Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

When a Man Grabs You on the Subway and Tries to Drag You Down a Flight of Stairs

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, developer and editor Nozlee Samadzadeh tells us more about being assaulted by some jerk while exiting the subway station.

Nozlee! So what happened here?

I have a lovely subway commute—I really do. I take the L just a few stops and then transfer to a couple more stops on the NQR, which conveniently has staircase access directly from the L platform. Even on a bad day this never takes longer than 25 minutes!

Last Wednesday was normal: I got on in a specific subway car to most efficiently make my transfer and pulled out my magazine. The car was pretty empty but filled up at Bedford Ave, where the last person to enter was a white guy in his forties obviously ready to go on vacation—Guayabera shirt, salmon-colored shorts, overstuffed carry-on luggage. He was standing directly next to me in front of the car doors; I briefly imagined the $$ waterfront high-rise where he lived and the suits he probably normally wore when riding the L into Manhattan, then went back to what I was reading.

We pulled into Union Square and, ugh, it was one of those bad days: The NQR staircase was crowded up and down with other passengers. I was running a little late and needed to dash out, but as the doors opened Guayabera guy was taking up the entire doorway getting a hold of his luggage. I wiggled past him—I’m not going to say it was nice to maneuver past someone, but it certainly wasn’t a violent or sudden action—and walked toward the staircase.

I was trying to find a way up the stairs, which were crowded with people rushing in both directions, so it wasn’t until I was halfway up the first flight that I realized the yelling I heard was directed at me. "Don’t push past me, you bitch! Who the fuck do you think you are?"

Then, two steps from the staircase landing, I was yanked backwards: From lower on the staircase Guayabera guy had grabbed me by the straps of my totebag, his other hand grasping that overstuffed luggage, and was yelling at me for getting out of the subway car before him. I can’t stress enough that this was a crowded staircase at peak commute hours, but at that moment it was like all the faces faded away and everything stopped.

What happened next scared me almost more than the fact that a man who was physically stronger than me was trying to drag me down a staircase. (This is stupid, but what it reminded me of most was when Harry Potter’s wand fires a spell at Voldemort of its own accord in the beginning of Deathly Hallows.) Totally out of my own control, I turned, opened my mouth, and shouted in a scary, low, screamy roar, "GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME. DON’T YOU FUCKING TOUCH ME."

After that I flailed my arm out impotently toward the man’s face to, I don’t know, try to hit him. (You know how in a nightmare, you try to move but you can’t defend yourself? It felt exactly like that.) I wish I had registered the looks on the faces of the people around me, but the next thing I remember is being let go.

I ran up the stairs as the man continued to yell after me ("I’ll teach you to be late to work! Who do you think you are pushing me?") and didn’t stop until I was at the middle of the NQR platform, where blessedly, a train arrived immediately. I wrote that tweet while hyperventilating and trembling in my seat; it seemed really important that I tell people about it immediately to cement the details in place.

What the fuck is wrong with people?

Let’s redefine "people" to be "that asshole in his linen shirt," because most people are incredibly nice: So many friends tweeted back their support. I ran into a coworker while walking to my office, and when I burst into tears she gave me a hug and bought me a drink at the coffee shop, where the owner gave me a free brownie. One friend sent a bunch of goofy texts about men and their big ol’ penises that made me laugh; another friend with a law degree sent a long email explaining how Guayabera guy had likely committed a class B misdemeanor. Over lunch I went to yoga and cried during savasana, about which the instructor was very nice.

So what the fuck is wrong with that asshole in his linen shirt? I have no idea! As scary as it was to be grabbed by him, I truly don’t think that he intended to physically harm me once he got a hold of me. That said, it is in a sense equally horrifying that his reaction to being "slighted" was to find and scold the "perpetrator." Imagine that! Imagine being so unable to let go of being "wronged" that you must "correct" the world. Life must be so exhausting for Guayabera guy and his brethren! AND I DON’T CARE.

Lesson learned (if any)?

A lesson I did NOT learn:
— Be careful so as not to antagonize men.

A lesson I actually did learn:
— Male rage is a deep well of repressed emotion.

A lesson I hope that dude learns:
— Don’t touch people! Especially women!

In all seriousness, I’m glad that I now know my reaction to a situation like this is to ROAR instead of apologize or freeze. I feel really lucky that I came away from this experience with nothing worse than a sore throat from screaming at him. And I hope that sharing this story is helpful for someone out there—public altercations are scary and just because "nothing bad happened" in the end doesn’t mean your feelings of fear and anger and mistrust aren’t justified!

Just one more thing.

Um, exit the subway efficiently when carrying large items so you don’t hold up everyone around you?

Matthew J.X. Malady is a writer and editor in New York.

Thumbnail photo by Stefan Georgi

25 Comments / Post A Comment

dullhypothesis (#234,533)

Man, I had a similar thing happen to me, a man followed me up several flights of stairs to yell at me for pushing him as I exited the train. Little did he know I did so because I was nauseated and worried I would throw up on the platform. So as we exited the station I did an about face and let loose the dogs of war (my vomit) onto the sidewalk. He lost his urgency to confront me after that.

