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Singing Does Not Soothe The Savage Beast

After a year of unsuccessfully searching for a part-time job I could hold while attending my university, I finally managed to find a position at a phone-service company (detailed information omitted for anonymity’s sake) about five miles from my apartment and the campus. I don’t own a car (and parking is such a pain that this is not an unusual situation for a student) so I take the bus, about a half-hour each way. I’m fully aware that I will occasionally encounter annoying behavior on this journey, but this one takes the cake.

I was on my way home from a stressful evening at work, and I had put on my iPod and headphones to help myself relax. As I’m wont to do, I started lip-synching along to the music I was listening to. The bus wasn’t crowded, and in any case I was careful not to actually make any sound. All was well until a particular passenger boarded the bus. He was a man who looked to be about my age (I had not seen him before and have not seen him since, and that’s fine with me). Anyway, he decides he has a pressing need to know exactly what song I’m “singing” (again, I was not actually making any noise). He wasn’t even polite about it, just got in my face and basically demanded to know what I was singing.

I was annoyed, but decided answering was the best way to get him to leave me alone. I didn’t expect him to know the song (my musical tastes are rather obscure), so I replied, “You wouldn’t know it.” I should add here that I have a neurological disorder that makes it hard for me to speak sometimes, so I’m not positive whether I spoke aloud or just mouthed it. In any case, he wasn’t satisfied, so I started ignoring him. Rather than take the hint, he kept bugging me. He grabbed at my bag, I grabbed it back without looking in his direction.

Then he decided the best way to get my attention was to grab my arm. I wasn’t going to ignore that; I turned around and told him, loudly, to leave me alone.

“But I just want to know what you’re singing!”

By this point, the driver had become aware of the situation and ordered the other passenger to the front of the bus. (The incident took place near the back.) He finally complied, but not without protesting to the entire bus that, “She’s singing, it’s so weird!”, as if any level of oddity gave him the right to harass me. The driver, as politely as possible, basically told him to shut up.

I filed a service compliment with the bus department asking them to thank the driver for helping me out. I’ve yet to see the other passenger again, and that’s fine by me.   0121-13


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dira January 25, 2013, 3:16 pm

    #84 – But hey, I’m still shocked that the mere act of making conversation on the bus is intensely rude, so what do I know?

    *sigh* Never fails. Somebody dares object to being harrassed in public, and we get the, “What, we’re not allowed to talk to people now?” line.

    Rap, before you comment further I recommend you do some Googling. “Schrodinger’s rapist” is a good place to start. Learn about the risk-assessments many women take for granted, just to move around in public. Learn about the victim-blaming double-bind we’re in, whereby if we get rid of a creepy stranger quickly we’re being rude, but if we don’t, and it turns into something serious, we’re then told we should have been *more* assertive to begin with, our efforts to be polite used to suggest that we were ‘leading him on’. There’s no evidence for your ideas about this man’s motives – as a woman who’s been subjected to this kind of behaviour (heck, who hasn’t?) I think it far more likely that he was yet another jerk who considered himself entitled to female attention.

  • Kris January 25, 2013, 3:30 pm

    As someone with an obscure, varied taste in music , much of which is based on club mixes that in all honesty do NOT exist outside of that particular DJ’s collection I can honestly say that “you wouldn’t know it,” is not always true. Its sometimes fact. I routinely have my earbubs in(but you can see the dang cord) when on the bus, less to shut people out and more to kill time since if I am on the bus odds are I am going to be on it for 45minutes to an hour. i save that for when I am downtown, because I’m tired of lame pick up lines and people begging me for cigarettes.

    The OP is in no way at fault. She gave a complete stranger the brush off and he refused to take the hint and step off.

    Also for those who bring up this guy’s nonexistent concern about how she might be having an issue or mentally ill, its hogwash and here’s why – he continued to get in her face asking about the music. Not asking if she was ok or even speaking to the bus driver. He was a putz seeking attention from a lone woman and when she wouldn’t “make nice” he escalated things. I’ve run into many guys like this and thankfully I have the steel to tell guys where and how to get off. The guy is lucky he wasn’t put off the bus, because had he pulled that with any of the drivers I know they would have pulled over and put him off.

