I’m waiting for the Damen bus when he descends, and descends isn’t the right word because this dude is short. I don’t like to rip on height, being a stubby individual myself, but yeah he’s short and anyway you’re not gonna have much sympathy for him in about thirty seconds. Short, white, graying, maybe in his early 40s. The girl I’m sharing the bench with is maybe a little younger than me. Mid to late 20s. She’s wearing those black exercise pants everyone wears and I can’t blame her, they look good, and a strappy pink tank top and she’s pretty, chill, just hanging out waiting for the 50.
She turns to me, “Are those flowers?”
I’m carrying a bouquet of dried flowers and I promise you, my life is not as manic pixie dream girl as all that. I was sweaty and had recently finished eating several tacos, hunched over one of those picnic tables at Big Star like a blonde raccoon but their fried fish game is strong. Those zanahorias with spicy tahini sauce are pretty good too. That plus an al pastor and I’m walking slowly to the bus, surreptitiously rubbing my swollen stomach. I am no one’s spritely projection right now, unless they’re into cumin-scented bus naps.
I show my bench companion my flowers and she nods and we smile at each other.
Then he’s there, hovering at the side of the bench.
“Can I just say, you have a beautiful Afro?”
Okay. I mean, he’s right. She does have a beautiful Afro, it’s swaying gently in the late summer breeze. This is not a terrible thing to say but my hackles are already bristling because I have seen this man, he’s black or white or brown or yellow but no matter what he is, he is the worst. But maybe he’s fine. Maybe I need to chill the fuck out.
She’s smiling politely. Her face is pleasant and open. I feel all the saltiness of my recently 30 years rise up (happy birthday Rose, you feel way too old for male bullshit), the catcalls and hisses and creepy fucking conversations I’ve had with strange men who want to say something about my face, or let’s be real my titties. But maybe he’s just tipsy and flirty, and that’s not a crime. I slump back and try to be chill. He is talking and she’s nodding and then-
“So my ex-girlfriend, she was black, and she-“
Fuck this guy. I don’t hear the rest. My bench companion’s smile goes strained but she gamely keeps up, talking to him while we wait. In the course of these minutes I find out:
-She has a boyfriend. I know because he asks her.
-“So how long have you been dating? Two weeks? Two months? I mean, what am I up against here?” WHO FUCKING CARES HOW LONG THEY’VE BEEN DATING. SHE’S NOT GONNA FUCK YOU, NO MATTER HOW MANY BLACK GIRLS YOU CLAIMED GOT WITH YOU IN THE PAST THIS ONE IS NOT INTO IT. UGGHHH. The tacos shift uncomfortably in my gut. I quietly hate everything.
-They’ve been dating three months. She’s into him. I know this because he asks. “Oh so three months, is this a serious thing?”
-His name is Stacey. He goes on some rant about how people used to say it’s a girl’s name but those people were idiots and he’s a big maverick rebel by going by his real name that could be considered slightly feminine. Man Stacey, you are just the coolest. God forbid someone might have thought you were a girl. Better keep assuring her you have a dick. Then:
“So I have to ask, what’s your name?”
Her face snaps.
“Oh I’m sorry, I mean-“
He goes on and on and on, right until the bus pulls up. Just before we get on, he gives her his card.
This bus tableau is banal in its commonness but it still gets me and I wish it didn’t, I wish I was as chill as Abigail but I don’t think that’s the answer either. I don’t think anyone should be chill about creep dudes sucking up your time and energy. The whole time he was talking to her I’m like what would have made this okay, and it’s like let’s break down this seven-minute exchange. We learned:
-He thinks she’s pretty.
-He dated a girl of the same race. (allegedly)
-He wants to know her relationship status.
-Some bullshit about him.
Do you see a theme here? At no point did he ask about anything outside of her appearance and availability. Not like what do you do for a job, what are your hobbies, that’s a nice bag, anything outside of I find you attractive and would totally date you, P.S. I’ve dated a girl like you, I mean just one thing, but that means something right?
Maybe this didn’t bother her, at least not at first, but for sure she wasn’t into it. I don’t even want to say what she should have done, because a) I can’t speak for her and b) I’m tired of the burden being on women to endlessly accommodate, suck it up, smile, be polite, talk to him instead of shutting it down. Boys and men need to know this isn’t okay, that they are not owed a woman’s time and attention. I don’t know where this begins but I feel like it’s home and school and in public, aka a mass cultural shift in terms of what it means to be male and female. I want guys to speak up too. You know what this looks like. Say something.
Because this scene at the bus stop is playing out again and again and again, and everyone’s rolling along with it and it’s sticky and uncomfortable to talk about what happens but I think we need to talk about it a lot and all the time. People are doing it already which is amazing, but I want more and more visibility until this is up in everyone’s face as much as Stacey was in Abigail’s, until no one can pretend this isn’t a constant, shitty thing.
Because the Staceys of the world waste so much time. They’re a thousand tiny, creepy drains on your energy, a million little sappings, but this is the cost of being female and out in the world.
I really hope she threw out his card.