Thursday, May 22, 2014

the thin purple line

1. adventures in public transportation

I got on the Purple Line at the Normandie Station. Linda and I had just spent an hour and a half drinking soju and nibbling on an immense potato pancake at a Koreatown bar called Toe Bang. (The other place we were considering was called School Food Blooming Roll. You gotta love K-Town.) 

Toe Bang: best potato pancake east of Fairfax.
The Purple Line was always quiet and relatively empty at this time of night. Those sharing my car included a guy muttering to himself and smoking a cigarette, and a very tall, very thin man with a pencil mustache, slouch boots, and a feminine V-neck sweater. He (she?) seemed like a proud character from a novel about the marginal lives of aging disco queens.

For some reason, the Purple Line wasn’t running all the way to Union Station, and it took me lot of minutes and some backtracking to realize this. When I transferred at the MacArthur Park Station, a white-haired man shuffled up to me and mumbled something about the Blue Line.

“Take this next train and transfer to the Blue Line at the 7th Street/Metro Center station,” I said, like the occasionally knowledgeable Angeleno that I am.

“You going to Long Beach?” he mumbled. He was old-ish in a way that could have been from actual age or hard living, or a combination. He was a black guy with saggy, limp clothing, and he seemed Not Okay—in a way that could have been from mental illness or drugs, or a combination. I mean, he got on the train at MacArthur Park at 10 p.m. The probability of him being Not Okay was high.

“No,” I said.

“Where you going?”

“Oh, just Union Station.” That seemed like a safe, generic answer. I am going to a place full of people that does not tell you much about where I am actually going.

“Then where?”

“Just…home.” I walked ten feet away and stared into my Kindle. This guy was messing up the poignant final 3% of The Interestings for me.

The man did not transfer at 7th Street/Metro Center. It was as if he did not have a pressing engagement anywhere! When I got off at Union Station, he was still there, shuffling along behind me.

2. putting the !! in famima!!

He was there on the escalator out of the Purple Line tube, and he was there when I swiped my card to get on the Gold Line. Union Station was full of people, but he had distinctly not gotten lost among them.

After swiping my card, I decided I didn’t want to hang out on the not-so-crowded platform with him, and I definitely didn’t want to get off in Highland Park with him at my heels. I had walked to the train that morning, and I really didn’t want him following me through dark residential streets for a mile and a half.

So I made a U-turn back into the thickly peopled core of Union Station. So did he.

I didn’t feel afraid. His vibe wasn’t violent or rapey, more like that of someone with a fuzzy brain and nothing to do, who’d latched on to the most recent person to engage with him. I was fairly certain I had the upper hand in terms of mental faculties, not to mention general functionality in society.

But could I say for sure that he wouldn’t stab me in a quiet parking lot? No. And while the situation wasn’t quite crisis-level, it had taken a distinct turn. I needed to think clearly and come up with a new plan, and pretty fast.

I sort of wove through the common area, pretending to look at magazines in Famima!! while calling and texting AK: Do u think u could pick me up from union station. a mentally ill dude is following me & things kinda thin out on the gold line.

But she wasn’t near her phone. And the guy was still there.

I approached a security guard in Amtrak waiting area, thinking maybe I would sit there for a while and wait for AK to call me back.

“Do you have a ticket?” she asked.

“Oh, uh, is this area just for Amtrak? Sorry.” I wandered away, discombobulated.

Please note that seating area is for customers and their stalkers only.
New plan: Just take a fucking cab. It would be expensive, but I didn’t really feel like walking home from the Highland Park Station anyway. I contemplated turning around and telling the guy, “Sir, please stop following me.” But what if he denied it? What if he got mad? I couldn’t prove he was following me.

This is where being my father’s child—believing that the burden of proof is always on me—gets me in trouble. But I’m also a feminist, and I have decent instincts, and I’ve done a shitload of therapy. So I reminded myself that my paranoia, while abundant in the medical realm, does not take the form of thinking I’m being literally followed. If I thought I was being followed by some guy, I was probably being followed by some guy.

As I approached the cab line, I decided I would definitely talk to a security guard. A lot went through my head in a flash. I was still aware of having the social upper hand. I was white, middle class, had money for a cab, and my own mental illness was mild and medicated. But I also knew that in this moment, he was a man and I was a woman, and the tables were turned. And I wanted to be the kind of person whose street smarts outweighed her bleeding-heart tendencies. Or, more accurately, who knew that privilege is a complicated and malleable thing.

A part of me thought that I might be read as a scaredy-cat white girl, fresh off the train from some small town, nervous about being in Union Station at night. I decided I would find a black male security guard and talk to him—to demonstrate that I didn’t have just a general fear of black men. (Which is not to say that, on some subconscious level, I don’t; I am, after all, an American, and America teaches us that black men are a threat.) 

But the first security guard I came to was a black female. I decided now was not the time to be picky.

“So, um, I think I’m going to just take a cab,” I said, as if she had politely inquired about my travel plans. I spoke quietly: “But I wanted to let you know that this guy who’s behind you right now has been following me since MacArthur Park. I don’t think he’s doing anything, but I wanted to let you know. In case he bothers other passengers.”

