I rode the A train to JFK before 5am last Friday (July 26th, 2019). This meant that, while not deserted, the train was quiet. There were people sleeping and Sleeping (the first being a upright doze, the second being all out, laying down flat, jacket over the face for ultimate sensory deprivation).
I had a good spot: two seats for myself and my luggage with no one close enough to keep me on alert. I get really motion sick, and because the ride is so long, I took a couple of nondrowsy Dramamine. It wasn’t enough to allow me to read—I couldn’t risk that—but it was enough to keep the ride boring instead of miserable. I didn’t have a lot to look at—the windows were dark aside from the occasional underground light and staring at people is never a good idea on the subway unless you want to start something.
Luckily for bored little me, some previous rider had scratched something into the wall next to me, and it gave me something to think about. He had scratched: “I want to fuck all woman.”
I first noticed the incorrect grammar because I can’t stop myself.
Then I kind of laughed.
Then I hated myself for laughing. If he had written “I want to kill all gay,” I never would have laughed, even if his grammar was off.
But I guess “fuck” and “kill” are not synonymous, or even similar. Maybe the man was just so overcome with lust that he felt he was on the brink of explosion, and the only was to express his urge was this message. But there’s still something violent about that, especially when it is scratched into the hard plastic. I thought it looked like a prison tattoo—not that I know too much about that. But given the aggressive medium and generality of the message, I wouldn’t want to meet this man.
But there’s a lot of men I don’t particularly want to meet. There was one just the afternoon before—Thursday around 1:30pm. It was bright enough that I considered crossing to the other side of Broadway to be in the shade, but I stayed in the sun. I had just finished my last class, and even though my flight was the next morning, I had mentally started my vacation. I was headed to West Side Market, on the sunny side of the street, to get a cookie as my first act of vacation—I was debating between the s’mores cookie and the M&M cookie, both trashy and both beloved by me.
It was on my way to this cookie when the man tried to grab my attention. He raised a hand when he saw me, as if just recognizing an old friend. He wasn’t a complete stranger; I’ve seen this man before and have three previous encounters across two Columbia semesters. All have been near campus. He looks like a slightly leaner human version of the Pillsbury doughboy, has dark brown hair, and light eyes. He is white and somewhat pathetic looking. I don’t mean ugly—I mean he seems like the kind of person to spill the contents of their backpack accidentally on the street while searching for their metrocard, thereby holding up the bus.
“Excuse men,” he said that first time. And I turned to see this hapless, nondescript man-boy, who to my many biases (both unconscious and conscious) does not raise the alarm with me. I assumed he was lost on campus. The first time was just inside the Columbia gates on the west entrance. I took my earbud out, which I hate doing because it means that someone has interrupted my audiobook. I gave him a look that said, “Yes?”
He said, “Have we met before?”
And I thought, Uh oh.
I didn’t answer, but he launched into a “I think you’re really beautiful, and…” but I’d already put my earbud back in and started walking. I rewound my audiobook by thirty seconds, and went off.
That first time I was annoyed.
The second time I saw him—just north of the Hungarian Pastry Shop, directly across from St. John the Divine—I was blown away by my bad luck. How could I encounter the same creep twice?
It was during this encounter that I decided this nerdy somehow associated with Columbia guy was following that popular pickup line book, The Pick Up Artist: something about the art of seduction (I don’t remember the name, but it is something like that). I’ve heard about this book, and the author instructs men to try and pick up random women (any and all women) all the time in every possible setting to learn to toughen themselves against rejection. And statistically, they are going to be successful sometimes just out of sheer volume.
I liken it to the advice I’ve received about my writing: accumulate rejections because, the more you hear no, the more likely you are to hear yes.
That makes sense in a cute kind of way, but it is based on the assumption that my writing is actually good. What if my writing is terrible, and I submit the same atrocious tone deaf piece (my imaginary bad piece: “How I overcame my white privilege and used it to my advantage,” or “Here’s a story about what I like on Instagram”) to one thousand short story contests? It doesn’t make my story successful. Nor does trying your stupid pickup lines with random women make you anything but creepy.
It’s the same as saying “I want to fuck all woman.” Anyone will do.
And if you get an acceptance for that kind of material, what does it say about the literary magazine?
The third (beginning of summer, middle of campus) and fourth (this past Thursday) times I ran into the guy worried me. I thought, Is there something about me in particular that signal to him I’m vulnerable and/or should be a target? I believe these men look for women with low self esteem; is there anything about me that’s giving that vibe? I wear professional athletic clothes and no makeup. Maybe he thinks because I’m not putting in an effort to perform beauty the way some men think I should (makeup and fancy clothes) that I have low esteem.
But I wonder if I were dressed like a more traditional employee—maybe a facilities uniform or at least office wear—then he wouldn’t approach me.
By this last meeting, I was deeply concerned that he actually knew me or recognized me. Even if he’s going the random pickup line route, four times between two semesters is a lot, especially picking me out of a crowded sidewalk.
But he doesn’t see me at a person, he sees me as a target. I wonder if the hyena recognizes the lizard it eats, or do they all look the same? (I’m not likening him to any cool predators, so my metaphors are limited). Maybe only the deer says, “Oh, shit. There’s that cayote again!”
Whether he recognizes me or not, I recognize him. And I hate that guy. My neck tightens when I see him, and I walk by wishing I said something more aggressive.
I did get a cookie—M&M. But I took one bite after paying, standing by the fruit display outside, and found I’d lost my appetite. I threw it in the garbage by the subway as I turned to walk home.
I wonder how many moments of my vacation will be disrupted by moments like this? In just the first hours, two men (both of whom what to “fuck all woman”) took my out of it. But I’ve heard good things about Chicago. Maybe they’ll just intimidate us because we’re queer—wouldn’t that be refreshing!