Oh, what a man I was. What a hero. A credit to my gender.

I called in sick the other day to attend the soon-to-close Cubism exhibit at the Met. My priorities are seriously fucked. Risking my employ just to look at some art is mental. But it’s an historic gathering of paintings, never to be repeated. It’s important to me. It’s meaningful.

The Met doesn’t open until 10:00 and I had time to kill. At 6:00 a.m. I walked into the Starbucks on Lexington Avenue across from the Chrysler Building, bought a coffee, took a seat, opened my laptop and crawled inside. It was just me and the two young girls behind the counter.

The door opened with a swoosh and a bang. A disheveled, agitated man stomped up to the counter. He was a giant. I’m 6’ and he was easily a few inches taller than me and broader. His hands were clenched into fists. They look like two softballs. He yelled at the girls, “Gimme a cuppa hot water!”

“Would you like anything else?”

He snapped back, “I just said hot water, didn’t I? Did I ask for anything else?!

We call those guys time bombs. They move through the city in slow motion like they’re anesthetized or walking under water. But at any moment—on the subway, in the middle of 6th Avenue, in a coffee shop—they detonate. And when they do, you wish you were someplace else.

They gave him his hot water, he took a seat and seethed. The air was thick with his anger. You could feel it. I got lost in my work but a few minutes later I snapped-to because he was standing at the counter screaming at the girls, calling them the most foul, hateful things you can call a woman. And what did I do about that, brothers and sisters?

I sat there like the useless lump I am and stared straight ahead into my screen.

He’d have pulverized me. I don’t know how to fight. I imagined my daughter’s tears when I walked in the house with my face smashed in. I was supposed to be home sick. How was I going to explain it at work? But what difference does any of that make? I sat there.

He never laid a hand on them but those poor girls took a proper beating. He finally ran out of gas and left. A minute later, one of them walked over to me and said, “I’m so sorry about the disturbance. Would you like a free refill on your coffee?”

The final humiliation.

“No, thank you,” I said. I stammered an apology for not helping. I might not know how to fight, but I’m awfully good at apologizing. She said it’s no bother. That it happens all the time. As if that made it okay.  I tucked my tail between my vagina and went to the museum.


I struggled with whether or not to include the fact that he was black. Does injecting race into the mix change anything? The girls behind counter were black as well. He attacked them for being women but he also attacked them for being black. So that’s a different post, isn’t it? When race enters the conversation, it changes the temperature in the room.

I have a precedent for being such a coward. New York hasn’t always been so nice to me. It was a mess when I first got here. I’ve been mugged three times. All three times it was by black men. (Men. Plural. Never just one). The second time I was mugged they didn’t even take anything. They just punched me in the face a few times and kept walking down the street, laughing. I had moved to Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Fort Greene is a gentrified artist’s colony now, but back in the early ‘90s it was violent. I was one of only three white guys living on the block. I wasn’t welcome and they let me know.

Have you ever been mugged? It stays with you a long, long time. The revenge fantasies go on forever. So, yeah, giant, angry, insane black men scare the shit out of me.

The rest of the day unfolded like some sort of Bizzaro World miracle. It went from everything you’d hate about New York to the very best this place has to offer. From an ugly fright to this:

Click on this. It’s just beautiful. 

central park snow2How do you hate a place this dynamic? You can’t. You just can’t!

108 thoughts on “Oh, what a man I was. What a hero. A credit to my gender.

  1. That’s an ugly situation with no great solution. Who knows? Had you gotten involved, maybe things would’ve escalated from verbal to physical, putting all three of you in harm’s way. Sometimes the best way to handle people like that is to let them have their steam. This isn’t the movies. The hero can’t come save the day. Who knows what he would’ve done had you confronted him? I think the only thing to do would be to call the police if he had escalated to the point you were worried he’d physically assault someone. Definitely a tough situation to be in.

