Shell of a Man

Shell of a Man

a woman got up 

stood at the subway exit door

I got up

stood behind her

she glanced briefly 

over her shoulder

she exited

I followed

up the stairs

outside the station

we both turned to the left

both crossed in the same direction

turned down the same side street

then another

 

I walked faster

to pass her

she walked faster

to escape me

we crossed at the same point 

she was practically running

 

I slowed 

saddened by what had happened

saddened

by merely being a man

she felt threatened

because my house

was along her route

 

this gender

this skin

is a shell that shouldn’t crack

a bowl to carry me through life

that doesn’t get questioned

doesn’t get handled roughly

directly

thanks

to my entitlement

of not having to worry

to apologize

for what isn’t my direct doing

 

I didn’t create this cultural context

in which women

fear men

yet I feel guilt

should I have taken a different way home

when I saw us walk 

in the same direction 

is her fear 

her insecurity

now my fault

 

how different from her

am I

I get the same anxiety 

when my sense of security 

is confronted 

by my assumptions of strangers

do young men alarm me

simply because they are young

how did age become weaponized

how did skin colour become weaponized

 

the world is on alert

trust no one

justify that lack of trust

by falling back on distorted news

by a history 

that suppresses facts in favour of controllers

by not acknowledging any complicity

in making them look pure 

not driven by greed

by the need to control

 

I just wanted to walk home

take my shoes off and relax

not feel the fragility of this shell

This was prompted by an actual event, or rather events, because this isn’t the first time this has happened – me and a random lone female getting on then off the subway train at the same time, walking in the same direction, as the same time. I’m always paranoid that as we walk she’ll stop, unknowingly at the sidewalk to my house, and confront me, mace me, kick me in the balls. 

So far no such confrontation has occurred. I don’t know of a way of reassuring anyone, of making myself appear non-threatening when this happens. At times I have not crossed where I usually cross but the defiance to my house is less than 5 minutes so there’s no real way to not go in the same direction. This reaction to her paranoia – I say her, as I’ve never happens when such accidentally-in-the-direction occurs with men.

I have female friends who tell me they have felt unsafe when a man walks behind them at night on the street. It saddens me. It one of the memento when I confront the this cultural context of fear. I feel very safe on the street at night, alone, but that is because I’m a man – not because I am necessarily safe – there have been shootings & stabbings all along the Danforth.

I have to admit though that I am less inclined go out at night unless I have a destination I want to get to. Even less inclined in the winter – icy, snowy, sidewalks can be treacherous enough in daylight – if slip and fall I want someone to see me asap. But the war on pedestrians is another issue.

In the piece I also look at this culture of paranoia regarding race & age. I have a black friend who still, in 2019, gets watched when he goes into a corner store. There’s a couple of corner shops in this area with signs that say ‘one student at a time.’ We have a US president who wants to build a wall to further the demonization of Mexicans (rather than rebalance the profit driven economy) – now that blacks have become a less sensational target.

Yeah a lot of that actually through my head when I’m accidentally going in the same direction as a woman. Sometimes I rather stay home at night than confront all that.


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Have A Seat

Have A Seat

she struggled

snuggled

into the subway seat

next to me

gave me an irritated glance

 

my knees were tight together

my shoulder bag on my lap

my elbows pressed to my waist

my ebook open and balanced

on top of my shoulder bag

taking up as little space as I could

 

‘do you mind’ she muttered

I pulled my feet closer

‘I said do you mind!’ she was angry

I chose to ignore her

I couldn’t take up less space

she elbowed me sharply

knocking the ebook askew

 

it wasn’t my fault

the seats were so small

that there no way I could take up less space

 

‘what an asshole’ she said loudly

‘keep your hands off me’

 

someone looked down at us

I shrugged

my hands were clearly

clutching my ebook & my shoulder bag

in place

 

more people got on

the now over-crowded car

the a/c wasn’t working

it was hot stinky

I had ten more stops to go

and she was muttering

‘fucking asshole men

think they can get away

with pawing women

when ever they want’

 

I didn’t need this aggravation

put my ebook into my shoulder bag

pulled myself out of the seat

and indicated it as empty

to a woman much bigger than me

then watched the face

of the angry woman

as she was squeezed even tighter

and

for some strange reason

it felt good

when the large lady said

‘move a little. do you mind’

I prefer to walk an hour to get anywhere rather than take public transit. When I do take the subway I always have my earbuds in & my Kindle to protect me. If I could I’d wear gloves too. Usually, if there’s space, I’ll stand – sometimes I sit just to get out of the way. I never quite get it when other passengers feel it’s their right to blame you for crowding them when someone is crowding you too.

This piece is a composite of various personal or witnessed experiences of mine in transit, on the subway, bus or streetcar. I’ve heard people muttering things like ‘asshole men’ or ‘fucking bitch’ because there wasn’t room for them to look at their cellphones.

I’ve sat on empty three seat rows that quickly filled within stops & have been crushed into the corner while the chrusher acted as if I wasn’t there or as if it was my fault for not ceding the entire seat to them. In winter it’s impossible to make a parka take up less space.

Most people try to maintain some decorum in transit but others are quite eager to take advantage of the captive audience to call attention to their discomfort. I have seen men take quick advantage of the proximity & felt helpless to do anything or even know what to do. Stop everyone rushing to get up stairs?

I have been told to take up less space. I have, as in this piece moved to distance myself from a muttering seat mate. Engaging is never a solution – I don’t know who has a knife. I have done exactly what happens here. Given my spot to someone else to deal with the mutterer. I didn’t feel victimized just grateful.I have more important things to worry about than sitting in transit – like,  where’s my hand sanitizer 🙂

coming soon:

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