    Op you handled things well and kudos for the compliment to the bus company about the driver. Good drivers are wonderful and don’t get enough appreciation.

  • Shoebox January 25, 2013, 3:50 pm

    Chiming in on the side of those making the most excellent point that *yes*, it’s perfectly acceptable to initiate a friendly convo with a stranger in public… but *no*, unless they reply in a way that’s immediately threatening, you are not entitled to demand a response.

    I’m something of an expert on this subject, since I don’t have a drivers’ license, so have used various forms of public transit on a near-daily basis for the past 25 years or so. I would also consider myself a friendly, polite (female) person…. but frankly, if I’m on the bus/train, I don’t care how nice you are, or how interested in me; I don’t want to talk to you. Especially if (as is the case 99% of the time) I am reading. I am an introvert and this is my downtime.

    To suggest that I, or by extension the OP, somehow ‘owe’ a perfect stranger of either gender anything beyond a cordial rebuff — or that they earn it in any way via my actions in their presence — is totally ridiculous to me, even before it becomes creepy. Yes, the point of etiquette is to avoid hurting others, but there must be sensible limits or there’s no way anyone could leave the house, because we’d automatically become personally responsible to literally anyone and everyone else’s state of mind at all times.

    This is why ‘victim-blaming’, no matter how well-intentioned, is so damaging — because it places the responsibility squarely on the one person who has no way to fulfill it. Suggestions like ‘don’t draw attention to yourself by having fun others can’t share in’ — what, am I supposed to start reading aloud to the whole bus now? Except, whoops, maybe not everyone wants to hear it, so I’ll have to take a straw poll ahead of time and have the majority gather round me. Except, whoops, what if one of that group doesn’t like the book? Shoot, guess I’m screwed regardless. Back to bed.

    Short, serious version: Barring severe autism (in which case where on earth were his caretakers) Question Guy is a boorish, entitled idiot. The OP handled the situation well, as did those with the authority to help her. Those suggesting that she should’ve tried to give in to him, or excuse him somehow might want to try picturing what could’ve happened next if she had.

  • EchoGirl January 25, 2013, 3:54 pm

    OP again. My response might have been abrupt, but I was concerned that if I said “Didn’t You Eat on Tuesday” (yes, that’s the name of a song) it would provoke more queries about it, since I basically know no one who listens to this artist and the song is quite probably older than I am.

    Also, I HATE earbuds, I’m still in the stereo headphone zone. They were clearly visible.

  • Mae January 25, 2013, 4:38 pm

    To OP/EchoGirl- I am really sorry you were bothered by the rude guy on the bus. As I mentioned, I think this was a no-win situation with him. If you told him the name of the song, he would have tried to continue talking but you immediatley made it clear that you did not want to talk with him so he made a scene anyway.

    He was ABSOLUTELY wrong to try to engage you further, touch you and your belongings. I am glad the bus driver handled it when he became agressively touchy and that you are ok. You did the right thing to protect yourself.

  • GardenGoblin January 25, 2013, 6:48 pm
  • Rap January 25, 2013, 8:06 pm

    Dira, I’m a woman so you don’t have to explain that there are creepy men out there. I just don’t believe I have to treat every man as the man who will rape me simply because I don’t know him and he speaks to me. If you want to assume every man is a rapist until he doesn’t rape you (that is the point of the Schrodinger’s Cat analogy, right? The man is or isn’t going to attack you so assume he will – and that’s a heck of an assumption) then feel free. That I don’t assume every man will rape me does not mean I am not taking any precautions or am blithely ignorant of the possible danger.

    Where I could see the OP’s behavior being misinterpreted is that she does say, due to her neurological issue, that’s she’s uncertain if she spoke or not. So someone making conversation asks a reasonable question, “what are you listening to” and the person responds by mouthing, but possibly not actually speaking. Yeah, I can see where that would appear odd, and I could see someone following up with another question. I’m not condoning the guy touching her at all, but I do tire of the idea that women have be ever vigilant that any man they don’t know only speaks to them to lure them off for rape.