    • Maybe? I’m pretty sure if I had gotten up and walked over there I’d have had my clock knocked out of commission. My greatest fear was that he might have a weapon. So I kept my mouth shut and wished it away. I got my wish, too.

      The good news is that over the last couple of days, I’ve broken just about every bone in his body. So there’s that to celebrate.

  2. NYC is simultaneously the greatest and worst city in the world.

    (But if you’re up for a trasatlantic trip, the UK will have a massive Koonz retrospective later in the year in Norwich.)

    • Look who the cat dragged in! I’m very happy to see you. Hope you’re well. I saw that Koonz exhibit at the Whitney before it closed. I guess it’s easy to scoff at his work but I thought it was great fun. Do you care about Cubism at all? That exhibit is up at the Met through February. It’s worth seeing. And, yes, this is an excellent time to go to England. The US dollar is one of the most powerful currencies on the planet. It’ll be cheap to travel.

  3. Would you have done anything differently if he had crossed from verbal to physical assault? I agree with you that you have no idea what could have happened had you intervened, but I’d like to think that if it became violent you might have done something.

    I won’t judge at all, because I’ve been lucky to not be in those situations very often and none where my willingness to physically step in to protect someone else was tested.

    And I’m so happy I can comment in my reader now 😀

    • I couldn’t help thinking that if it were one of my daughters behind the counter I’d have jumped on that guy. I still would’ve taken a good beating, but I would’ve done it. So what’s the implication? That the girls working there weren’t worth fighting for?

      I’m glad you can comment too. A whole new world!

  4. I’ve got Richard Ford on the brain, just having finished his horribly named Let Me Be Frank With You. Ford, or his narrator Frank Bascombe, doesn’t shy away from race, and by that I mean if someone is black, he describes them as black, not squeamish about it, or the least bit racist, simply providing information. I think when you and I were being raised, we were taught that we should be blind to race, that we were all the same and race doesn’t matter. But of course we aren’t and it does.
    More important than race? The violent mentally ill.

  5. I agree with Carrie. With our crazy-ass gun laws, you really just don’t know. The possibiluty that things would have escalated is very real. And constant in our society.

    Rescuing is risky business.

      • Stop it. You did neither. Actually, i think you did OK. Yes, being an avenging angel would have been great. Maybe. Maybe not.

        Those women probably get treated roughly with scary regularity.

      • It’s my impression that women have to put up with all sorts of nonsense from men. I dated a girl who told me men flashed her on the subways all the time. I guess it wouldn’t be right to lock my daughters in the basement until they’re 32, but it’d save them a lot of grief.

    • I thought NYC has a no gun policy unless you had a permit. What is the crazy gun law that you are inferring? You’re right about escalation. It can go immediately to a death match.

      • I meant that generally, I have no specific knowledge of NYC gun laws. Here in VA where I live, though, folks can take their guns pretty much wherever they choose. Including into bars, because alcohol and guns are such a charming combo.

      • Did you read about the 2-year old who took his mother’s loaded gun out of her purse in a Walmart and shot her dead? It took place in Idaho where, apparently, walking around with a loaded gun is all the rage.

        IDIOTS.

      • Yes. And yes. These days, no natter where you are you HAVE TO think somebody might have a gun. Even a 2 year old.

      • If that lunatic in Starbucks had started shooting, I would’ve thrown a chair through the window and ran like hell. You can’t outrun a bullet but zig-zagging helps, I hear.

      • You can’t outrun sn aligator either. But i have heard that zig-zagging works there, too. Staying alive is getting complicated.

      • I think some people don’t pay any attention at all to that gun law you refer to. (Although, in its defense, NYC had a record low number of homicides last year. People are coming to their senses.)

  6. if I had been in your place of what ever sex (it does not matter) you did absolutely the right thing by not saying anything and/or reacting in any manner. If ACTION begins and then there is REACTION then you’ve got a mess on your hands or on your body.

