On Tuesday, a schizophrenic man swung a bat at me on the El.

I am not an inconspicuous person. At 6’6″, I do not blend into the crowd. A friend with an artificial leg and another friend with spinal bifida seem to have the same magnetic hold on lunatics. Crazies are also attracted to me for other reasons. I’ve long felt it has to do with the fact that I used to blatantly observe my surroundings. Attentiveness is classic tourist behavior, and it marks you. For years, I was the subject of ministrations from a blend of neighborhood wackos. There was the crazy old veteran who would march — not walk — through the streets, carrying a black flag, and point at me shouting, “he’s a killer.” Then there was the Jesus Lady with her shopping cart and wide-brimmed hat who followed me around to tell me that Jesus lives and he’s Jamaican.

Barbara was the most stalkerish. She felt that Bill Gates was destroying her life. She sometimes came into the student center where I studied to tell me about her beef with Microsoft. Never did I invite her to sit down, but she would make herself comfortable anyway. Once she sat down next to me on the bus, dressed in a pink bathrobe, and began to scream “I’m a bad girl! I’m a bad girl. I’m a bad giiiiiirl!!!” For a time I lived with a Turkish couple — the wife, Betul, was a graduate student in Ottoman history while the husband, Batu, was a drug addicted, picaresque, poet who wandered the neighborhood all day talking to strangers. He once met Barbara. He ran into her and somehow she hired him to help clean out her tiny cell of an apartment. According to him, “the woman” had a wall-sized poster of Bill Gates staring down at her bed, jars filled with rotting onions positioned on the window sill, and a desk calendar on which she had circled Christmas day and written, “Today, commit suicide.” New Year’s was also circled. On it, she had written, “Wake up screaming in hospital.” By the end of his afternoon with Barbara, Batu actually feared her. Since Batu was practically a gang-member back in Istanbul, I found this turn of events somewhat ominous. When Barbara saw Batu and I together, she completely fixated. I thought she’d haunt me for the rest of my time in graduate school. I even once saw her while on a plane to San Francisco. Sinking into my seat, possibly even cringing, I hoped my freshly shaved Foucault head would make me unrecognizable. Unfortunately, she saw through my disguise and began to casually chat me up, telling me she was on her way to Silicon Valley. As she leaned against the seat in front of me, she slowly tipped her coffee cup over onto the person in the row in front of mine. The deliberateness of the “accident” and her placid apology left me firmly convinced that she was a dangerous psychopath.

After a while, Barbara and the others faded. The homeless have always considered me someone friendly and sympathetic to talk to, though, (the best $50 I ever spent was in francs while I was a student in Paris. I gave it to a homeless guy who promised to mail it back to me. Obviously, I knew he never would, but I didn’t mind the three hour pronunciation lesson), and I continued to get mugged. Once, a junkie grabbed the entry-way door to my building after I entered and waved a broken pair of scissors at me. I thought, “shit, the last thing I need is a tetanus shot,” so I gave him the $17 I had on me. Casual muggings became a simple part of the fabric of scholastic life. We students were parasites in the neighborhood — I considered it a justifiable tax. Another time, a group of fourth graders demanded my wallet. I pulled up to my full height and asked, “You’re really going to try to mug me?” Intimidated, they slithered off. Michael the Ex told me I was irresponsible. I should have called the police on them because they would certainly try it on someone else. I laughed and asked him if I should have shouted “This is a citizen’s arrest!” Later, after we broke up, he had no pity when another mugger struck my head with something metal, taking my money and sending me to the ER for stitches. At the time I was already having Michael-related anxiety attacks and Xanax induced dreams where Michael kept attacking me with a wooden stake cut from a white picket fence. On top of the nightmares, the final mugging had left me a wreck. Around this time, the university sent out an email warning students that there was an ongoing rash of male students being mugged.

Crime has decreased in my neighborhood due to a quasi-fascist policing frenzy. There, are however, different kinds of assault. When first about to start graduate school, my lesbian Philosopher friend, Amanda, warned me that my most implacable enemy in graduate school would be straight white women. She seriously counseled me that I would be an immediate target for their bile since I would not make instinctive acknowledgments of their fabled disenfranchisement. And it turned out to be true. My blasé, ‘well, it could be worse,’ attitude whenever they would start bitching or discussing their watered down version of post-feminism used to set them on fire. I did try to be friendly and polite, but the hostility I sparked in them reached a point where the Chair of the Department had to set a rule that some of us in my entering class were not allowed to even speak to one another during seminars. This led to an absurd situation where half the class would take sides (literally, sitting on the other side of the table), refusing to recognize one another’s comments and snidely speaking past members on the other side of the table. One of them, a Princeton graduate (her mother is an Episcopalian Minister; in fact, two of the women who despised me were the daughters of ministers) who always wore a pearl necklace while discussing Psychoanalyic theory and who also wore a huge chunk of gold bullion around her neck, hated me with such a passion that she kept trying to get me kicked out school, venomously spreading a rumor that I had vandalized her car (I did not, but the rumor undermined me socially quite a bit. You can be sure that if I had keyed anything onto her car it would be something far more original than “Bitch Whore”). She eventually dropped out after her very funny master’s thesis about little girls who ‘speak about’ their rapes through dolls failed to impress the faculty. I advised her to try it out on Oprah, instead.

