Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Do they make masks for verbal toxicity?

Coming back from an interesting meeting where I met a lot of very competent and clever people, learned a lot just by watching them work, I was riding the subway.

A woman sits right across from me, on one end of the seat. Her legs are crossed.

A guy, about my age, carrying a newspaper, fashionably dressed, sits down next to her (it's a 3-seater bench, there are plenty of places to sit, the train isn't crowded at this time of afternoon) and basically stomps on her foot.

"Excuse me!" she says.

He leans towards her and says: "You were taking up way more space than just one seat." His manner is very aggressive. My body starts to respond and I am wondering if I am going to have to stand up and flatten him (which itself wouldn't be very smart, but that's what's happening). She gets up and goes to the door, and he mutters, "fucking cocksucking bitch."

Then he pretends to read his paper. I sit there, leaning back, glaring at him.

She is at the door as the train pulls into the next station, and turns around. "Is that any reason to attack someone? You stomped on my foot."

He leans forward. "You are talking as if you were right, but you have no idea how stupid you look. Buy a clue, Miss."

She gets off the train. He goes to his paper. I'm two stops away. I glare at him for two stops. I suppose I am hoping he looks up and challenges me. I am thinking about physical violence, which would be inappropriate in this situation, but might have been appropriate if he had continued to escalate and actually touched her. But in fact it wouldn't have.

Nor can I think of anything to say. On the walk home from the station I thought of what I might say in a situation like that. He didn't continue to hector her, so there was no need to intervene. I just wanted to impose some kind of cost on him for doing that, but I couldn't think how.

In retrospect I think what I should have done was threaten to press the emergency button. I think I should have said something like: I would testify in court that you just assaulted that woman. If you keep behaving like that, someone is going to press the emergency button on you. Or, more simply, something like one day you will stomp on the wrong person's foot, and then proceed to threaten to pull the emergency button if he got belligerent.

I'm not physically or verbally fearful in most situations, and by that point I would actually have been relieved to be fighting that dude, but nor have I ever gotten into a physical altercation of this type (except in a couple of instances where I had to intervene in actual, ongoing assaults, which I did as part of a team without much physical or legal risk as the authorities were right behind) and it would have been stupid to do so. My instincts were to get physical, when they should have been to get legal, so to speak. But I left feeling very frustrated, like the bastard got away with it, and we all had to suffer from his disgusting behavior.

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