    In a case such as the one you encountered you have no idea if the person has a weapon or not. Best to act as if you are deeply absorbed just as you did with your computer. I keep wondering if you had a way to get put of there without him redirecting his anger to you. Frankly I would have be scared right out of my shoes. Maybe that was your bad karma for calling in sick. 🙂

    • In the cold light of hindsight, it looks like there wasn’t much I could have done. Logic dictates that getting involved could have been a terrible mistake. But in the heat of it, watching those two girls be called every horrible name in the book, I was overwhelmed with helplessness and humiliation. That guy deserved a good beating. I’m just not the guy to administer it.

  7. Actually, I think you made the right decision. Carrie is right. What about a weapon, and sometimes people just need to blow off steam. Challenging this guy would most likely have put the situation in unpredictable territory. Then things could escalate and get very violent. How horrible that you were mugged three times. I think that must color your decision, too, when you think about self-preservation. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I can’t imagine as it has never happened to me. Give yourself grace. Look at your two New Yorkers talking about all the fun activities you can have. Now you can put this out of your mind. And I think you have a good attitude about it. You take the good with the bad.

    • I’ve never been in a fight in my life and I’m not about to start now. (Actually, that’s not entirely true. I beat up Ron Arbogast in 6th grade but that doesn’t count. He started it.) But during the entire episode my inner-dialogue was, DO SOMETHING. I did nothing.

      Overall, I’d rather take New York than leave it, warts and all. But, Jaysus, this place really tests your resolve once in a while.

  8. I’m with Carrie on this Mark – any interference on your part would have triggered a violent reation on his. An argument could be made that you could have called the cops provided he couldn’t overhear. But so could the girls. People like that (unstable) sldom leave the neighborhood so it is likely he has done this before, which was why there was a noticeable lack of action on the girls part. I ran in and out of the docks in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the markets in the Bronx, Hunt’s point, Harlem. You develop a sense of danger impending and the situation you describe is one of those – the trigger was set and it just needed someone like you to trip it. I actually never had a problem at any of those places but I had an ace up my sleeve. We used to use unskilled helpers for unloading that were called “lumpers”. I came upon an excellent lumper early in the game and whenever I had a load for NYC or Newark, I’d page him and he would meet me at the edge of the city and ride in and then help unload and then i’d drop him off, He carried. It was a sweet deal although it cost me a few extra bucks for the service, one flash of the pistol and no one bothered us. Besides knowing his way around, he was funny as hell – a huge black guy with scowl that would burn a hole in brick wall and a laugh that shook the truck. At the time I had a bright orange Kenworth – I had bought it used that color, as those had been the fleet colors where it had come from. And that man loved that bright orange truck. His face would light up whenever he spotted the truck.

    Anyway, I’m rambling – sorry – you did exactly the right thing Mark. As a totally unrelated aside, i did a guest post over at Cordelia’s Mom http://cordeliasmomstill.com/2015/01/08/holy-rollers-guest-post-by-paul-curran/comment-page-1/#comment-7843 I’d be honored if you’d drop by fpr a read. Thanks!

    • The episode unfolded so quickly that I doubt the cops could have gotten there in time. There was only me, and I didn’t do a damn thing. That was probably the smart thing, but it sure didn’t feel like the right thing. The girls seemed remarkably unphased. As if they really do go through that on a regular basis. I think I was more rattled than they were.

      Obviously, I’m not at all bothered by black folks. I had a black roommate when I first got to NYC and my first apartment was in a black neighborhood. I never thought about it. But for a while there, I caught myself crossing the street if I saw a group of black kids approaching. It was a knee-jerk response to what had happened to me.

      I love the term “lumper.” It’s phonetically appropriate for what it’s describing. That’s a good one.

  9. It’s not your job to confront every angry beast. All he did was growl, so in this case discretion was indeed the better part of valour. You’ve got to admire the girls for being so calm and unruffled, and being concerned for how the incident affected you, their customer. Is there CCTV in these places?