I don’t know why I needed to make it sound like I was reporting this out of civic duty. I myself am invincible, but I must protect womankind!

“Okay, we’ll watch him,” she said.

As I walked toward the cab line, I heard her say, “Sir, can I help you with something?” But when I got in the cab, he was a foot from the door. For a second, I wondered if he would try to get in with me. Another security guard in an orange Metro vest was right behind him.

“What happened?” asked the cab driver.

That meant that whatever was going on was visible and real.

As much as I wasn’t dumb enough to doubt myself—I took all the necessary actions—there is always a part of me that doubts my own experience. This is what happens when 1) you are my father’s daughter; 2) your body spends months mourning babies who were never born and no one really gets what your problem is; 3) you think you have cancer because #2 is making you have a nervous breakdown, but you have not been diagnosed with cancer, and therefore you are crazy; 4) you later find out that, during the time you were paranoid, you were actually being followed—i.e., you do have cancer; 5) surgery gets rid of the cancer, but you spend months going through other just-in-case treatment—i.e., you don’t have cancer, but the entire medical establishment treats you as if you do, and therefore you are crazy.

The friendliest place in the city.
The cab drove the empty freeway, and I was happy to be back in the seemingly predictable, enclosed world of driving. The place where people’s lives didn’t intersect so much—a disease in L.A., but sometimes a blessing.

3. neurotics in love

At home, I saw AK’s phone sitting in the living room. She was in bed. “I wish you kept your phone closer, or not on silent so much,” I said sadly.

“Is Linda pregnant?” she said. She knows me well. I was proud to have a less predictable problem tonight.

But when I told her about the train incident, she got alarmed. “You need to call the police,” she said. “If there’s one thing I learned from my friend Maria—remember, the investigator?—it’s that you should report everything. That is stalking behavior, and that guy needs to learn it’s not okay.”

I remembered what had happened when I reported that my car had been broken into—an actual crime. A cop had mailed me a photocopy of his handwritten report, and weeks later, I’d gotten a letter from the LAPD inviting me to purchase The Club at a discount. I was doubtful, to say the least, that calling them now would help.

AK launched into a little rant about ill-trained security guards; she’d had her own problems with them at work when a drugged-up dude had wandered into her office saying he wanted to join the military (she works at a small art college; needless to say, there is not a big ROTC culture on campus). I admitted I had a new appreciation for Culosio, the super buff former trainee who did security at Homeboy and knew how to be tough or to deescalate, depending what the situation called for.

But I resented AK’s armchair quarterback tactics, and the fact that she was indirectly accusing me of not being forceful enough when I talked to security.

“I feel like security is [my fertility doc] Dr. Saadat’s office staff in this story,” I said. “Like, when something scary happens to me and I come to you wanting sympathy, you get mad at some third party, but also at me by extension.”

It is a reaction that reinforces my own darkest suspicion, which is that I am at fault for all bad things that happen to me and to everyone in the world throughout the history of time (which is, I realize, the most narcissistic, controlling dark thought possible).

Because this was not cancer, not the death of our babies; because I was not actually scared at all, just a little rattled and tired from a long night, we could talk about it in a sane way.

“For a neurotic—you know, a non-psychotic, non-hysteric—I’m quick to assign blame to other people, at least at first,” she admitted. She paused. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

“Thanks,” I said. “That’s what I wanted to hear.” And then we went to sleep.


Nicole Kristal said...

I think you handled this perfectly. I would have done the same thing. Or given how angry I've been lately, I might turn and shout at him and try to scare him off, like when people hold a stick on top of their heads to scare off lions.

Cheryl said...

Yeah, there are days when I might like to take the Speak Loudly And Carry A Big Stick approach too. :-)

Sizzle said...

I think you did a great job trusting your instincts. Your convo with AK reminds me of ones C & I have (but I'm AK in our scenario). Makes me think I should be more sympathetic.

Sizzle said...

Also I wanted to say I can relate to feeling like you're responsible for the world and doubting your own experience. I've been dealing with that a lot.

Kim said...

I was SO once you, Cheryl. Then I turned 45 and stopped giving a shit about being perceived as having privilege or whatever. If men fuck with me, I find the nearest security guard/police person/merchant, and loudly complain. I have done this several times in my work neighborhood. (Of course, once I turned 45 men stopped following me so there's that.) BTW you are ALWAYS welcome to call or text me for a ride in such a circumstance if AK isn't available!!

Claire said...

I'm very glad you're all right! Good job trusting your instincts. You did great!

I have been followed before at night in SF when nothing was open and I was alone and it was scary. Parts of stupid public transportation stopped earlier than expected and made it harder to get home. Lots of walking between bus routes.

He also asked where I was going...and if I had a boyfriend. His first question or two seemed innocuous, but I probably shouldn't have said anything to him. Didn't want to seem like a jerk to a homeless person.

But he kept hunting for details with his questions. I finally yelled at him really loud to leave me alone and got to my next bus stop without him. Was happy to see the 2 foreign guys I'd helped with directions on the last bus but felt stupid that I hadn't taken whatever route they had to get to the next stop. (But I'd probably have been paranoid about walking with them too.)

Didn't even occur to me to call the cops when I got home. I was just relieved to be there.