Monday, January 11, 2010

The kind of love that blinds you to things, and the kind of love that works through things.

I have too much of the former, and not enough of the latter, when it comes to the way I feel about this city. 

So I just got home from Shangri-La. I was there with a handful of friends for Second Sunday Sock Hop.  At about a quarter after midnight, my friend Dana and I decided to call it a night.  We walked out of the bar, strode onto the sidewalk, and headed to my car.  It was parked a short two blocks away.

About thirty feet from the bar, a dude on the side of the road says something to us.  He was middle-aged, had straight grayish hair, just slightly overweight, and was wearing jeans and a black, sporty jacket. Pardon all the detail, but you'll see why in a second.

"Girls, can you tell me something?"

"What's that?" I said. I didn't think twice to just ignore him.

"Can you tell me if I'm right or wrong?"

Dana didn't say anything to him, but feeling effervescent and happy after the night we just had, I wheeled back around giggling and said, "Are you right or wrong!" I laughed as the words came out of my mouth.

He said something a little quietly. Dana immediately said:

"Ok, that's gross. Tolly, don't talk to him."

"What'd you say?" I asked, still giggling like a complete and total idiot.

"I said," (warning - this is about to get graphic and mildly disturbing), "can I lick your pussies."

I stopped laughing. I gripped Dana and we walked arm and arm, walking quickly down the street in the opposite direction.

"I SAID," he yelled, much more loudly after us, "can I LICK your PUSSIES. And THEN, I'm gonna F*K you in the MOUTHS!"

Dana goes, "should we run?"

We kept on walking quickly, him shouting after us. I won't grace you with any more of his lovely speech, each "offer" was increasingly disgusting, and he continued to yell at us long after we had turned a corner, out of sight.

I kept looking behind over my shoulder to see if he was following us. He wasn't. Just  growling angrily, waiting there for girls walking out of the club, girls to shock and intimidate.

As soon as we got to my car, I locked all the doors and, as Dana watched behind us out the windows, I texted my girlfriends inside Shangri La to warn them.

We drove home. Everything was ok. I'm here in bed typing next to R., safe and sound.

But as I told R. this story, all freaked out, he made a very sharp point:

"Tolly, there's the kind of love that blinds you to things, and the kind of love that works through things. You can't love this city blindly."

And he's right, of course.  But that's incredibly hard to accept.

I do love this city a little blindly, and tend to have a false sense of security wherever I go. When people talk about the "shady" east side, I'm the first one to pipe up and defend it.  When it's late at night downtown, I frequently walk back to my car alone.  What's the danger? I always think. Austin is not a violent place. I like to smile at strangers. They're just people, I think, looking for some every day, kind, human interaction.

But there are gross people here in Austin, Texas. My beloved city. And I really, really hate admitting that.

Do you want to know the most messed up part?  It's the fact that this guy didn't engage us - at first - in a super macho, dominant, rahh-I'm-a-MAN type of way. We were having a completely normal  exchange, and then in a millisecond, he turned into this nasty monster.  He didn't look homeless, just like a slightly older guy waiting on his buddy to pick him up or something.

(And, even with homeless people, I should point out, the ones hanging out by the ARC downtown or sitting along Guadalupe near UT, I OFTEN say "hello!" when they greet me.  Again, I think: why not? Their life probably sucks, and I bet it feels great to have a fellow human being actually acknowledge your existence.)

R. said, "the problem is Tolly, you give people the time of day when you shouldn't."

It's true, I don't like to be cautious and guarded. Not my personality. I'd rather assume that all strangers here are lonely at worst, redeeming individuals at best who are simply down on their luck. This is willfully naive and I know it. I'm incredibly pissed at that guy, but I am also grateful to him for making visible my own lack of street smarts.

I love you Austin, but I'm going to try to be a little more nuanced in my love. Thank you, creepy stranger, for forcing my love to mature a little bit.