    • But, boy, could he growl! That guy might have been all bark and no bite, but he radiated threat, nonetheless. I suppose they’re equipped with CCTV but that would have just resulted in a grainy film of me getting my ass kicked. Who knows? I might have been a YouTube sensation. The hero/fool.

  10. I don’t think you’re a pussy for staying out of it. Well…not much of one..;)
    There’s very little you can do in that situation because yelling at him would just add fuel to fire and probably cause more damage. You have to let people with this kind of angst against the world just vent and try to remain as calm as possible although it is not fair for those girls or you as customer to feel threatened like that. Where were New Yorks Finest at this time? Last time I was there, coppers were on every block!
    Why don’t you buy a taser? You could become the new secret, vigilante batman of the streets.

    Do we get to see pics of the exhibition?

    • How erotic is it if you’re being threatened by some idiot and a man steps out of the crowd and lays him flat with a proper punch? That’s what I wanted but instead I spent those moments begging not to be see or involved. I should have just screamed like a little girl. Maybe a cop would have heard. Funny you should mention a taser. That’s one of my revenge fantasies. Also, some mace, a roundhouse kick to the belly and some broken kneecaps, too.

      My next post will be about the exhibit and what followed. It really was one of the more miraculous days I’ve had in quite some time. Quite a dramatic arc in an 18-hour period.

  11. Well that post was a visceral shot to the gut… I don’t know what I would have done in the coffee shop. I hope I would have stood up and said something. I have a pretty great tendency towards doing things that are symbolic but not ultimately all that helpful or smart, just because I can’t control myself. I find the crunchy bones of being full of rage to be somewhat pleasing, but for me – as opposed to the twat who thought it was okay to scream at those girls like that – I exercise it for reasons of injustice. Every year that goes by, that little flame gets more muted, and some day I just won’t feel it, I think. I hope that day crosses over with my expiry.

    Well, I think I would have said something to him… but how do I know? When I was twenty and without kids, I might have. I might just have been that stupid, that alone, that fresh into the world that the illusion of setting things right might have trumped any other card. Now? I have three kids. I want to see them through, to help in whatever way that I can. To just be there. So what would I have done? I think that is the type of question I typically answer by fabricating a situation, sitting down with a bottle of scotch, and writing the rage out of me. That’s what typically gets me through a day.

    I hope you’re planning on showing some images of the Cubism exhibit, would really like to see those.

    • It’s three days later and I’m still tormented over it. I still wish I had done something. Anything. It would’ve landed me in all sorts of trouble, at the very least at my job. It’s not far-fetched to imagine I might be in the hospital. But I still wish I had done something. Anything.

      • You, like the rest of us presumably, are only human. You can’t save the world. I always thought that doing things within your reach to make things better could do something postiive. But I never know. I just never do. What would my reaction have been if I read a post wherein you had done something? I would have cheered you. Absolutely fucking right. And so would everyone else have, because I think deep down that’s what we want to see from others and ourselves. We long for that, but there are lots of reasons to not go there, and they are some very very good reasons.

      • We all want the Hollywood ending. I saw that once. As I mentioned above, a colleague of mine who is a black belt whooped ass on some guy in the subway. It was a glorious moment. I chose a more quiet and introspective reaction.

        I’ve got a few shots of the exhibit and some nice Central Park snow shots I’ll post next week

  12. I agree with the general trend of replies, intervening would have made the situation worse, but I understand your frustration. Don’t be tormented over this one… there are plenty of other things to be tormented about 🙂
    Sx

    • But imagine if I had intervened and came out on top. What a great blog post THAT would’ve been! Plus I would’ve been a hero to those two pretty young girls. Who knows. (Am I really going there?) Instead, I put my sorry ass on display for your entertainment. You’re welcome, world!

  13. I don’t think any less of you for not saying anything these days there are so many people that carry guns you just don’t know. I would have had the biggest eat shit look on my face that it would have been worse than anything I could have possibly said to him and made sure he saw it. But that probably could have gotten me in trouble so probably better that I was not there…..as you know I am usually not at loss for words.
    Regardless of his race I would have had the same reaction so I don’t see that as an issue.

