In which Our Hero finds he is not above petty tit-for-tat behaviors, and in which a stranger passive-aggressively masturbates at him.
There are conventions that we all adhere to, however poorly verbalized. Men know them particularly well, because we are not permitted to stop and ask about them as we go through our day. The dance of aggression, dominance, and surrender are all tightly bound to our manhood. Every motion tells us something about who we are, declares it to the world, and scribes it on our soul. These are things of great moment; not light matters at all.
Urinals, for instance. For women, I imagine, enclosed as you all are in public restrooms, the selection of a stall is nothing. For men, urinal selection is a declaration of territory. If there are three urinals, all free, a dominant male will select the center; all must associate with him in their micturations, or wait. If a man is not prone to confrontation, he will choose from either end, and another man will have to be bold indeed to take the urinal next to his. It isn’t just territory, it’s very nearly rude. We are bound by our tool in this fashion in other ways, as well.
Like seats on the Max.
The Max at home-going rush hour is packed. Finding a seat is luck beyond imagining, as it means that the next 40 minutes are not going to be spent with one’s back slowly collapsing in on itself. There are the occasional testosterone-poisoned individuals who will, against all good breeding, take the aisle seat and then avoid eye contact with other commuters so that they don’t have to recognize the mute question, “May I sit there?” Eventually someone will give the question voice, and the seat is grudgingly given. Grudgingly, but without hesitation.
Today I there were three seats on the upper level, but six commuters before me. I had resigned myself to standing, but lo, there was a seat passed by and left empty. The companion seat, the window, was inhabited by a gentleman in flannel shirt and baggy pants worn low. He was barely into his 20’s, and was slouched at a diagonal, his ass resting on the border between seats, his feet at the aisle, and his bag resting on the aisle seat. He looked on each passing commuter with a cold gaze; one imagined that he was weighing his chances in an alley fight with each, and feeling pretty smug about his odds. This is male aggression at the level of spraying the couch.
I smiled warmly, met his eye, and utterly failed to notice his aggression. ”Excuse me.” It wasn’t a request. It was a friendly but entirely firm instruction to him: ”You will now excuse me by vacating the premises and letting me sit.” Boy talk is wonderfully succinct. He looked at me. I imagine, in his mind, that he wasn’t looking at me but Looking at me. It failed to change things, so he eventually (after the train had begun moving and I hadn’t gone away) moved his bag. Not his feet, nor his legs.
I’d won. I knew this more surely than I’d ever known anything. This ploy translates to English as “Fine, I’ll move my bag and pretend that you can sit, but we both know that you can’t touch another man in public, so if you want to sit you’ll have to sit on the extreme edge of the seat and be wildly uncomfortable. So there.”
But that’s passive aggressive, and I’ve walked that self-destructive path farther than most people understand it goes. Since everyone assumes that what we loathe to experience is what others will avoid, too, I understood that what he was actually saying was “I just gave all the important ground away, and told you what I would find unbearable — but I won’t give in with any grace.” I find that I’m becoming less tolerant of that behavior, and was moved to act out.
I sat with my backside firmly in the seat’s center, and my feet in front of me. I didn’t bump him, or try to nudge him out of the way. I slid my feet under and behind his, so I was seated properly and he was almost draped over my shins. I did the warm smile again, and then immediately lost interest in him, taking in the passersby, some of whom were attractive.
He knew he couldn’t move his legs, but he was obviously uncomfortable. I had invaded his personal space in a way that is outright forbidden by the unspoken rules. That I made eye contact again and smiled into his face from less than foot away was just — no, he couldn’t think on it. Too much. He tried staring out the window, but was becoming more aware of everywhere we were in contact. I was actually seated on a fold of his pants, and was gazing past him. I wasn’t trying to not meet his eye, I just didn’t find him interesting or important, and so didn’t do so.
This isn’t how it was supposed to go. Blocks passed, tense for him, entertaining for me, as he tried to find ways to increase my discomfort and throw the balance back his way. I cultivated the glassy-eyed stare that commuters get. Then he did the only thing that had impressed me. Having failed to do the macho stare-down successfully, and having failed at making my personal space too invaded to bear, he upped the ante.
He put his hand down his pants and began manipulating himself.
He rested his hand, there. When that failed to raise a brow, he began moving his hand back and forth, letting some air in. Then moving his hand up and down. (I couldn’t help but notice how short the cycles were — poor sap.) He kept glancing my way. I kept not caring.
I considered that he might actually be a bit more deviant than the norm, and this was his version of a pass, or his version of a fulfilling toss off the wrist — but there was none of the intensity that attends either one of those. No, this was more couch-spraying. I took in the scenery and got seriously drifty. He removed his hand and then replaced it to begin again, this time pulling out his waist band with the other hand, just to make the point. His shoulders, his neck, the angle of his head — he was avoiding me. I was more certain that this was not meant as a pass or a frolic. So I broke the personal space barrier, and let my shoulders open up and my arm drop to my lap. I’m kind of broad, so if I don’t hunch, my shoulders move right out of my seat and into the neighboring one.
Only two possibilities were in his mind; I was oblivious and was falling into his space, or I was deviant beyond imagining, and dangerously open to poorly groomed insouciant young men. Either one was too much for jackoff-boy. He abandoned his weenie to so he could move his legs away from me. I was still seated on his clothing, though, so he had to pull. He came free (heh.) suddenly, with the net effect leaving him shied away from me and against the window.
I folded my shoulders back into a polite position, still, apparently, drifty. I’d won; I didn’t need to rub it in.
His discomfort continued, and he rubbed at his jaw until he realized which hand he was using and had a visible start followed by a coughing fit. Maybe I’m reading too much in, here; he might have just been cleaning his fingers and something went down the wrong pipe.
He left at the next station.
Crossposted from Epinephrine & Sophistry