16 May 2006

Now for a P.S.A.

I am a proud public transport user. I treasure my monthly Metrocard (so much so that I occasionally allow it a vacation from use in the deep recesses of my overfilled purse) and relish my commute of reading and iPod time. And with a beautiful view of the Brooklyn Bridge to and from the office, you can't blame me for having a big ol' crush on the N train.

But there are other crushes on the N train. Of the human variety. Peak time in the morning can be a little uncomfortable for those afraid of close spaces or big crowds. As I said, though, I love public transport and cheerfully (OK, so maybe sometimes I'm a little surly about it, but you get my drift) relax my strong no-touching policies for the crush of humanity that, like me, is just trying to get to work.

Today, I left the house rather on time (hooray!). I caught the local to Pacific St., where an N was waiting. Clutching my overfilled purse and umbrella, I squeezed through the throng at the door to a place above the bench seats. As I grabbed the bar, I noticed a man's hand just next to mine. Then I noticed that the hand was connected to a body that was crowding me. A lot. I tried to inch forward, adjusted my belongings to give the dude some space, but he wasn't taking my efforts as a signal to readjust.

No, this dude seemed to get closer to me, in fact. It was a mildly crowded train, though not the worst I've encountered. So I was puzzled when it dawned on me that this fellow's body was pressed fully against me not out of necessity, but rather on purpose.

"No," I thought, "that can't be. Who would do that?" I leaned forward, putting my full weight on the hand holding the bar, such that I was dangling precariously above the lady seated in front of me. Then, thinking another subtle signal could be in order, I rocked back on my heels and pushed him. Maybe a little arm strain would inspire him to realize that he was crowding me.

No dice. We are body-to-body in a manner that it is very much not cool. I lean forward again. The woman in front of me peers around me, up at me, and around me again. She takes one of her earbuds out. She knits her brow, looks up at me, and I look down with an expression that is probably half apology and half mayday.

We are underground, so the window in front of me is dark. I plant my feet wide and stare at the reflection of man behind me. He comes up to my earlobe, and he makes eye contact with me over my shoulder. I stare. Hard. His thin mustache twitches and he looks away.

At this point, I cannot believe that someone is really doing this to me. And, though I'm not typically a shrinking violet, I find myself totally powerless. Ew. Ew. Ew. Who does this? Every time I muster the resolve to menace him with my umbrella, or snap a picture for Holla Back NYC, another part of my brain convinces me that there's no way I'm right about this. This must be some kind of mistake.

We engage in another stare-down before as the train gains altitude and we come up onto the bridge. His whole body is pressed against mine. The woman in front of me makes eye contact with him, I think, and he steps back. I stand flat-footed again and he backs off a little more. I look over my shoulder just to verify the crowdedness of the train. As I suspected, not roomy but no justification of full-body contact.

When we stop at Canal, he retreats quickly onto the platform. I take stock of my now-restored personal space. I realize that I have been frotteurized. But, of course, the ridiculous thing is that I did have a legitimate fight with myself over whether it was happening when I was in the moment. Because, rationally, you have to wonder what kind of person gets off on rubbing up against perfect strangers on a crowded train. Also, rationally, you wonder why a strapping thing such as myself experienced a real crisis over whether she should confront the small man with the thin mustache.

So, the point of this whole narrative (which is not meant to frighten my parents...I'm safe and fine and all that), is that this is not going to happen again. Firstly, after multiple staring matches with this guy, I'm pretty sure I could spot him on the platform again, and if I encounter him again, he's going to get the umbrella-menacing of a lifetime. Boy howdy.

Furthermore, while I think it's important to adopt an "we're all in this together" attitude and try to be accomodating when it comes to small crowded spaces (like planes and trains and elevators), it is also important to be aware and identify a frotteur (which translated from French, means "one who rubs") loudly and publicly should he or she take advantage of close quarters for a little fun. Do it when the doors are closed and they can't get away. After being made to feel like a gross, powerless object, your only recourse is public ridicule (and possibly misdemeanor charges if it was really bad).

image from cs.umd.edu


Anonymous said...

I am also a public transport user, and I've found myself once in this situation except it also involved a not so subtle boob grab. I was so reviled I had to ding the bell and get off of the bus mid route.:(

But during the whole 'rubbing' sequence I was questioning myself too. Apparently there is an element of testing - as in they will see if a female will respond to this kind of sexual threat, and if they don't they are more easily targetted as they are less likely to make a fuss if anything else were to transpire.

claire said...

I also had a rubbing experience on a crowded 4 train a few summers ago. instead of rubbing up against me with his body, however, this dude actually rubbed me. in my special place. not so fun. but, again, i couldn't believe it was happening and by the time i came to the realization that the rubbing wasn't a mistake, the doors opened and he ran off.

the most important thing to remember is that the rest of the people on your train are not going to stand for a frotteur. so you have to take the risk that it's a completely innocent mistake (it's not) and scream bloody murder. then let the rest of the train take its revenge.

frotteurs beware.

Cupcake said...

I agree. Whenever someone is in this situation it is normal to think, "This can't be happeneing. I must be getting this wrong." This leads to feeling pissed off, regretful and shameful later. If you don't want to cause a scene, move away. If you can't get away, you can always politley ask, "Would you mind backing off?" and if he leers at you: umbrella punch to the nuts.

tobs said...

i just threw up... a lot. outside of my mouth. should i fly up and help you scrub? i feel like cutting off my skin just hearing about it.

Joshua said...

Fucked up

Anonymous said...

Disgusting! You will have to ask Bridget about her equally gross Zurich train experience.

Well...desperate times call for desperate measures...It is time for the return of the Hatpin. I am sure Grammie can provide technique lessons...