    • Sometimes, all it takes is a look to set off one of these time bombs. You don’t have to say or do anything. Eye contact is usually sufficient to light the fuse. You’d have been better off with a surprise attack.

  14. It’s about balancing risk. I agree with the others, I can only picture a worse outcome if you had intervened, it would have escalated, it’s not like he would have said “You’re right buddy, I’m a jerk, sorry gals!” and left. On the other hand, I totally get that you’re beating yourself up about not doing anything, but sometimes not doing anything is the best thing, it’s just that it doesn’t necessarily feel like it. Is there something you can do that could make you feel better? Like donate some money to a women’s refuge or something? Doesn’t have to be a lot, but knowing that the donation is not something you would have done otherwise, therefore that event has triggered you doing something that will make a difference to someone. Would something like that help you to stop beating yourself up about it?

    • An act of contrition is a suburb idea. It never dawned on me. Thank you, blogging community! Do you know what this is about? It’s about feeling powerless in the face of raw aggression. This is a very old emotion and if you consider the scope of suffering that’s gone on, and continues to go on, because of ruthlessness, what happened to me is pretty small potatoes.

      Beating myself up is something I’ve done my whole life. I try to stop but it’s a nearly inseparable facet of my personality.

      • I will post soon! Because I have the food blog as well that I tend to post more often on, I feel like I’m posting regularly, well I am, but not as regularly on my main one! I actually had something that I thought would be ready to post this week, but it wasn’t quite ready (I’m waiting on someone else), so that should be early next week! It’s nice to be missed.

  15. That’s a tough call. You never know what kind of maniac you’re dealing with. I probably wouldn’t have done anything either, unless he began to physically assault them.

    • That’s the thought that was rattling around inside my head. If he started beating on those girls, I really would have ran over there and suffered the consequences. The verbal stuff was bad enough but I don’t think I could just sit there and stare into my Gmail account while she was being pummeled.

  16. I wonder if you’re measuring yourself by standards set in the movies? John Wayne, Charles Bronson, and other Hollywood heroes all had scripts with writers on their sides. You were in real life. You seem to feel anguished about this. That’s heroic enough, as there are some people who would find it funny, or otherwise wouldn’t give a damn about what those girls were going through. Just your presence, staring into your laptop, may have been enough to deter that man from escalating further. But had he escalated, who knows what you may have done? That man sure didn’t know. And he apparently chose not to find out.

    • Welcome to the show! I will waive the first-post pastery requirement because I’m in a good mood.

      Yes! My attitudes, outlooks and expectations have all been polluted by Hollywood. I’m going with that. There’s actually some truth to it. I wonder if that dude even knew I was there? He might not have. I was sitting a ways away from the counter. I’m happy to report that my revenge fantasies (and subsequent reward fantasies) are beginning to subside. I should be back to *ahem* “normal” by Sunday.

  17. In an ideal world you carry the tools necessary to stop violent behavior, with the minimum force necessary. Immediately walk out of store and call 911. If harassment continues pepper spray him. That should do the trick. If he becomes violent and you are not in NY you could then legally present your concealed handgun to the ‘ready’ position and loudly shout “Stop, don’t come any closer”. If he continues to advance you shoot him. If you are in NY and don’t fight like Bruce Lee and have no pepper spray, you sit and stew as you did.

    • That last option you describe? The one I exercised? That’s the boring one. The pepper spray sounds like a lot of fun. I’d have liked that. But who thinks you’ll need pepper spray in Starbucks?! What was I going to do? Poke him in the eye with my gift card?

