Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Messing with Mud

I’m picking up Big A from the train station (like a good little suburban frau--but I’ll rant about that in another post). There’s a line of cars idling at the curb (as usual) and I pull up to the curb (as usual too), except this time there’s insistent, loud honking. There’s a black Infiniti behind me and after another bout of enraged honking, it pulls up alongside me and the irate guy inside tells me that he’s been waiting “ten FUCKING minutes” for the parking space way ahead of me (and, really, too far away from him).

I wasn’t planning to park, but I can see why he is indignant so I’m ready to ignore the cussing; the easy apology is on my lips-although I haven’t been able to say anything yet, except may be look confused and then apologetic. Which, clearly, is the proper cue for him to yell--YOU! GET OUT of here NOW. And for his elderly father sitting next to him to shake his fist at me. The apology withers on my lips. And then the parking space that they so clearly want and I have no interest in clears.

I pull into it.

I know it was a cheap move. But here’s the thing--I’m brown, female, weigh 115 lbs, have two kids in the back seat, and no matter how much Deborah Tannen I read, I can’t seem to kick the smiley face and the head bobbing. It’s safe to say I’m non threatening. And here’s another thing--I was already beginning to pull out of their spot when they began yelling at me.

Of course they pull up alongside again, madder than ever. But I think I know what to say. I tell them that they were unnecessarily rude and that if they had asked me nicely instead of yelling, I would have been happy to give them the parking space. (I’m going HA! at myself now--what was I thinking?!? :) But clearly they didn’t have the same kindergarten teacher I had. The father in the other car says, You are a dirty woman! TRAMP, you get out of here! A woman walking on the sidewalk overhears him and says, "Hey, what’s all this “dirty woman,” “tramp?” *You* get out of here before I call the cops." I register the funny-sounding old-timey-ness of the insults, but my hands are shaking nevertheless from the implied hostility and I can only say, “No. If you talk to me that way I won’t move.”

The driver-guy smiles at me rather benignly and says, “You can suck my cock.” For one brief, blinding moment I wish that I hadn’t pulled into his space. I feel filthy. And ashamed. I have kids back there--my daughter is pre-verbal, and my son has never heard that precise string, but knows what each of those words mean. The very ineffective words, “You’re such an idiot” are bubbling out of me, but the other people have already gone. My kids and I sit in perfect silence for the twenty seconds it takes Big A to get to the car. I haven’t spotted him as I usually do, so he decides to walk over to my window and pulls a scary face as I turn towards him. That’s when I start crying.

My husband begins to apologize. (Long after I’m over this, I think this is the part that will continue to shame me--that he thinks I’m such a ninny that something like that can set me off.) Then there’s the blessed relief of hearing his livid anger and then I’m trying to give my anger words.

I see the Infiniti driver in my head, but I can’t repeat his words back--obviously I want the idiot nowhere near me or my vagina. So I think to reuse insults. Pimply fat slob, I think. Loser with a tiny dick. But it’s unsatisfactory. I have nothing against fat or bad skin or laziness or tiny penises or a lack of success. I’m not so much angry as disquieted because I think what happened to me was unfair.*

My father would say (my mother is fiery and might have egged me on) that it’s best not to engage with psychotic idiots because whether you mess with mud or mud messes with you, *you* are the one who ends up messy. But I’m glad I stood up for myself. Glad my son saw. My children, more than most, will have to find a way to deal with prejudice--something usually lacking in my small world of nice people.

I have a hunch that the people in the other car have already forgotten about this--that this would be an ordinary occurrence to them--just another incident that reinforced their prejudices against my gender and may be my ethnicity too. But I know I will keep returning to this embarrassing nidus in my head: How should I have reacted? Retorted? Was I standing up for myself in a Gandhian way or was I just being super fucking annoying? Did I even thank the woman who tried to defend me?

* The people in the Infiniti probably think that it was unfair to them too. But just before they pull away, the father gets out and goes into the train station. No luggage, no nothing. As far as I can tell, it wasn’t that important for them to grab the parking space either.



ZenDenizen said...

Let's try the right post this time. If it makes you feel any better, I got flipped off on Rt 3 (guess what race and gender he was) while driving back from my massage appointment. What terrible timing but since my muscles had completely melted at that point, I didn't let it get to me :)

maya said...

