A funny thing happened on the ride home from Manhattan yesterday. I got weirdly sexually harassed by a man and his overzealous knees. And I almost didn’t notice.
It was afternoon rush hour. I was overjoyed to have found a seat on the R train, also called the “Rarely” by New Yorkers due to its doddering pace and infrequency of service.
For those who don’t live in NYC, a brief but necessary primer about train configuration: The R is an older train, outfitted with a row of three, hideously orange seats against one side which sits perpendicular to an equally hideously orange two-seat row jammed against the window. This 3-2 configuration looks, coincidentally, like a lower-case letter “r.”
Okay. Now that you have the visual.
I was seated at the end of a three-seater, my right side to a dude seated who occupied the inside seat of a the two-seater, closest to the window. The real estate inside the train is tight. Your idea of personal space becomes very elastic when you live in a city of eight million people. Like I have ridden rush hour subways with strangers and felt afterwards that I’ve just experienced a 30-minute date.
That’s all prologue. So. Train starts up. I’m very into my playlist and the sweet, sweet digital cocaine that is my Solitaire game. I become aware at some point that Dude-to-My-Right’s knees are poking into the side of my ass. They weren’t before. Like, there had definitely been breathing space between us. But, look, I read a lot of superhero shit, and I know mutations can happen in an instant. It was possible he’d been bitten by a rare, height-inducing spider hiding in the window frame just waiting for its chance to begin the great spider overthrow of our species of which we’ve heard tell in legend, the one that will leave us all freakishly tall and unable to ride our puny trains anymore. So I shift my weight to the left and make room. Baby got back, but that back was 100% on the seat, not occupying no-man’s legroom in between us. Just so we’re clear.
I go back to listening to my music and working hard to beat my personal best of 92 moves. This is serious business. I am concentrating hard. I like it when the cards fall down in pretty rainbows of validation when I win. But, strangely, dude’s knees are back. Still, I’m only vaguely aware of this, because I am doing my thing, like fully formed humans with interior lives who just want to ride the train in peace and who are not looking for dudes to mess with them tend to do. I can only suppose that at some point, Mr. Jokes McKnees-A-Lot becomes frustrated with my lack of response/attention. And that’s when he amps up his game. I am now no longer able to escape the fact that he is vigorously rubbing his knees against the side of my ass, down my thigh, back up again, over and over, pushing a little harder each time. He is getting quite a workout. The side of my ass is getting quite a workout. Seriously, I got a spa massage not too long ago that was not this thorough. His knees are GOING TO TOWN on me. It is a rub festival.
Now, like many ladies who have lived life and experienced the things, like constant cultural denial of experience, the Obi-Wan Kenobi-ing of what our brains/eyes/ears tell us is going on, I slip into I Probably Got This Wrong mode. My mind wanders the aisle of Rationalizations R Us, taking shit off the shelves and dropping it into my Now Don’t Be Silly cart:
- He can’t get comfortable in that small seat. There’s nowhere for his legs to fit. Except for deeply and aggressively embedded in the side of my ass. Repeatedly.
- Hold on–what if he’s a massage therapist in training? Yes, yes, a non-conformist, Clint Eastwood-squinting-worthy anti-hero massage therapist no longer content to service his clients in the typical way. No! He’s all about the knees. It’s the start of a rubdown revolution. His shop will be called, “Healing Knee(d)s” or maybe “Let’s Knee-d It Out.”
- He’s a new breed of jazz percussionist: the knee-marimba player, and the side of my ass and thigh, his femur-tastic voyage. I AM PART OF AN ART PROJECT. MY ASS IS THE FUTURE!
- He really was bitten by a height-inducing spider. In a minute, his legs will shoot across to the other side of the train as he becomes our new arachnid-human overlord. Man. I really wish I’d had a chance to see Neko Case live before I became alien spider food.
Those eager knees go into overdrive. They hit eleven and set their sights on twelve. All I can think, as the skin of my thigh is abraded through my jeans is, “Goddamn, son, REALLY?”
And that’s when I know: Dude is not a new breed of massage therapist or an avant-garde knee-marimba player. He’s just a perv. Doing his pervy, uninvited thing. I abandon my shopping cart of rationalization right there in the aisle.
It made me think of this one time when I was taking my son, who was still a toddler, on Metro North to Westchester to visit a friend. After a brief, social pleasantries-with-strangers conversation, the guy in the seat opposite me also started in with a persistent leg seduction that I could not escape no matter how much I tried to move my extremities away. (Apparently, when I am harassed, it weirdly involves leg-to-leg contact. Like they all saw Harvey Keitel in “The Piano” too many times and decided they would be pretentiously arty in their uninvited lady-on-the-train rubbing. Is this a thing?) This is not to be confused with the time I turned a corner into the subway stairwell and was confronted by Masturbation Man which led to this awesome exchange with a cop:
COP: What did he look like? ME: To be honest, I didn’t see his face.
Anyway. Back on the R train, I have finally caught my snap about what’s going on with Knee-D’Oh (Who is not the chosen one…). But what he is doing is so awkward and bizarre and, well, absurd, that I do the only thing that comes to mind: I start laughing. Uncontrollably. I am just a giggling fiend. Those persistent knees suddenly freeze right in place. The rubbing and the contact ceases just as we hit my stop.
I exit the train, still laughing.
The whole walk home, I replay the exchange in my head with the requisite, “Wait…did that really happen? Was that what I think it was?” refrain. These are familiar questions. They’re the same ones I asked myself after my high school chemistry teacher got me alone in his back room and badgered me about my (non-existent) sex life and asked me if I’d ever had oral sex. It’s the same song I sang when another teacher told me my talent show dancing was “Very sexy; it turned on all the boys–it even turned me on. Would you like to choreograph something for me?” Or when an older man at the community theater rubbed his hand up the inside of my thigh while I was seated next to him, a signature move used on quite a few of the theater troupe’s teen girls. The same refrain when that swim coach at U.T. told me to hit the showers for my bronchitis then came into the shower and told me to take down my bathing suit top, etc. etc. “Wait, was that what I think it was?” is on the LP of Not-So-Greatest Ladies’ Hits, basically.
I thought about all the things I might’ve said to Knee Jerk if I’d been riding longer:
“Wait, you missed a spot. Lower, no, higher, a little to the left…”
“Hey, if I turn around can you get the other side? This right side’s played out, dude.”
“My turn to work on YOU! Okay if I use my nails?”
“Selfie time! Would you rather be tagged as Sir Fuckwit Asshat or UnwelcomeLadyPredator?”
“HEY, EVERYBODY! THIS GUY’S GIVING FREE ASS MASSAGES WITH HIS KNEES–WHO’S NEXT?”
But I had shit to do. So I moved on with my evening.
And though I’m sure it’s purely coincidental, I was up till 1:00 a.m. reading BITCH PLANET.