  18. i don’t know if you read “waiter rant,” but he did a post back in december http://waiterrant.net/2014/12/a-mans-got-to-know-his-limitations/ that spoke to this very thing. you mentioned that the two women seemed to have experienced this before and probably, i’m guessing, knew to just let the guy rant, blow off his steam and leave. to my mind, your not interfering, but being aware, was the smartest move for all of you.

    you mentioned that you were hesitant to mention race, i have to admit, as i read the first section, i assumed all the players were white. i don’t know what that says about me, sweet pea. xoxoxox

  19. We are wired how we are wired, and PTSD can re-wire you into things you never thought you’d be. Interesting to me, as you described him in the introductory section, i visualized him as white. Here in Oh-HI-ya, we have a LOT of those big boys, loud and ticking… To me? It does gently change the situation when you mention that he, and the workers, were black. i couldn’t begin to tell you why – and i’m sure it has something to do with my white privilege. A word i am learning to spell. Because we need to…

    Don’t beat yourself up, and be glad that someone else didn’t do it for you.

    • Can you imagine the dynamic if he was this black behemoth and they were two little white girls? I wonder I’d that would have made a difference to me? I wonder if that would have been a call to action? I hope I never find out.

  20. Next time this happens be the even more crazy, disturbed mad man. Go up beside him and start yelling and screaming at the counter girls, calling them even more degrating names. He will think you’re nuts and leave. Then profusely apologize to everyone.
    Quit posting that you are playing hooky from work. You will have some ‘xplaining to do Lucy’ with the Man. But thanks for doing it and looking forward to your takes on the pics. Please include some of the Thomas Hart Benton art. Say that fast 3 times.

    • I think that guy could have out-crazied me. And out-punched me And punched me out. It would have been a giant mess but I still feel the fool. I should have just tried to talk calmly to him. Instead, I was paralyzed with fear. Not my finest hour.

      That Benton mural is fantastic. There’s a great video that tells the story of how it came to be (recently) acquired by the Met. Benton’s work–and especially that mural–had fallen out of favor thanks to Pollock and the Abstract Expressionist movement. It was left for dead. Thank God the Met saved it because it’s a beauty.

  21. I have never been mugged so I can’t even imagine what you went through. And three times?! Good lord! As for that guy, I would think most people would probably have done the same. We never know how we’ll react until we’re actually in the situation. I think if you did intervene, the situation would have escalated into much worse.

    • What do you mean? You get mugged every year by winter.

      You’d have thought I’d leave NY after the first mugging. Or the third. But nooooooo, not me. Too young and dopy for common sense.

      I used to read you a lot during the LeClown era. Interesting times.

      • I have never been to NYC. I’d love to visit someday! I’ve lived near Seattle, Orlando…visited DC numerous times (one time was almost shot at during a gang fight), ….but by far the scariest city I’ve ever visited was Detroit. Walked around a dead body at Joe Louis arena. Drive-by shooting at our motel.

        And just the mention of Le Clown gives me the shudders.

      • Okay. You win. Was this a scary city contest? Because in the 20+ years I spent in NYC, nothingn touched what happened to you in Detroit. I’ll send s prize.

        Before I migrated from Blogger to WP and gave it a new skin, I blogged as The Unbearable Banishment. Now my URL is shorter and streamlined. I get better mileage due to less wind resistance.

  22. Hi Neighbor…I would totally bag out on work for a worthy show…I just try to get work to believe there must be some reason I have to go and inspire myself…the joys of working in fashion is that they actually buy it sometimes for the right exhibit!

    I don’t know about the mugging thing, you really never just know with angry people, it could have been worse….

  23. These guys live in every city and come in all shapes, sizes and colors… the service workers of the world are used to them and you did the right thing, i once told one to quiet down so i could hear myself think and when he started on me i just blankly stared at him and calmly got up and stood there, of course being close to 6’5 helps and he kept yelling but backing towards the door… the first time i had a gun waved in my face i was walking home from the bar late on night and a cat took issue with a white guy with dreads, when his friends got him to settle down i did the Usain Bolt to the nearest corner, might have been the fastest 100 i ever ran, of course i won’t mention how many little scraps i’ve been in, lost one when i was 15 and ended up with 17 stitches putting my upper lip back together, then when i was 18 i fought a gang member to a draw, he was kicking my ass until he threw me over something and i scissor locked him with my legs and was breaking his ribs, we ended up being friends, there’s more but i’ll stop, these days i try to stay out of trouble haha…

    And for the record i used to blow off work whenever the Warhol would have an exhibit that caught my eye, i’d go and wander around and then head to an over-priced Plastic Paddy pub and ruminate about what i’d just seen over a Guinness and then head home, it’s called staying sane… now i gotta make some Belgian Waffles, the boyos are hungry.