He was male!!

Zen, thanks to you and everyone else who indulged me my moment of utter self-absorption. All your responses helped me overcome my... whatever it was--fear/sense of injustice/spite? If something like this should happen again, i th
ink i'm better prepared to let it slide and pick my battles elsewhere.

Your answer is perfect getting frequent massages or yoga or sleep so i can prevent it from getting to me... :)) Which reminds me that i have a gift cert to Great Jones Spa... and that no one is forcing me to play Scrabulous at 1 a.m. :))

Anonymous said...

>just another incident that reinforced their prejudices against my gender and may be my ethnicity too.

Maya, sorry you, and the little ones had to go through this juvenile pissing contest. The man, and his dad, sound impatient, rude, inconsiderate and frustrated.

For the life of me I can't smell any gender or race-based prejudice in his initial action. Their reactions after the conflict spiraled, were of course, but this is typical.

Living, teaching and riding a motorcycle in NYC for 4 yrs, I've witnessed rudeness and inconsideration. But the color of my skin and my gender have thus far, been irrelevant. Help me see what I missed in your post. Best, -SG

maya said...

SG/ Harlem Sun

Gosh—was I a drama queen about this!

I had never been abused in those terms before and I think it seemed like a very big deal to me. Then. In fact, at the time that this happened, I thought that I would think about it every day for the rest of my life. Thankfully, I seem to have forgotten.

I agree with you: they were initially irritated because of what they interpreted as my action—trying to take their space. The ensuing abusiveness seems catered to my minority condition though—“dirty woman,” comes to mind. It’s connected to the implied sexual impurity of “tramp,” of course, but I think it also had to with my dark skin. In fact, my son asked me just yesterday, after examining the blackish skin around my knees—is this why they called you a dirty woman?

Because of the tentativeness with which their insults were offered, however, I have the feeling that if I had been a black male or a white woman, they would have been less forceful about taking it as far as they did.

Do you blog SG?

maya said...

Also, the prejudice i imagine them feeling is post hoc--in the sense that a bad experience can leave you frustrated about an entire artificial/real class of beings. Like when you have one bad experience at the DMV and then think ALL DMV employees suck.

Anonymous said...

>In fact, at the time that this
> happened, I thought that I would
>think about it every day for the >rest of my life. Thankfully, I >seem to have forgotten.

Maya, yep that makes sense. While I can relate to the disappointment and anger when one first encounters rudeness, I think we need to be careful about extrapolations such as this one:
>Also, the prejudice i imagine them
>feeling is post hoc--in the sense
>that a bad experience can leave
>you frustrated about an entire
>artificial/real class of beings

I know it's easier said than done, but I've found that if I stop my mind from traveling down paths that I cannot possibly see, I find peace quicker, and I accumulate fewer filters when I interact with the same group again.

Nope I don't blog, but yours adds a lot to my life :)


maya said...


Thank you for your comments. When this first happened i sent this post around to a bunch of facebook people asking for their thoughts because i needed to understand it from other points of view. That you're out there reading and interacting without me expressly forcing you to is amazing :).

That you seem to think that i'm not so beyond repair that a few well chosen words ("filters"--loved that) cannot put me back on the right track again is really humbling. And inspiring. Thank you.

I would not make it about race (which was an unknown marker to me growing up). I couldn't. Everyone: the yellers, the woman who interceded, the Big A--are all superficially the same yet respond and relate diversely.

Anonymous said...

>I would not make it about race
>(which was an unknown marker to me
>growing up). I couldn't. Everyone:
>the yellers, the woman who
>interceded, the Big A--are all
>superficially the same yet respond
>and relate diversely.

Maya, my eyeballs bounced off the screen when I read yellers, until I realized you were talking about shouty people, not east Asians with good skin :)

I grew up sans the concept of race, or sub-race (caste) as well. Doesn't stop me from thinking the above is slightly funny. Don't think you require repair of any sort. Your mind and its labyrinthine ability to process and synthesize information from the left and right lobes, is what keeps your blog in my favorites. A by-product is your emotional first-cut responses and deep analysis 5 days later, all part of the unusual package as far as I am concerned. Cheers! -SG