    There’s nothing wrong with having some awareness that not everything or everyone is nice and then there’s being paranoid. You have no idea how it saddened me over the description that was written here of a person who described their child cringing in fear while with a parent because a grocery bagger was trying to be pleasant to the kid, and that the bagger got a lecture on how speaking pleasantly to children is now an indicator to children that a man is a threat. No wonder so many people have social anxiety these days.

  • AMC January 25, 2013, 9:31 pm

    I’ve heard similar stories from women who are approached by strange men in public who want to know what they’re reading, listening to, etc. Apparently, this is their way of flirting. I don’t object to flirting or just striking up a friendly conversation with the person sitting next to you on the bus. But if that person makes it clear that they don’t want to be disturbed, then you should back off. Harassing someone and demanding they engage in conversation with you is not acceptable.

  • Ergala January 26, 2013, 1:16 am

    By rebuking a potential advance, women aren’t assuming any man is a rapist. However with the issues we see today I absolutely do be on my toes. Stare at me a little too long and I will dodge to another aisle and try to get out of that store as fast as I can without running for the exits. If someone is making uncomfortable and I see them in a check out line, I will wait until I see them leave before I will get into queue so they don’t see what car I am getting into.

    You can’t deny that the news is prevalent with stories of domestic violence, rape, murder, assault….just look at what happened over in India. It’s bad enough it happened once with that poor young woman on the bus but shortly after another woman was raped on the bus and she killed herself after. Different culture but it can still happen here. A person would have to be absolutely naive and sheltered to not think they have to be on alert when they are out in public, especially in crowded areas.

    I had someone stroll into my apartment in the middle of the night once. We lived in the middle of nowhere and my husband works nights. He forgot his keys and if he rang the doorbell or called the house he would wake up the kids. So I said I’d leave the door unlocked. Around 1am I heard someone downstairs, they were loud enough to wake me up. I went into the kids room and looked out into the parking lot to check for my husband’s car. It wasn’t there. So I listened for a few more minutes and realized there was absolutely someone downstairs. I tip toed down the stairs and saw a shadow on the wall down the hallway. I leaned over the landing to get a better look and saw someone standing in my living room. Just standing there. He noticed me and asked where *insert neighbor’s name* was. I was confused and said “Excuse me??”….he was drunk. Our townhouses are obviously connected and look identical from the outside. He thought he was in my neighbor’s home. He left without a fuss, but my heart was about to jump out of my chest. I was incredibly stupid to go downstairs but we live in a very small area and if I screamed our neighbors absolutely would hear me.

    Another example….my husband found a beautiful cat under our car in the parking lot. Our old place had a no pet policy so we knew it wasn’t a neighbors cat. The woman across from us took the cat in until it was morning. I thought nothing of it. At 2am our doorbell rang, I woke up and managed to get to the front door half asleep. I was about to open it thinking it was my husband and he forgot his keys again. Something in my head screamed “NOT HIM! NOT HIM!” so I looked through the peep hole. There was a man at my door I didn’t know. I asked through the bolted door what he wanted. He asked if I had seen his cat. Took me a second to register and I said yes but that a neighbor had it, I would tell her and he could come back in the morning. He asked me to come outside and help him get his cat back. I said no and went back to my bed. Our bed was in the living room at that point because we were in the process of moving. I saw feet on the back step at the bottom of the huge blind we had on our back porch. I heard someone wiggle that handle and I froze. I sat there and didn’t move, didn’t breathe, didn’t blink. I grabbed the phone and dialed 911 as soon as the feet left. I didn’t want them to know I was in the living room. Later saw he was a registered sex offender. So glad we moved. Small area or not there are crazies.

    I’m just trying to show that as “innocent” or weird a situation may be, ALWAYS be on alert. The first guy was in my home uninvited but it was a mistake and he meant no harm and left quietly. The second guy was on the other side of a bolted door looking for his lost cat. HE was the threat.