    • You’re going to laugh but while this was going on I had a “what would kono do?” moment. Making someone think twice just by standing up must be a handy thing to have in your back pocket. We are cut from different cloth. I wish I had a little of your anger coursing through my veins.

      Whatever guilt I had been feeling about missing work has evaporated. The museum was empty. It was glorious. I’d do it again. I WILL do it again!

      • I was younger in those days, of course now and then i still tend to get a bit of the anger going but i prefer to call it “being passionate”, sounds better when i’m having tea with the PTA… and there’s something to be said for wandering around a place in early afternoon and being one of the few lucky souls there, it’s a bit like meditating without actually having to meditate, the mind just roams and runs…

  24. OK – two things. One of which may get me into trouble, but hey. Anyway, first off, you did the right thing (as many above me have talked about in a much more eloquent way than I would). Secondly, you did not tuck your “tail between my vagina ” and leave. You’re equating your self-perceived “weakness” with being female. Please don’t do that. We have enough issues without perpetuating the myth that because we don’t have a penis, we’re somehow weak.

    (told you that one might get me into trouble!)

    Much love from this side of the Alps x

    • I’ve been waiting to be called out on that. I’m kind of surprised it took this long. I saw it after it was posted but in the interest of ‘keeping it real,’ I decided to leave it in.

      You are correct. It’s a terribly unfair and ugly thing to say. A stereotype. But this is what poured out of my fingers. I’m not looking to defend what I wrote but there’s something biological that happens when a man feels threatened and is unable to defend himself. By and large, women aren’t as physically strong as men and that’s where our thoughts turn.

      • Happy to have been of service. I’m all for natural writing (as you know) so I’m not mad, just disappointed 😉

        Being female, I obviously don’t understand the male threatened feeling (although I’m sure some of my ex boyfriends do!) so I really can’t comment. And you’re probably right, if I were in a situation where I was threatened, although I’d like to think I’d stand up for myself, I might not. Who knows.

        Anyway, this is a conversation for another day!

  25. Sorry, I gotta answer before I look at the other comments, so I give my answer instead of a version of someone else’s that I like, and agree with. That is exactly why I would be scared to death to live in New York. That is also why Chicago terrifies me. I do not know the city well, but I do know the danger level can change by what side of the street you are walking on. Nope, I may not be much safer in the suburbs, but I have the illusion that I am. I don’t think you did anything wrong. The “large” man may have been happy to assault you, verbally AND physically. Somewhere inside me I doubt you would have sat by stoically had he gotten physical with the girls.

    • Actually, statistically speaking, you ARE safer in the suburbs! That’s one of the reasons why I bailed out on the city and relocated there after the daughter came along. Are you immune? Nope. But I like the odds better.

      New York used to be MUCH scarier. I’ll bet Chicago was, too. The subway was a fright. It’s a miracle I stayed past the first mugging. It’s not that I loved it so much. I didn’t have anyplace else to go. Nobody was more grateful for the economic Renaissance than me.

      • I had a Social Studies teacher in high school who vacationed to other countries. When she told them she was from Chicago they usually asked if she knew Al Capone then made a gun with their hands and said “bang-bang” I have lived in the suburbs my whole life, but made trips to downtown with my Grandma and I remember going to the Dr. and the Dentist in the city. Our home in the suburbs was built a year or 2 before I was born, so the rest of the family knew life in the city. I even have a memory of Riverview Amusement Park!

      • Is that what I did? I probably should date myself, I might be the only one who can handle me.

