bad, I think. Generally, I try to think the best of people, but there are alot of fucked up individuals in the world, and for that reason I will never let my guard down. Not completely.
And I will definitely keep going to Krav Maga classes.