  • Lou January 26, 2013, 7:40 am

    So sorry that you had to put up with that, OP. Count me in for another person who is growing weary of the whole ‘victim-blaming’ angle.

    Personally, I don’t generally like random interaction with strangers – I’m not particularly gregarious and I have quite an insular nature. Moreover, I’m perfectly happy and at peace in my own company. Therefore, I have no desire whatsoever for randomers to start conversations with me out of the blue (regardless of motivation, but I’d venture that men who try this are generally hoping for a bit of a flirt at the absolute minimum). It doesn’t make my day better – in fact, it makes it worse because I feel intimidated and intruded upon when all I was trying to do was mind my own business and not impinge on anyone else’s. Attempting to initiate conversation with a stranger might make that guy’s day better, but why does his need to make his day better trump someone else’s need not to have theirs made worse?

    I’ll echo several posters who are irritated by the attitude of ‘you should be nice to people!’, as if we owe conversation to all strangers who suddenly feel a bit starved for human interaction. I was once walking from my house to the shops, quite briskly and as usual minding my own business, when a man walking in the opposite direction to me stopped and directed a question at me. I can’t recall exactly what he asked but it was a chit-chatty sort of thing, not a straightforward ‘excuse me, could I trouble you for the time?’ which I could have dealt with. I carried on as though I hadn’t heard him and was rewarded by him yelling after me ‘IT’S NICE TO BE NICE, LOVE!!!!’ at the top of his voice. Ermmm…and is it ‘nice’ for you to attempt to strike up an inane conversation with a strange woman, whose circumstances are completely unknown to you and who is obviously on her way somewhere? Why do I have to be ‘nice’ (his definition) but he gets to be rude/intrusive/irritating/intimidating (my definition)?

  • Dira January 26, 2013, 10:12 am

    Rap – no, no, no. The concept of Schrodinger’s Rapist isn’t about assuming all men are rapists, it’s about asking men to respect the fact that *we don’t know* who is and who isn’t. Once again you’re fighting a straw man. Nobody here has suggested that striking up a conversation on a bus is inherently rude – ignoring another person’s signals that they wish to be left alone (earphones count) is what makes it ill-mannered and possibly worse. As Schrodinger’s Rapist tries to communicate, somebody who starts out by violating that line elevates their threat level and doesn’t get to take it amiss if they’re met with monosyllabic dismissal. (Please don’t split hair about the OP’s actions in this particular case.) We all have the right to set our own tolerance level, and denigrating other people’s choices as ‘paranoid’ is part of the problem.

  • Angela January 26, 2013, 1:42 pm

    One of the points the Schrodinger’s Rapist essay makes is that a woman will reasonably see a stranger’s insistence that she interact with him as a sign that he will ignore her wishes and be deaf to the word “No” in other areas as well. It is absolutely appropriate to see unwanted attention and touching as a red flag rather than an endearing bumbling attempt at flirting.
    Here’s the link for anyone interested: http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger’s-rapist-or-a-guy’s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

  • Rap January 26, 2013, 4:12 pm

    Dira – since you are deeming any response to your comments other than “yes you’re absolutely right” as straw men arguments and hairsplitting, I think we’re done.

  • Crystal January 26, 2013, 4:55 pm

    GardenGoblin: THIS.

  • The Elf January 26, 2013, 6:57 pm

    This guy’s behavior was way out of line. That’s pretty much the end of the story. OP tried to shut it down, but some people just don’t take a polite brush-off for a “no”. “You wouldn’t know it” isn’t rude – it’s a polite brush-off, a signal that one doesn’t want to continue the conversation.

  • Dira January 26, 2013, 7:29 pm

    Rap – as you wish, you did pick a pretty crummy hill to die on. If I told the whole truth about what I think of all the minimising and victim-blaming that’s gone on here, I’d never make it past moderation. (Probably for the best.) My accusations of straw-manning stand; you have repeatedly failed to put aside your preconceptions and engage with what I and others are actually saying. Please learn to accept that other women have different levels of tolerance for intrusive behaviour in public places, and resist the urge to lecture us about how we choose to handle it. Otherwise you will remain, as I said, part of the problem.

