Wednesday afternoon, I’m on the Pink Line, staring into space, exhausted from teaching a 4-hour morning class after a night when I couldn’t sleep.
50sish white dude with a baseball cap and a Sox jersey: “I like your sunglasses, where did you get them?“
I don’t know how to describe this, but everything about the too-casual way he’s asking is fishy and ulterior. He’s working up to asking me for something – whether money or conversation or whatever – and I know I don’t want to talk to him.
But on the off-chance he’s sincere (they are good sunglasses), I say “Eye Spy, on Lincoln.”
He goes on chattering about the sunglasses and what he likes about them, and where exactly is that place, is it the one on such-and-such corner? And then he asks if I’m a student because I look like I just came from class. And you guys? I was done. I was so, so, so very tired. So I just stared at him without talking. I’m not sure I even meant to be mean – I was too tired to even think of anything to say.
And then he repeated himself: “ARE…YOU….COMING…FROM…SCHOOL…you know, because you have a backpack?“
I did not respond.
He waved and then SNAPPED his fingers in front of my face. “Hellooooooo!” and I kept staring at him.
And then he got weirded out and backed away from me, muttering about how rude some people are, and went into the next car.
I saw him yesterday on the train again (glory, we must have a similar schedule) and he said “Heyyyyy, it’s the mean girl with the glasses” and I gave him the death glare again until he moved away.
Obviously casting Imperious Glare or whatever isn’t magic protection from someone with truly bad intent, but I felt pretty great when he was the one to get uncomfortable and move away.
Of course, a few stops later yesterday, a different gentleman (no baseball cap) looked at my grocery bags that say Trader Joe’s on the side and said brightly “Going grocery shopping, I see!”
Him: “At the Trader Joe’s?“
Him: “I only ask because I want to know what wine should I bring.“
Him: “For when you cook me something later.“
Him: “You don’t want to cook for me? Make me some pork chops or something?“
Him: “What, you got a boyfriend or something?“
Him: “Won’t even talk to a n——. Damn.“
Him: “You’re one cold bitch, you know that?“
Him: “I feel sorry for your boyfriend.“
Then it was his stop, so he went away.
Then of course, last night, it continues. I’m riding the Blue Line to go meet my friend at a party in Logan Square, reading Master & Commander. 45+ year old white dude (also in a baseball cap) plops down in the seat in front of me and asks something like, “Hey, is that a good book?” I honestly didn’t quite catch what he said or even realize he was talking to me at first, so I kept reading.
Baseball Cap guy waves his hand in front of my face, again, like “Helloooooooooo?????” and asks louder,”Excuse me, I said: ‘Is that a good book?’“
Me: “By ‘good book,’ do you mean the kind where you get so immersed in the story that you shut out everything that’s happening around you because you want to find out what happens next?“
Me: :stares at him for a good while, watching it slowly sink in:
Me: :goes back to reading:
Him: “……Sorry.” (sarcastic)
Me: :keeps reading:
I wouldn’t say I was worried about my safety, though in the back of my mind I am always aware that these things can go a different way. So I guess in the back of my mind I WAS worried about my safety, but I’m so used to that feeling as a baseline hum that I don’t really think about it. I didn’t feel like I was in any immediate or acute danger. But after several such encounters in three days it’s left me feeling annoyed and tired and viewing pretty much anyone who comes near me on a train through the lens of “What fresh hell is this?“
So for the Painfully Literal Dudes who are reading this and getting sad and thinking “Does that mean I can’t even TALK to ANYONE on public transit EVER? That’s not FAIR because I’m NICE and you can’t paint me with the CREEPY brush it will probably just be because I’m UGLY anyway, you’d talk about nautical fiction with Brad Pitt if HE asked you and why do you even live in a city if you don’t want to talk to people anyway? You’re just being paranoid/oversensitive/need to get laid/need to relax/loosen up for chrissakes/are you really trying to say they were harASSING you?/maybe they were just awkward shy people who can’t read body language/are you really that fragile that you can’t handle a little conversation…” etc.
I find that I am very comfortable with your bad feelings about that. I’m okay with you missing out on talking to a potential “prospect.” I’m okay if you feel weird and like maybe you shouldn’t talk to women on the bus or the train ever. I’m okay with you being worried that if you do you’ll be accidentally creepy. Can you spread that anxiety around to the general population? It might make the world a better place.
We could make this a thread about how to avoid or respond to people who bother us in public, but honestly, I want to take a page from this post about stopping victim blaming and NOT give strategies to avoid harassment. All I did this week was ride public transit in a big city like I have for 20 years, sometimes while wearing cool sunglasses, sometimes with groceries, sometimes with a book. That should be enough to avoid harassment.
I took a taxi home last night (Cost: $15 + tip) even though the eL was right there, because I didn’t feel safe or up to the mental task of riding home by myself at 1 am. The cab driver played great music and drove me home in complete, beautiful silence and didn’t try to chat with me, so the tip was generous. Problem is, I don’t have a car or $15-$20 every time I want to go somewhere in the city where I live and avoid Chicago Transit Authority speed-dating. I have a vested financial interest in wanting public transit to be a place where the polite, decent thing to do is to leave other people the fuck alone.