Monday, January 21, 2008

Never Make Eye Contact

I heard the ring - a pulsating tone from one of those two way radio things. It came from behind me, at the front of the subway car. Knowing better and ignoring that sense, I turned my head to look. I hate those things. People end up shouting into them with every turn in conversation preceding by a thought scattering "beep-beep.'

"What're you looking at tall guy!" I had already looked away, so the shouter was anonymous. It could have been any of the kids.

"Yeah, I'm talking to you in the beige! What do you think you're looking at!"

It's not beige. It's camel. Why am I letting these black, ghetto, teenagers bother me? Shouldn't they be in school? Am I being racist for hating them so much because my own thoughts and conversation keep getting derailed by their nonsense. Maybe I'm just a classist. Does the volume have to go up as the family income goes down? Why is every sentence punctuated with "n*" this and "n*" that.

Mark shook his head and gave a disapproving smirk, an inaudible tsk-tsk. He stood opposite me, holding the same pole, as the L Train passed underneath the East River.

"What're you smiling about guy in the green! Something funny!?"

Poor Mark. He had wanted to board at the front of the train but I had insisted on this position, calibrated for a perfect exit at my stop.

Then I compounded one mistake by making a meager gesture of defiance. To stand my ground or not show fear or protect my husband, I tuned back and stared. I looked some of them in the eye and didn't look away. I still didn't know which delinquent had been the shouter.

Nothing happened. I turned back to look at Mark.

"What're you lookin' at tall guy! Yeah! I'm going fuck you up. Seriously. What the fuck does he think he's lookin' at?"

I thought for sure they would get off at 1 st Avenue. There are still pockets of those neighborhoods that are poor enough for these jerks.

The taunts continued, through third avenue and onto Union Square - where Mark gets off the train to go to work. It didn't escalate, but remained a banal, persistent menace.

"Get off the train with me here and change cars. Please." Mark is often the most practical person in our marriage.

At the Union Square stop, we got off and quickly kissed goodbye. We ran back a car and passed the conductor. Mark held the door open so I wouldn't miss it. As the doors separated us, he waived good-bye. The L train all but clears out at that station so I had most of a bench to myself.

Should I do something? Tell the conductor maybe. That could be a whole other thing. They'd call the police. Could I even pick any of them out of a lineup?

The train stopped at 8th Avenue, the end of the line. As I walked out, I glanced back at the offending car. Those same kids were sitting there on the idle train as it waited to go right back where it came from.

Above ground, I sent Mark a text message to let him know that I had arrived safe. He worries.

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