callista wrote:On one of my many journeys through the bus system, I sit on a bench, waiting for the bus. I've barely settled in, waiting and listening to a book on tape through my headphones, when two young men approach me. They're about my age, and one of them is carrying a bottle of vodka. Their pants sag to their knees in the much-ridiculed style that shows off one's boxers if one doesn't wear a long shirt.
Upon being given the universal signal for "remove your headphones" (made on the presumption that if I am wearing headphones I must be blasting my music so loudly that I can't hear them), I pull an earbud out and look at them. "Yeah?" I guess they want to ask what time it is, or if their bus has been by yet.
And then they throw me a curveball. One of the guys approaches me and asks for my headphones. Seriously--just comes up and asks for the headphones. His are broken, he explains, so he can't listen to his music.
I'm confused. There is no social protocol for this. But I figure, if he's so desperate to listen to his music that he'll ask a perfect stranger for headphones, I might as well hand them over; anyway, they're old and I need to get new ones soon. So I shrug and give him the headphones.
His friend isn't pleased. "Hey, you're scaring her," he protests, gesturing with the bottle of vodka. He's pretty close and he smells of alcohol.
"I don't know you," I reply, by way of explanation. I'm not actually scared, oddly enough. I'm just confused. In my experience there is no precedent for asking perfect strangers for personal possessions, and I can't figure out why one would need headphones so badly. But I have no clue how to explain that to them, so I just go with it. The guy who wanted my headphones introduces himself. I guess that means I know him now. I don't catch his name, though.
His friend still isn't having any of it. "You want a bus token?" he asks, handing me a bus token and not taking no for an answer. Reluctantly, I take it. Then he says, "I'm gonna give you a dollar," and proceeds to pull a large wad of bills from his pants pocket, rifling through them until he finds a single. "I'm gonna give you two dollars," he says, and hands over a couple of dollar bills. "You're God's gift to the world," he claims, and drapes one arm over my shoulders. I'm somewhat experienced with drunk people being overly affectionate, but I don't even know this guy, and that confuses me even more. "'Kay," I say. "Thanks." He backs off. I start breathing again. I don't like the smell of alcohol at all, and that was way too close.
As I sit staring at my feet, the two guys start arguing. I can't make out most of what they're saying. Apparently one guy pushed the other guy, and his excuse was that he was drunk at the time. This is a very simple issue, but somehow they manage to draw out the argument for the full twenty minutes I have to wait for the bus. I start worrying that they will start fighting, and I wonder whether I should call the police; but what exactly have they done (other than drinking in public) that the police would worry about? If they get too close, I'm totally getting them with my pepper spray, though.
As the fighting continues, more people start arriving; and apparently they all know each other. They're all the same age, twentyish or maybe late teens. They start taking sides or trying to negotiate. They add their voices to the chaos.
After a while, I forget about trying to hear what they are saying--I can't filter it out of their slangy accents anyway--and just listen to the cadence and pitch of their voices. The argument is rising and falling in a sort of rhythmic manner, a sinusoidal pattern of intensity. It reminds me of the time I spent living with housemates who had dogs--the dogs interacted in much the same way, not truly fighting but just sort of tussling for top dog, trying to feel each other out, snapping a bit but not biting down. The best I can figure, that's what these people are doing--feeling each other out, reinforcing their places in the hierarchy. The're like a pack of dogs; except (obviously) that they're human. It's quite odd. They even yell across the street to each other.
My bus comes and I get home without incident--but I'm pretty darn confused about the whole thing.
So... here are my questions.
Why would someone ask a perfect stranger for headphones?
Why did the second guy insist on paying me?
Do people really get into hierarchy spats like dogs do?--Non-serious fights in which they reinforce their position in a "pack"? Or was this something else altogether?
Was I ever in any danger--or am I just unsettled for no reason?
You got mugged. Lot's of muggers like to use the minimum amount of intimidation, and maintain as much plausible deniability as possible. So if asked, he could truthfully say "I asked for 'em, she gave 'em to me." The other guy was attempting to mollify you, while still asserting control and dominance (the touching etc) so you wouldn't make a stink.
I don't know how much danger you were in, but the intimidation was real enough, and deliberate.
Yes people, especially males 18-25, joust and tussle for dominance just like dogs, all the time.
I wouldn't have given my headphones. The proper response is "sorry, I'm using them." Then I'd probably have got off the bus, though if they decided to get off at the same time that would have left you stranded at a bus stop with them. But make no mistake; this was bullying behavior, and a robbery.
Lot's of criminals try to maintain a fiction that what's going on is consensual instead of coercive, and surprisingly a lot of victims go along with that charade, if they are scared or nonplussed, to reassure themselves that things are "normal."
The guys who mugged Bernhard Goetz protested that they were just panhandling. Some people found that persuasive, but not many people who regularly rode the NY subway system in the early eighties were fooled.
Jonathan Lethem describes these kind of low intensity muggings in "Fortress of Solitude," and elsewhere goes on a long riff about the origins of the word "mugging" or, in the parlance of his childhood, "yoking." He describes how after being mugged once or twice on the way to school, his attackers stopped taking everything he had and just started saying, in pleasant conversational voices, "hey, what've you got for me today?" Or "Let me hold a couple dollars." Outwardly, it looked like he had a choice, but he was acting out of intimidation, not out of free choice.
People have attempted to mug me by turning up the intensity a little bit at a time, first straight up panhandling, then getting increasingly argumentative and finally putting their hands on me before I was able to break free of the urge to be "polite" and fight back.
A friend of mine was a juror in a rape trial, where a man took a woman captive - he waited in the back seat of her car. When she got in he informed her that he had a knife, then asked her where she wanted to eat. Then they went on a "date," that involved drive through (paid with her debit card) a stop at the ATM (where her checking account got emptied) and an overnight stay at a motel, paid for with her credit card. Before the drive through, though, he instructed her to perform oral sex on him, and thanked her afterwards, and complemented her skill. He kept the knife pressed into her side at the restaurant and the ATM. In the motel room, he forcibly sodomized her several times that night, asked at one point if she had "cum," and in the morning made a few superficial cuts and suggested to her that they both keep "last night" a secret. There were a couple of jurors who were adamantly convinced that the whole affair was consensual. They were women. Their big question: why didn't she run or ask for help at the motel check-in desk?