  26. Does it count as a mugging if a bunch guys approach you and demand money from you – but you successfully convince them that you have none? (They did get some cash from a friend I was with, so it was still a success for the muggers.) If so, that’d be probably 4 or 5 times, but never once in the US.
    I can’t judge you for doing nothing, because it’s likely that I might have done the same thing.

    • Yes, that’s a mugging. The intent was to forcefully take your money away from you. The fact that they didn’t succeed isn’t relevant. The threat is the main point, not the outcome.

      I should have tried to reason with him. Approach him with my hands up in supplication. Not in a threatening manner. That might have diffused it. I’d be a terrible hostage negotiator.

      • That actually could have worked. I didn’t even think of that, but you’d have a pretty good chance of not getting your ass kicked while still “doing something”. Why do we always assume that violence or implied threat of violence is the default way of addressing a situation like that? Even in the comments here, it was always an implied choice of only two options: standing up for the girls and getting your ass kicked, and staying put (while maybe calling the police) and not getting your ass kicked.

  27. Its weird how things can send echoes of shame through you for days. The reality is, though; to have got up and confronted him over being rude to a barista (which I think might be a universal truth by now) you would have had to be somewhat like him. Be thankful that you have a fuse of the right length. If you’d have walked over there, who’s to say those girls wouldn’t have just seen two of exactly the same sort of man vying for pointless dominance.

    • Days? How about years? That’s how long it took me to stop crossing the street when a group of black kids would approach me on my block back in Brooklyn. But I refused to move. I had a lot of support and that made me stay. Moments after my second mugging, a guy (black) came running up to me and said, “Why didn’t you start swinging?! I had your back?” I can’t tell you how much that meant to me at the time.

      I think the shame is a biological reaction, really. Something in our DNA.

      • To be honest. That’s something I’ve always wanted to say. Countless people have crossed the road on me, as you did those boys. Totally unaware and uncaring of the fact that they were safer for my presence. I think there’s such a bias towards the bad, and we take certain characteristics to be salient. Did the height of the boys make you more wary around people of say 6″, or 5″7? I’ve been attacked by people of another race too, been punched and spat on, called a “monkey c**t”. I try my hardest not to treat innocent people as if they are likely to behave like superficially similar others.

      • As I’m sure you’re aware, being punched is a very impressionable thing to have happen. You think about it for a quite a while. Thankfully, that knee-jerk reaction I had was just temporary. I was eventually able to cast aside all those preconceived notions and take people for what they’re worth, as opposed to filtering them through my past experiences.

        The focus on the negative is a sad part of human nature, I’m afraid. That’s why a fortune is made off of TMZ and similar garbage. Why is it so hard for people to be positive? Why is it more fun and so much easier to focus on the negative? The world may never have an answer.

  28. If the girls had been in physical danger, and you had had a reasonable chance of protecting them then doing something would have been heroic. But they weren’t, and what’s more, by taking action you could have put them, and you, in physical danger. Ergo by sitting quietly and not escalating things, when what you’d like to have done is punch him, you acted heroically.

  29. If you get a few numbers right and decide to come to that big Koons retrospective in Norwich that El Guapo mentioned, tell me beforehand. Norwich is absolutely nowhere near Lancaster, but I’ll buy you a drink and knowing your weakness to alcohol you can ramble on for a couple of hours about your revenge fantasies.

    • That’s a bold offer and I bet you think it’ll be a lot of fun but, trust me, if you ply me with alcohol you won’t be entertained. You’re going to wish I was on the next jet back in New Jersey. I’m too, too charming when I drink.

  30. We will find other amusements Mark. We can have a coffee and I’ll bring some more of those smutty British newspapers.

    I have every symnpathy for your response. The problem is that the way he behaved is an absolute outrage against all norms of civilised behaviour, but in the situation you were in, you couldn’t appeal to his deviation from those, because he doesn’t recognise them. Slight mental health problems maybe.

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