I studied in Mexico. That’s where I learned to ruthlessly win at Spoons to avoid tequila-related consequences. I also perfected the art of nursing a Corona for two hours. Being very close to non-drinker status afforded me the opportunity to observe the various phases of inebriation of my male friends there. They typically went from celebratory clanging of glasses to the happy, off-tune singing of naughty songs. (To the tune of La Bamba, “Para ser tu cuñado, para ser tu cuñado se necesita que me prestes tu hermana.”) From there, they’d sing increasingly mournful (still off-tune) songs of unrequited love, the most dramatic of which would be “where are you, little worm?” This they sang while tipping the empty bottle of Mescal. Their finale would find them holding each other and weeping. My friends are good boys who love their mothers and believe in “la buena educación” (good home training).
In July, there was a good boy on the subway in New York City. He was looking for the worm, even though he had no bottle. The poor fellow just wanted a little love, but he was sloppy drunk and completely without inhibitions. Two women fled from him to stand in the doorway. He started talking to a third woman, who was huddled against her friend to stay as far away as possible from the alcohol fumes.
All three women showed him how to read the interactive map and how to wait until 45th Street in Brooklyn was labeled “this stop” to get off the train. Each time he continued talking to them, saying he didn’t know how and needed help. The third woman, instead of giving up her seat and moving away told him to move away and not talk to her anymore. She even told him in beginning, but clear, Spanish, “I don’t want to talk to you.” I watched all of this, not quite knowing if I should intervene. Then he moved over and leaned his shoulder on her. She recoiled and sent him away. He continued to try to engage her. She did her best to ignore him, but he was drunk, smelly, and unaware of the boundaries he’d crossed.
I lived in Mexico for a little while, and I also lived in Southwest Detroit, across from a crack-house. I was, at the time, a New York City public school teacher, to boot. I’ve had surreal moments in which I’ve uttered the phrases, “good luck, hon. I hope they don’t try you as an adult.” I’ve also reminded kids who were taller than me and full of swagger that their posturing and getting in my face was quaint in comparison to my alternative high school kids in Bed Stuy. In other words, I am not a wilting flower – or a delicate flower – or any sort of a flower, for that matter.
I spoke up. I called him “señor” and told him he was bothering the girls, which wasn’t acceptable. He hemmed and hawed and said I was acting as if her were a bad person. I told him that people with “la buena educación” stop bothering girls when the girls say to go away. He tried to say they didn’t mind, and I reminded him that two left their seats to avoid him and one told him to go away. I sternly told him that he had two options. He could sit on a seat I indicated at the end of the subway car (basically putting me and th door between him an the girls), or I could wait until the train stopped and go fetch the conductor to get him arrested.
Allow me to remind you that this was a good boy. While drunk and without boundaries, he showed no signs of being of a rough element. He had no tattoos on his scalp, and no teardrops next to either eye. He was simply a guy who had a little too much to drink while far away from home. It is quite probable that he was the only member of his family in NYC, and homesick.
He seemed astonished to hear me speak this way to him – using respectful language, including the formal “usted”, which shows some degree of deference – but ushering him firmly to the lonely seat. He said he didn’t want to sit alone, and I thought of the seventh graders from the previous year who used the same argument. The argument met with the same amount of mercy this time on my part. I told him that he could sit for 10 stops on the bench or he could sit with several criminals in a jail cell… yes… just for talking to girls. He tried to get permission from me to sit next to one of the girls again, but I stood firm. I told him, “for your own good, sir, you need to sit alone. Now please be so good as to make your decision, because the train is slowing down and I’ll have to run runt to get to the next car.” I stood up, the doors opened, and he flew to the seat I indicated.
I sat down again, took out my book, and put my headphones back on. All three girls thanked me with words or meaningful nods. All was well… for about 10 minutes. Our friend left his seat and went to girl #3. The Pakistani fellow next to me nudged my arm and gestured to our inebriated friend. I went through he process a second time, and again he returned to his seat at the last possible second.
After a few stops more, a delightful couple sat next to him, leaving a beautiful woman between our friend and a burly fellow. He touched her several times, leaning against her shoulder and making her visibly uncomfortable until she and the burly gentleman traded spaces.
Our friend left his seat and came to me, He said that he felt badly because I talked to him so sternly. I reminded him that the best way to avoid my firmness was not to bother the women on the train. He said I shouldn’t have mentioned the police. I responded that he needed to be very careful, because bothering a girl in this city can send a man to jail or the hospital – depending on the observers and the women themselves. He then asked me to forgive him, and he resumed his seat.
The Pakistani fellow left the train at the fourth stop in Brooklyn, giving me the thumbs-up as he reached the platform. The first girl thanked me when our friend left the train at 45th Street. Then she told the couple what had happened.
All the hardship I’ve experienced in NYC’s Department of Education was worth it that night. I used the training provided by 500 students to manage one behavioral issue in a way that benefited everyone in our train community. I went to bed that night with fond thoughts of my naughtiest students and my well-meaning, drunk friends in Mexico. Yo, I got mad skillz!