A tough lesson. Could have been a lot tougher.


maisquared said...

great post tolly! this one has especially hit close to home. one of your best attributes is that's beautiful smile you share with everyone you meet. sometimes that smile just makes me want to cry because it is just soo genuine and unguarded. i hope you never loose it, but i also hope that this experience makes you a lil more cautious

i had the same experience when i lived in boston. i was new to the city and talked to stranger,walked alone places at night and my friends were so shocked, but i thought it was fine and i was just embracing my independence. i was alone, first i was harassed, then was followed for 10 minutes without realizing it for awhile (from one side of the st to the other). i darted into the first open place i saw and it was the scariest experience ever. it really opened my eyes to what could have been. i live on the east side now, still walk downtown and back alone allll the time, but i just am more aware of what is around me. scary! glad you are safe chica.

Anonymous said...

moving here from a bigger city, i am both shocked and happy at the lack of awareness regarding those sorts of things. people on the bus stand there with their purses and backpacks gaping open, surrounded by homeless people and strangers. drunk girls stumble around in short skirts and heels.

be smart ladies and gentleman, because sadly we need to look out for ourselves while having funfunfun!

that said, love your blog. =)

Camille @ STYLE NOTES said...

From one overly-trusting person to another (I'm notorious for leaving my purse unguarded in my grocery cart while I wander off to look at the produce) this post rang so true for me! I've also had experiences where I'm unpleasantly reminded of the truth that everyone out there doesn't have good intentions. It's so tricky to determine the fine line between being appropriately cautious & guarded...without losing the sense of openness and curiosity that is part of who I am!

Paul said...

well.... your experience is unfortunate. but a certain element of unsavoriness is unavoidable in any metropolitan city. maybe he rode a bus in from houston? a tourist? lets be thankful that the worst he did was to verbally abuse and intimidate. sounds like he has unresolved issues that didn't really necessitate getting you involved.

anyhow, I would hope this somewhat isolated incident would not dampen your optimism. I've lived in many other cities where everybody is treats strangers like they are invisible or are actively hostile to them. please don't stop smiling at strangers. but maybe you should be more aware and skeptical in those dark late night spaces. crime statistics are somewhat of an indicator of safety, or where there is less of it.

Tom Thornton said...

Sorry to hear this.

I'm always uncomfortable walking back to my car after midnight in the Sixth/Red River area - for some reason, I feel like East 6th just has fewer people - but as our city grows, it highlights that we have the same crime and homelessness problems that every other area does. Glad you were with someone during this incident...

Nicole Carbon said...

T-Thanks for sharing. We must talk about these experiences. In a great town like Austin, it's easy to let our guard down. Great lesson on keeping up on our street smarts. Now, no more walking to your car alone!

Jodi said...

I'm really sorry to hear this. I've been in a similar situation -- I saw something in Austin in broad daylight in West Austin that was disgusting -- a homeless man pleasuring himself outside of Castle Hill Fitness.

Also, you have to be careful about hollering back at people who might be drunk and dangerous after hours...something I've been guilty of in an effort to show I'm not scared. Once, it almost got me and my friends in big trouble (but this was on the Island of Gibraltar years ago).

Thank you for sharing this story with us.

Misa said...

I loan you my comeback. "IMA FIST YOUR DADDY!" That usually shocks them into a quiet reverie, as the image washes over their brain, then they think.. "Did she just say that?" ... then..."Wait, did she just out-gross me?". ... "Why I oughta..whered she go?"...

Ed said...

Tolly, you can take comfort in the knowledge that Austin is really one of the nicest, friendliest cities on the planet. Your love for it is not misplaced, of course.

But, cowardly motherfuckers who try to assault women (in this case, verbally) are going to either visit, get displaced here, or suffer some sort of brain injury here and make a street corner uncomfortable for an evening.

They don't represent the city you love. They don't even belong here. Think of it that way. They're outsiders to the Austin you live in.

I hope you remain cautious AND stay the person you are. These insects don't have a right to change the rest of us.

Amanda said...

The first Chronicle issue I ever read was the one about violence and crime near sixth street - I was a little scared before I even got here! The worst thing that's happened, (so far, knock on wood), was walking with Lennon in the rain on Guadalupe, and one of those guys who sit on the street asked him for money. Lennon told him he doesn't carry cash (true) so the dude made fun of his (my pink) umbrella he was holding. I hope it stays at that.

