So yesterday I’m at Union, and I’m sitting with this kid who’s a fan of the site, and he’s cool, and we’re talking. At one point I leave to go to the bathroom, and when I return there’s a couple sitting where I had been sitting. I don’t mind at all and just sit off to the left of them so they’re now sitting in-between me and my friend. There’s a comfortable space between us all.
Then, this guy shows up who’s their friend. He comes right up and sits next to them, which is directly on the step behind my friend. He puts a foot on either side of where my friend’s butt is on the step, leans around and says “You don’t mind if I sit here, do ya? You’re gonna look like my girlfriend! Hahaha!” And the three friends laugh. My friend doesn’t move from his seat, and I see the guy behind him shrugging his shoulders and smirking like, “Haha, I guess he’s not gonna move!”
It was clear that what he was hoping for was to be able to forgo any sort of respectful, “Hey. Would you mind moving over a little so I can sit here?” and instead just hoped his obnoxiousness would make the kid leave and sit somewhere else. When he sat down he didn’t know I was the kid’s friend, so he figured who gives a shit?
A minute goes by and I’m stewing over it all, and I say to my friend, “Hey, can I take your picture? This’ll be good. Trust me, you’re gonna want to remember this moment.”
So I get up and snap a picture.
I’d made myself known, and some more awkwardness is introduced to the situation. The three of them all get quiet and just stare down at their phones, flicking their fingers up and down on their screens. Total quiet. Of course I can’t keep my mouth shut now that I’ve already opened it and say, “Ya like this? It’s the new kind of tourist. They come all the way to New York City just so they can sit with their friends and stare at the phones the whole time.”
My friend is hearing me, but isn’t really saying much. I keep on going because I can’t seem to focus on anything else. “That’s a great move you did to get your seat.” I compliment. And he responds with something along the line of, “You like it? Haha, It’s good, right?”
“Yeah. You need a place to sit, so you just straddle up behind someone, put a foot on either side of ‘em and tell them they’re going to look like your girlfriend if they stay there. That’s a real asshole move!”
They’re all half nervously laughing, and half staring into their phones hoping it’ll all just go away. Of course I can’t let it go since the sitting arrangement hasn’t altered in the tiniest way. I say to my friend (but actually to the whole group), “That’s what happens. People come to the city and think this is how we all treat each other here, so they act rude because they think that’s just what we do.”
Now the guy says something like, “How do you know what I’m thinking? You’re the only one who seems to have a problem with this. Just let it go, buddy. Just stop talking about it. ” and “Listen. If he had been a girl I would have been nice and asked if it was okay” To which I shouted, “Yeah, but he’s just a guy so fuck him.”
And this shit he just said proves my whole fucking point. He did it to be alpha. Being polite to my friend, in his mind, is a form of submission to another guy. So to show he’s superior, this is how he approached the situation where there isn’t enough room to sit. It’s stupid fucking alpha male bullshit. And I’m seeing myself as a teen being just like this kid and having this stuff done to me all the time. This guy’s there with his friends, the kid is alone and a little smaller, so this is how you’re supposed to treat him.
Then this hippy guy who’s been playing the goddamned flute on the other side of us turns to me and says, “Hey buddy. Just let it go. You’re the one who keeps talking about it. Quit bringing up the past. What’s done is done. Let it go. Just drop it.”
See now, I’m baffled that everyone is treating me like I’m the one who’s the problem, and not this guy.
“How would you like it if I sat right behind you, put a foot on either side of where you’re sitting, right here and here” I point to the space on his sides, “and then leans in and says in your ear – If you stay here you’re going to look like my girlfriend?! and then laugh about it?”
At some point in here Shaggy arrives and asks what’s going on. I describe it all to him. He laughs about it, then tries to get me to leave the situation with him because he sees I’m fuming. I totally refuse to leave and Shaggy walks away, the whole time trying to get me to go with him. Very stubbornly I don’t budge and tell him, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here. There’s more that needs to be said.” Mind you, still nothing has changed in the seating arrangement this whole time. My friend is still sitting in-between this stranger’s feet.
This hippy guy says something like “I wouldn’t mind. Maybe where these people are from that’s a normal thing to do, to be close to each other” or some shit like that. And the guy sitting behind my friend is saying “Buddy. Just drop it. I didn’t do it to be an asshole. I’m a nice guy. I’m a free-spirit…” [Yadda yadda]. I swear to you he said “I’m a free spirit” to which I responded, “Yeah, you’re all free spirits who just take and take and take.”
At this point his buddy chimes in “Listen. He is my friend and he’s a nice guy with a sense of humor. You’re just misunderstanding…”
And I keep going with my “Yeah, he’s a really great guy who forgoes any sort of courtesy wherever he goes and just sits where he wants. And if someone’s there? Fuck him because he’s a free spirit!”
Let me make it perfectly clear here again that still no change has been made to where this guy’s sitting. His feet are still my friend’s armrests.
Finally there’s some quiet. I shut the hell up for a minute. They all just sit there. The guy at some point quietly moves his feet up so his knees are up against his chest, still quite stubbornly not moving from where he’s sitting – so as not to admit defeat I’m guessing.
I say to my friend, “Would you like to sit over here where there’s space so you don’t have to look like this guy’s girlfriend?” To which they all gasp, including the hippy guy, that I can’t just let it go. My friend does indeed get up and move and sit in the space next to me, and there’s more awkward silence.
Finally after a minute more the guy says to my buddy, “Look. I’m sorry if I disrespected you. I didn’t mean to. Now can we all just mind our own business now and drop it?” And my friend says “It’s cool. No problem.” And I say, “Thank you” and the guy says to me, “I’m not saying this because of you. I’m saying this to your friend!” I tell him, “That’s fine with me. It’s about time. I’m just trying to help you be better people. Be polite. And I appreciate that you apologized.”
They’re all – “Okay. It’s done. You’re cool. We’re cool.” And I wash my hands of the situation and move over to where I’m not facing it any longer.
Don’t get the idea from any of my self-debasing as I tell the story that I regret at all saying anything I said, or standing up for my friend.
They still stuck around and sat there for a while, until one after another, people I know at the Square were coming up just to say hi, or hang out, and they realized I knew a lot of people here. So after about 15 minutes of this they finally got up and left. We all shook hands, and my friend thanked me for sticking up for him. I asked him if he was at all bothered by the guy’s move, and he had a sense of humor about it. He even said he thought about lying back into his lap to pretend he was the guy’s girlfriend.
I, on the other hand, felt like I was in the fucking Twilight Zone being the only person there who saw the guy’s move as being as rude and obnoxious as it was. Hell, I’m still fuming about it the next morning.
See more on this story’s page of Amazing Strangers.