I had a strange experience on the subway this week. Not the first, and undoubtedly not the last, but definitely the strangest thus far – and on the day that marked my one year anniversary in New York.
A sign? I hope not.
Sitting, reading, minding my own business, I heard the “good afternoon ladies and gentlemen” intro of a regular beggar from the opposite end of the carriage. Mooching along the train, I could hear his voice growing nearer and nearer, everyone dutifully averting their eyes from his grubby open palms.
I looked up to see if I recognized him, but this one was new. He was my age, white, with wild blue and purple hair, and wearing a long, cream floating garment that looked like a leftover costume from a nativity play. His face was bright and animated, and he almost seemed like a lost – albeit toothless – drama student.
I resumed my routine of burying my face in a book so as to avoid the awkward shoulder shrug that tries to say “sorry-I-don’t-have-any-change” without having to actually open your mouth and speak. However, when he reached me, he stopped dead in his tracks.
Crouching down to a squat position, he faced me, peering upwards over the rim of my book into my panicking eyes. The conversation went something like this:
Boy: “Will you be my girlfriend?”
Me: (laughs) “Maybe!” (Thinking that was a friendly banter-type joke, surely).
Boy: “So, can I come with you to wherever you’re going?”
Me: (still laughing): “I don’t think they’ll let you in!” (They wouldn’t)
Boy: “Well, can I have your number?”
Me: “Hmm, I don’t think so!” (Suspicious)
Boy: “Well, then, maybe you should take my number?”
Me: (still laughing, going very red – entire carriage watching at this stage) “I think my actual boyfriend might object, sorry!” (This guy has a phone??)
Boy: “Aw shucks, okay, I’m sorry ma’am, you have a good day now!”
And so, with that, the boy tottered off, his swaddling streaming behind him.
Feeling the red hot burn of embarrassment scalding my face, I continued to laugh nervously, looking around to my fellow passengers for the kind of laugh that strangers offer in those situations – one that says something along the lines of “my gosh, aren’t these people funny!” or “you must be so relieved that’s over, haha!” Instead, I was met with the total opposite.
The three sitting opposite me chose to glare at me in horror, one man even looking me up and down, from head to toe, in total disgust. The people surrounding turned to each other and murmured general disapproval. The woman next to me, however, was the worst.
Pushing 70, silver hair in a “practical” haircut, she sat back in her seat and proceeded to tut at me. She actively turned to look directly at me, shaking her head, wagging her finger and tutting. Did I miss something?
Quickly adjusting my laughs to coughs, I put my head back in my book before scanning the carriage one more time. Yup. Everyone still staring and glaring at me like a common hussy who had just performed explicit pole dancing at noon on a Sunday. What did I do wrong?
I mean, sure, he’s probably not the cleanest person in the world, but it’s not like I threw a sign around his neck saying “free hugs” and held everyone at gunpoint lest they strip naked and embrace the guy.
Two stops later, everyone else resumed their subway rituals of staring into space or loudly playing Candy Crush, but that old broad next to me continued to stare, tut, brush herself down, cross and re-cross her legs and constantly fluff her hair saying “Hmph! Hmph!”
The only woman in the world who is allowed to tut at me, is my own grandmother, and it would quite literally take the aforementioned display of afternoon Coyote Ugly before she would do such a thing. I don’t know what this woman’s problem was, but her sense of authority over me left me peeved.
I have the utmost respect for my elders, and in fact, for humans in general – hence the seemingly harmless chat with my swaddled friend – but when did it become okay to audibly pass judgment on a total stranger?
While I realize this doesn’t strictly fall into the category of dating because realistically, I was never going to elope with this toothless lad, and I don’t imagine his success rate has increased since our encounter, I couldn’t help but wonder what else makes that old woman tut, and what kind of satisfaction she gets from it.
Regardless of the fact that, in my eyes, I had done nothing wrong, I still felt hugely ashamed because of the way she looked at me. Half of me wished that my real boyfriend was there so we could engage in some highly offensive public displays of affection to give her a harsh welcoming to the 21st century (although he would rather eat glass), and the other half wanted to grovel, cry and beg for her forgiveness.
Our elders are a product of their generation – forgivable, understandable, and respectable. Fine.
Now I wonder, will we be a product of ours while we totter about on zimmer-frames? Will we smoke fags, brandish tattoos, braid our hair and laugh heartily as couples make-out on public transport, or young, unassuming women engage in witty (if I may say so myself) conversation with homeless thespians?
Or will we chop the locks, don sweater-sets and purse our lips, tutting away to our hearts’ content?
Chances are, by the time we hit 70 the “youth” will be up to all kinds of nonsense that we would never have done “in our day.” Perhaps I will find myself tutting at afternoon subway strippers before I kick the bucket.
So, all fantasies of further upsetting this lady with acts of the goddam times diminished, I accepted my punishment: “Twelve tuts, and twelve Hail Mary’s.”
Somewhat expectedly, as she got up to leave, she turned to give me one last, aggressive and saliva-spouting “TUT.” Wiping her peppermint spit from my coat sleeve, I decided I would continue to chat to homeless people and relish in the disapproval of such elders while I am still young enough to do so.