That's stomach churning creepy, though, and glad you're alright.

Jennifer said...

Great post, Tolly. And thanks for sharing. I think it's really important for people to read this kind of thing. And it always hits harder and becomes more real when it is someone we know. I'm glad you were with a friend.

I also know how you feel, when something you always regarded as completely awesome kind of bumps down a notch or gets a slap on the wrist from a terrible, but also eye-opening experience.

I'm really glad you wrote this and that you are okay.

Hipstercrite said...

Wow. That sounds terrible.
Lately, a bunch of friends have had their houses broken into on the east side. That reminds me of the reality of this being a large city that often has crime. However, everyplace has crime. The crime rate in Austin is next to nothing compared to most places. I still feel safe in this city, but it's always ALWAY good to watch your back. Glad you're ok.

Anonymous said...

I would've responded with my usual retort to a drunk (or sober) douche bag requesting oral sex: "I wouldn't suck your lousy c*ck if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls." That's one of the best lines in "Female Trouble," written by John Waters.

Seriously though, glad you're okay. It's important for everyone to be aware of their surroundings, even while feeling comfortable in your own city.

(Livia8 on twitter)

Michelle said...

First off, I'm really glad that you're okay! And I feel a similar way about Austin a lot of the time.

I don't know though, I tend to think of incidents like that as a result of society's effed-up-ness as a whole, and not so much an Austin thing...if that makes sense? Let me try and explain.

We came from a small town in Missouri, that I think many people thought of as idyllic - everyone knows everyone else, everyone is "so friendly", etc. etc. Of course, that only counted if you were a normal-looking white assumed-Christian individual, it was a typical Bible Belt town - terrible, terrible cops (I could tell you awful stories, but they're even more depressing, SO yeah), homophobes, racists, etc. It really showed me the worst of what you could expect from people, in many ways.

And then we moved to Austin, and it's so amazing! Nobody treats me like a freak, we moved here in June & I haven't had one rude comment about my hair or tattoos since. (I got them on a daily basis in Joplin.) We haven't even ran into any really rude people. Still, though, even though I absolutely love it here, I'm always hypervigilant, constantly aware of who's around me and what they're doing, I've usually got pepper spray on me - in that situation, I probably would have pepper sprayed the asshole in the face as soon as I was uncomfortable. Borderline paranoid? Maybe. But it's society in general that makes me think that way, NOT Austin. And the percentage of assholes here is almost comically lower than any other place I've ever been.

Soo this got way longer than I intended, sorry Tolly! I hope some of what I was trying to say got across? Even if it didn't (in which case, whoops), I'm still really glad you're safe!

Gary said...

This makes me NOT happy. But I am glad you and Dana got out of that relatively unscathed. ;)

Austin Eavesdropper said...

Wow, thank you for all the support, guys!! This virtual hug circle pretty much made my day.

It is especially reassuring to know that I'm not overreacting here. I KNOW girls (and, hell, guys too) get heckled on a regular basis in larger/seedier/easier-to-be-anonymous cities, as well as in Austin, but this incident felt different than heckling....which is why I felt compelled to post about it. I, like most of you here, have had skeevy guys yell at me before, but there was something extra last night. Aggression. Anger. The stuff he said that I did not print was nauseating, and he was shouting it at the very top of his lungs. A screamed stream of unresolved issues, as Paul said.

I failed to mention that this incident happened after Dana and I's close friend got followed home, to her beautiful neighborhood off S. Lamar, just last weekend. She's ok, but the guy that did it pulled up in her driveway and said some pretty revolting things to her as well ("I'll pay you $100 if you watch me..." - fill in the blank). She went inside and locked the door, called the police, he took off - but seriously, WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE. I think the knowledge of that incident fueled my reaction to this one here, an overall: "WTF! What is happening to my precious, kind Austin?!"