Eventually, I learned to keep my eyes down in public and in ‘the workplace.’ I realized that the less one visibly interacts with the social world, the more one fades into the background. Erving Goffman 101 — act like wallpaper and become wallpaper. This is performativity! Just ask Judy Butler if you doubt me (btw, does anyone have copies of ‘The Judy Zine’ I can see take a look at?). Tuesday morning, I was flush with fatigue. To be honest, I didn’t consider the crazy guy with a bat in ill-fitting, tiny, denim shorts, and an open button down shirt with nothing underneath, to be a threat. Maybe it was because the bat was offset by a nice briefcase. Amazing how one fashionable object in an ensemble can throw people off. He was walking around menacingly, yelling at passengers while gesticulating. I did take brief note of him and I remembered thinking, “ah, nothing’s gonna happen. This is the Brown Line.” When I got up for my stop, he jumped back, registering my height as a threat. Defensively, he swung that bat at me. I was lucky that the top of it hit a metal pole and bounced away before it could make contact, but he was definitely aiming at me. The yuppie who was reading The Prize (I remember he had been reading The Prize because I thought to myself how comforting historical non-fiction is to people), grabbed the guy’s arms. I ended up pulling the bat away from him. I may have possibly shouted “Hey, Fuck You!!!!!,” but I can’t be sure. When we hit the emergency button, the CTA people came and called the police. The schizophrenic guy (this is just an amateur medical judgment but it seems pretty obvious that’s what he was) was carted off.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the incident and my recent public desensitization. I’d been reading Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop lately and have been hating it intensely. Yesterday, however, I reached the part where the gambling guru, Jem Groves, is introduced. Dickens describes Groves’ loud knocking and his “egotistical expressions.” I recognized that the schizophrenic man had been shouting egotistically. It hit me that 14 year old Little Nell, wandering around the city and the countryside, was supposed to be a figure that awakens me – as a citizen – to a continuous sense of vulnerability as well as the lack, not over-abundance, of government regulation of social life under Liberalism.The threat of rape and abuse constantly follows Nell around. If ever she lets down her guard, bizarre shit happens to her, such as angry ugly dwarves emerging from shadowed entryways at her or being tricked into servitude by obese Wax Museum owners. Nell is like velcro to social excesses.

I feel I should seek out my attacker to thank him for knocking some literature into me, but I’m not going to bother since he wouldn’t have any idea what I’m talking about.

3 Responses to “Batboy”

  1. sona Says:

    I never knew how traumatic tallness could be…I personally fail to notice anyone over 6 feet tall because I can’t see their face without looking up and a faceless person is a non-person, really.I currently live in a Pakistani dominated part of NYC (being one of the few last affordable places) and engage in acts of mild ‘passing’ (Goffman 102, ‘Stigma’) so as to avoid the shocked stares and imagined stonings I would otherwise receive on my walk to the train in such unimaginable outfits as ‘shorts’. To clarify: I look Pakistani. Yesterday’s disguise: light scarf to hide breasts otherwise partially visible due to low-cut blouse.

  2. David's Adam Says:

    Hey there, I loved your blog! Would love to hang out with you this weekend 🙂 Sorry I couldn’t watch the movie last weekend with you and please excuse my lame excuse. 🙂

  3. Mi Kyung Says:

    I’ve been wondering about this for a while: what makes some people so attractive to the unhinged?Chuck’s a crazy magnet too. I can conjecture that it’s because he’s so amiable. Like a pooch you can feel safe about petting. But you’re thorny. I wouldn’t think that this is any more welcoming than my angry bitch vibe (which is pretty good for keeping EVERYONE the fuck away).I think that what you and Chuck both have is the unfortunate compulsion to humor these people. And I mean that in the broadest sense. Like there’s something about you that is open to interaction with them, something that they can sense. I’ve found that what works for me is not only avoiding eye contact, etc., but making it subtly but clearly known that I’m not going to play.

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