Anarcissie (#3,748)

In general, it's not a good idea to mess aggressively with strangers physically or verbally, even if they seem to be smaller, weaker, or more submissive. They may turn out to be armed, experienced street fighters, bat-shit crazy, or all of the above. That applies to females, children, and elderly people as well as males. Grisly anecdotes on request. In this case, the perp only got yelled at. It could have turned out much, much worse.

commanderbanana (#167,624)

@Anarcissie Grisly anecdotes, pls!!

hershmire (#233,671)

To be fair, batshit crazy people on the subway direct this kind of behavior towards men as well. Some asshole grabbed my arm and started yelling because I dared exit the subway car before he got on. A heel to his shin ended that real quick.

GingerAle (#259,089)

This is made so much worse by the fact that it was on the stairs. If he had done this on flat ground – excessive and scary, but not insanely so. But on STAIRS? If he had miscalculated at all and pulled a bit too hard, he could have ended up not just injuring Nozlee but maybe even several people. Really, guy? Is letting a woman known that she "pushed" you worth causing a dangerous pile-up on the stairs? I understand why Nozlee was so rattled.

I once caught a guy behind me on the escalator trying to reach into my bag (I later realized that this was his last of several attempts at picking my pocket after we got off the same train), and I was similarly surprised — and heartened, if a little scared — by the ferocity with which I went after him. It was strictly verbal, and consisted mostly of curse words and "all my stuff better still be in here!" kind of threats (it all was; he wasn't a great pickpocket). I always feared I would be paralyzed in such a situation, especially considering the extreme lengths I will otherwise go to to avoid a public scene of any kind, but I really was so focused on laying into that guy that I just. didn't. care.

I should note that this interaction took place during the day, on an escalator of a very busy Metro station in DC, and I was encountering a man who was taller than me but also quite a bit older and similarly framed. I didn't fear for my physical safety. I have no idea how I would have reacted had any of those factors been different.

ragazza (#241,456)

@give cheese some pants Almost this exact thing happened to me in Chicago coming up the steps from the el! Felt someone tugging on my backpack, turn around, and some guy is looking guilty. I totally shocked myself by yelling and actually shoving him into the wall. I guess it is not the smartest move but I felt empowered, especially since all he did was weakly protest he didn't do anything. yeah right.

this happened to me too in chicago at Clark and Lake! I thought the guy was trying to upskirt me. I turned around and like, pointed a finger at his face and then ran away.

sigerson (#179)

I'll be the one who wonders about "white guy in his forties". That is a rather interesting description, both gendered, racist and age-ist. I'd really like to hear the other side of this story. It sounds like it was 50/50 on who "assaulted" the other first. Did you really just "wiggle" past the guy? Or did your bag shove him aside? He obviously shouldn't have grabbed your bag but then again maybe you shouldn't have shoved him aside?

alicesherman (#237,158)

@sigerson ah, but 'stranger with no discernible gender/age' just doesn't have the same ring to it.

I'm sorry, can men's rights activists read?

riotnrrd (#840)

@sigerson Oh, for fuck's sake.

Mike_B (#239,283)

@sigerson you've given us all a lot to think about. Do you perhaps have a "web-log" where we can hear more of your deeply considered thoughts?

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@sigerson That's funny, your satirical comment is very close to what I imagine some old ugly smelly privileged white dude's defensive whinings would sound like.

commanderbanana (#167,624)


holdup!holdmyphone! (#274,038)

Back in my day, we never laid hands on a woman, and when men had a dispute to settle, we squared up and fought with fair ones….. I'm barely out of college. Also, the guyabera fuckboi sounds like he does way too much blow.

As a white male in his 40s who owns both a Guyabera and salmon-colored shorts, I just have to say:

1) It wasn't me!
2) Hey, white males in your 40s who own Guyaberas and salmon-colored shorts who physically confront women over minor perceived slights: don't be such fuckwits. You're making me look bad.

ragazza (#241,456)

Doesn't "who do you think you are" coming from an entitled white guy to anyone who is not an entitled white guy really just say it all?

I live in Yurp in the touristy center of a tourist-plagued town, and have regular confrontations with the baggagely challenged. People, if you have to ride public transit with a mini-fridge sized bag, just behave as if everything you do is in the wrong, be overly polite, hang back and say excuse me like it was the Rosary on Good Friday. As for me, I now take the bus much more often, since big suitcases are banned on buses in my city.

Pity_Kitty@twitter (#278,286)

@SarahHeartburn Exactly! Apologise for EVERYTHING.

Also what city banned suitcases?! Can they do that?

Jas Sams@facebook (#287,710)

I went through something similar on the Metro in LA. Except the man didn't have luggage, he was just offended that I had gone past him. He said that people like me who were unaware of their surroundings were keeping the human race back.

It's amazing what one can do when confronted. A few years back a guy was harrassing me while I was at an ATM. At first I thought that he was going to try and rob me (it was late at night, and although there were people around I wasn't certain that they were paying attention), but then he tried to solicite me. (Note, I was dressed up like any other hipstery girl going out for drinks. A miniskirt and brooklyn industries t-shirt doesn't really scream prostitute). After I grabbed my money, and repeatedly told him to leave me alone and that no, I wasn't interested in his offer I started to walk away. Then he came up and PUT HIS ARM AROUND MY WAIST. I did what any sane person would do and turned out of his hold and screamed very loudly at him to get the fuck away from me and then ran into a bodega until the owner told me that the guy was no longer in sight.

Don't shove past people on the subway. Lesson learned. You did something stupid and it produced results that scared you. Now you know you shouldn't do that in the future. You will be better off and so will all of the other subway passengers.

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