Pepper spray is a good idea, I've decided. whoever said that gross behavior like that is not reflective of Austin, but specific to the broken, lost people who somehow wander in - you are totally right! I agree with you, and although this probably stems from the innocent/naive part of my brain, I'd like to think that by living here long enough, in our kinder environs, the nastiness will get coaxed out of them. Which is why I'm not going to stop smiling at people! Just going to be a little more careful about it.

And have Dana around as much as possible. :) Seriously Dana if you are reading this, I can't tell you how grateful I am to have had you there!!

Amanda said...

They make mace in a pink carrying case. I work till after dark in St. Johns. I've never felt threatened, but it's nice to know it's there. And I like pink. So there you are.

Dana said...

Hey Tolly. We had an ordeal alright. But you forgot to mention that we found ten dollars! The world is not all bad :)

Seriously that guy gave me the creeps from the start. If you are a lone dude outside a bar and you randomly call to two ladies walking to their car, don't feel bad if you get snubbed cause it is not a cool thing to do. In fact, if you are a dude at all, try not to call out to ladies walking to their car in an after-hours environment, unless you know them personally. Their plans are usually set for the night. Especially try not to assault, verbally or physically, said ladies. It is against the law and nobody will win in this situation. Thank you for your consideration.

Now Tolly, I am very glad we had each other to get through that particular trial and tribualtion. That dude was gross but fortunately not particularily energetic. Let's always travel in packs! <3

Austin Eavesdropper said...

DANA! I completely forgot about the finding ten dollars on the ground part of the night. You are right, that was awesome. Thanks for throwing us a bone, universe!

That Chelsea Girl™ said...

First off--I'm very glad you're okay and you're safe and you got away from that guy. I have PTSD and would have probably gone into the worst anxiety attack after running away if I had been in your shoes. Good for you for warning your friends.

Secondly--bad people are just like shit; they happen...everywhere. You just have to be more aware. Although you're an adult, when you're out at night, pretend you're a kid: get from Point A to Point B without meandering, don't talk to strangers--just keep walking--and don't fiddle with things in your car without locking your doors first. You never know when an opportunist will come lurking from the shadows.

Anywho, very glad you're okay. This guy's behavior was totally unacceptable, and unfortunately this may not be the last time you're verbally accosted like that :(

Take care and be safe!

jill said...

Thumbs up. Great read T Money. 'Like'.

Frank J. Rivera said...

Well stated, Tolly. And a positive reaction to a horrid incident.

Laura said...

That's a horrible lesson, but a good one to learn. Pretty much anyone who wants to "just ask you a question" is bad news. I used to live in New York, and men were constantly trying to "just ask me a question," whether they were genuinely lost and seeking directions or creepily asking me to give them a smile (or worse). It's not even worth slowing down. Next time, when they want to ask you something, just tell them "Sorry, man, I'm late for a party!" and keep walking. It's not rude; it's self-preservation--especially after dark!

Grant said...

Sorry I scared everyone. I won't hang outside of Shangri-La anymore. It's just so hard to meet single women.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

LOL, Grant - I hate to admit that that absolutely killed me. :) Pardon my snorty laughter, Quacks patrons.

Grant said...

I go by Quacks every day. I will keep an eye out for your red hair.

luxinaustin said...

Hey chica!

Oh my gosh, I had a knot in my throat the whole time I was reading this story! I'm so happy you guys were okay! What a creepy guy!

I can't say I'm completely innocent of having my blinders on, just greeting everyone with a smile and assuming everyone is buddy material.

Drummond, my better half, actually had a serious conversation with me about this a couple years ago when I still lived in kind of a shady apartment off Riverside and he found out I was walking to and from the corner store. By myself. One time I did it in the evening. Ya. I look back on it and it's like, "Um, Katie. Hello. Situational awareness, please!" But I never thought anything of it at the time. My thinking was always, "It's Austin. It's safe. My apartment is only across the street." The charming side of this city definitely lulled me into a a sense of, "Nothing'll ever happen to me!" Then I had kind of an unnerving run in with a creepy guy in the parking lot of said corner store and when I told Drummond, he was upset with me (understandably) for pulling such a stunt. I invested in some pepper spray the next day ;)

Xo- /K