  • Micha January 26, 2013, 11:56 pm

    I was on the subway, with my BOYFRIEND. Linked arms, my body turned toward him, I’d just given him a kiss on the lips, and some guy sitting next to me tried to chat me up.

    There is NOTHING a woman can do to stop obnoxious creeps from hitting on them. Even when WITH their actual significant other.

    Even when that SO is male.

  • Schnickelfritz January 27, 2013, 10:42 am


    Seriously? An old guy asking a little girl, in a neighborhood on HIGH ALERT due to someone approaching little girls in school yards and walking to school, “what school do you go to?” it was creepy as hell! You don’t chat up little kids, other than “Hello”, or something simple to be friendly. The little girl was afraid of him, he came on so strong! It wasn’t her first day out of the crib! She picked up on how weird it was. You were not there. Just as a grown woman would find it creepy “where do you work?” from a stranger.

    You seem to gleen things from postings, that are not really the point. Please re-read some of the other posts you comment to. “trying to be pleasant” – uh, no, crossing boundaries. “getting a lecture” – no, reminding the guy what was going on in the neighborhood, and asking a 6 year old “what is your name, what school do you go to?” You really think that is “just being pleasant”?

  • Cat January 27, 2013, 10:45 am

    Carol Burnett tells the story of the time she was in her teens and was walking down a deserted street in New York when a man followed her and then grabbed her by the arm. She quickly turned around and gave her best “Tarzan” yell. He ran away.

  • --Lia January 27, 2013, 11:11 am

    The Schrodinger’s rapist article is an interesting one and makes some good points, but let me zero in on something that needs pointing out. One paragraph begins with the 1:6 statistic on women who will be sexually assaulted. The paragraph goes on to talk about the number of men who are rapists with a slick transition between the two. No definitions are given, but they’re important. When you think of rape, you likely think of a horrible crime, one that involves being physically constrained, hand over mouth, unable to scream, a tearing of clothes, etc. I won’t go into more detail than that. But sexual assault, for statistical purposes, can mean a grope, a feel, peeping tom activity, possibly even a dirty joke that makes a woman uncomfortable. I don’t mean to suggest that these things are O.K., but they’re not on the same level as rape. Even the word “rape” gets tossed around to mean a sexual activity that a woman agrees to at first and feels bad about later. Again, I don’t mean to suggest that rape isn’t real or that it isn’t horrible, only that sometimes there are some women who conflate the meanings of words to make their own experiences sound more horrible than they were. When you use the definition of rape at its most horrible, the one with the physical overpowering, 1:6 women have NOT been raped, nowhere close. Almost of us have had bad experiences that had a sexual element, but that’s not rape, not even sexual assault.

    Now back to the article and the original letter. Once again, there’s nothing wrong with trying to start a friendly conversation with a stranger. There’s nothing wrong with trying twice if the first attempt has been rebuffed. (That strikes me as stupid, but not particularly criminal.) There is quite a bit wrong with grabbing the stranger’s arm no matter what your motives. Also, there’s nothing so terrible about having a bus driver tell you to change your seat and sit up front. So this all played out appropriately.

    As for strangers starting conversations with children, there’s nothing wrong with smiling and saying hi. When the bagger’s attempts to engage the child went nowhere, it was time for the parent to say, gently, “we’re teaching her not to talk to strangers; I hope you understand.” And that’s it. No teaching fear, no scary stories. For the future, the bagger might ask the parent first “may I ask your daughter a riddle” or something like that, some contact with the parent first so the child has a way of knowing that the banter is parent approved.

  • GardenGoblin January 27, 2013, 8:32 pm

    —When you use the definition of rape at its most horrible, the one with the physical overpowering, 1:6 women have NOT been raped, nowhere close. —

    When you use the definition of rape as it’s standard, legally recognized in the US definition, 1 in 6 women have been raped.

    If you quibble and pretend that the only rapes that count are the stranger in the back alley grabbing out of nowhere and using major amounts of force, no, it isn’t 1 in 6. But since that’s the rarest type of rape and most certainly not the only ‘real’ type of rape, let’s stick with the actual reality instead of playing the ‘oh you weren’t really raped’ game, okay?

    • admin January 28, 2013, 8:14 am

      How about we stop with the sub thread of rape altogether since that did not occur in this story’s scenario?

  • NostalgicGal January 28, 2013, 1:08 am

    Our local grocery store has a ‘riding horse’ that takes a quarter… and a few vendomats for bubblegum and those little plastic things with something in them. At times I have smiled at a young child wanting to ride the horse or have a treat… but. I hand the quarter to the parent. With a smile, and not very obviously… they can then deal with the child and the money to do whatever (once the boy was maybe two, and dad had gone to his pickup to look for a quarter, and I handed the fellow the quarter with ‘they’re only that age once’ and a smile. I went into store to get something quick and came out to see the boy totally enjoying his horse ride…)

    The idea is that the child doesn’t then get the idea to ask, beg, or bother strangers if they want something, and the parent has control of the situation.

    On the bus, no means no… and the fellow that wouldn’t take NO for an answer and continued to bother and grab at the OP, was out of line. I think the driver should have put the fellow off the bus, but. Making him move to the front was not an out of line response for the driver either.

  • Elizabeth January 28, 2013, 10:43 am

    “It’s kind of rude to be in a public place be-bopping along and mouthing the words to your song. You aren’t sharing your music with people. You are just making it clear that you are really enjoying yourself in a way that they cannot participate.”

    This is so bizarre – I’m not obligated to involve strangers in my life. I’m not obligated to ensure their entertainment. And just because a stranger asks me a question, I am not obligated to answer it.

  • Hellbound Alleee January 28, 2013, 1:20 pm

    Whether the OP was “rude” or not has absolutely no bearing on this issue.

    I’ll say it again: her behavior is not at issue.

    As a woman who has spent much of her life traveling alone to work (as most of us do) on foot and on a bus, it doesn’t matter what time it is or where I was, I had to be aware of my surroundings and protect myself. This is an issue that so many men don’t seem to understand. We are at a disadvantage. We know this because we have been harassed. Probably a lot. And after enough harassment (i.e., after we’ve had several years of it), many of us learn that being polite is not helpful in potentially dangerous situations. Yet we are trained up to be polite at all times. It’s hard, but when our space is invaded, we’ve learned that rudeness is only the beginning of what we have to do to get away from danger. We have to suspend the rules. So we cannot worry about this so-called “baiting,” or any other thing that’s considered “rude.” All niceties are off.

    I don’t have to tell most women on here how hard that can be. But we have to consider priorities, here. Life and safety first, etiquette rules come somewhere after. We don’t want to harm others in getting to safety, but we can’t be worrying about socially constructed stuff all the time. And we can’t be assessing the mental health of anyone who violates our space–we shouldn’t have to. After all, dangerous people are differently abled mentally by definition. I will not let someone hurt me because he’s autistic. Period.

  • Enna February 4, 2013, 1:52 pm

    I have to say, if the OP gave the name of the song or not I don’t think it would have mattered. Men like that can have an agenda and whatever the woman says it will be “encouraging” him.

    If he doesn’t have a condition he is an idiot who stepped out of line.

    If he does have a condition he still needs to be told his behaviour isn’t on.

    Either way I’m glad the bus driver stepped in.

  • Enna February 4, 2013, 1:58 pm

    Sometimes you can ignore, sometimes you can say something or do something. I don’t think there is only one “right” answer.

  • Sugaryfun February 5, 2013, 5:59 pm

    Just like eating in public is considered rude, making it clear that your headphones are playing something super awesome is also kind of rude. It is attention grabbing and will lead to people interacting with you.”

    Eating in public is rude? Since when? What, anywhere? Why are there restaurants and foodcourts then? I can’t fathom this one.