Socialized to maximum awkward politeness levels

Or: Schroedinger’s theatergoer.

So recently, Mtastic and I were ushering. We love ushering. We like free theater, we like being "behind the scenes," we like telling folks where to sit, and we like people reasonably well (ok, this is a lie, but we really like free theater). So it’s a good gig all around.

Often in our ushering, we are able to get good seats to see good things. Really, there would have to be something majorly, tremendously wrong with a seat to induce us to move or otherwise give it up. I once sat precariously near a large quantity of mildewed velvet because hello, I was in the second row. 

Last night, because I reached my seat just before the lights went down, I didn’t have a chance to notice anything about the guy seated to my left, or the guy on his other side. I settled into my chair, the stage lights came on, and two beautiful girls in party dresses walked on to the set.

Just then guy next to me began doing something I will refer to, for delicacy’s sake, as Going to the Store. People, particularly women, in New York City have to deal with men Going to the Store in public disturbingly often. Sometimes they think they’re being stealthy, other times they are committing an act of violation and they know it. I had no way of knowing which category this guy fell into, except that he was apparently the sort of person who would Go to the Store in a public theater while still laughing at the jokes onstage and receiving no kind of remonstration from his companion. 

I began slowly and quietly to freak out. I tried the ol’ side-eye glare, and he would stop for a minute but start right back up. I tried to gauge how far it was to the aisle. I imagined making a scene and demanding to know wtf he thought he was doing, Going to the Store in public like that. I felt totally trapped. Utterly incapable of standing up and storming out since it meant inconveniencing and saying excuse me to 5 people between me and the aisle in a 250-seat theater during a preview of a New York premiere by an up and coming female playwright. 

Also, this particular trip to the Store was taking forever. 

It gradually dawned on me that the man might have a medical condition that was responsible for his movements, like Parkinson’s. That suspicion intensified as he became aware of my side-glare and attempted to move his hands away from the store-going region. 

I began to feel like a terrible person. 

Obviously I am not writing this to display any lack of tolerance for people with physical disabilities who are just trying to go to the theater. If I had seen that he had a medical issue before I sat down, I would have done anything to avoid making him uncomfortable (and needless to say, not glared at him) If I had been the one who tore his ticket, or helped him to his seat, I would have known. If we had been seated any sooner, it wouldn’t have been an issue.

I should have apologized to him after the show but could not think of a way to do it that wouldn’t necessitate an infinitely expanding network of apologies.

But here is what struck me afterwards.

If he had been Going to the Store for the full and complete 90 minutes of the play, I feel like I would not have done a thing about it because It Would Be Rude.  Even knowing that I had been laboring under a misconception, I still felt slightly sickened and intruded upon after the experience. I put my personal mental health and wellbeing second to theater-going etiquette, and I feel like a lot of women would have done the same. 

A few years ago the P’s did the Times Square New Year’s Eve thing (everyone should do it once, just so they no longer fear death), and as we stood packed in to the masses, we realized a guy to the right of us was Going to the Store, and even though we were surrounded by THOUSANDS of people, cops, and photographers…. I didn’t do anything more than glare at him until he eventually went away. 

That’s messed up. That’s so messed up I don’t even have the vocabulary to unpack why I was willing sit by and let myself be loaded up with the shame and embarrassment of the experience instead of focusing strongly and firmly on the fact that men who Go to the Store in public are either sick or malicious people and it is our right and obligation to expose them (um…so to speak) so they stop.

Viewed one way, my hesitation allowed me to eventually assess the situation accurately and saved me a ton of humiliation. But if circumstances had been different, I have to wonder exactly how much I would have endured before I got up. Would I have complained? Would I have been ok being responsible for a disruption that wasn’t my fault, but was my responsibility? Or would I more likely have sat through the entire show? Would I have pointed the guy out to the very scary house manager afterwards? Or maybe just gone home hurting and in need of a shower and a hug.

As it was I did get a hug from Mtastic and we grabbed Pinkberry before I headed back to Brooklyn without encountering anybody running errands of any sort. 

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2 Responses to Socialized to maximum awkward politeness levels

  1. kid_lit_fan says:

    We don’t speak up because it turns bad attention on us. I’m sure it all ties in with being Good Girls who have never heard of dirty store-going and thus couldn’t possibly recognize it. Also, if you say “Hey, stop that store-going!” well, you’re just protesting too much, only a nasty girl would notice, you nasty, nasty girl.
    I have seen, and been a part of, several occasions where a man publicly groped a woman or obviously Went to the Store for her “benefit.” The choices are basically try to move away quietly or to say “Get your hands [let’s hope it’s just hands] off of me!” or “Stop that, you’re in a public place!” So, what happens? People glare at the woman. She should just suck it up and not ruin OTHER people’s day, c’monnn. Also, if the guy goes on the offensive, somehow the woman feels bad. “What the hell are you talking about, it’s crowded, as IF I’d grope an ugly bitch like you!”
    Damn. I guess it’s part of the “speak up and change things slowly, but at least change them at all.”
    But there’s always a case like your likely Parkinson’s sufferer, where you’d make a public spectacle and be oh-so-wrong.
    Also, groper usually

  2. kid_lit_fan says:

    We don’t speak up because it turns bad attention on us. I’m sure it all ties in with being Good Girls who have never heard of dirty store-going and thus couldn’t possibly recognize it. Also, if you say “Hey, stop that store-going!” well, you’re just protesting too much, only a nasty girl would notice, you nasty, nasty girl.
    I have seen, and been a part of, several occasions where a man publicly groped a woman or obviously Went to the Store for her “benefit.” The choices are basically try to move away quietly or to say “Get your hands [let’s hope it’s just hands] off of me!” or “Stop that, you’re in a public place!” So, what happens? People glare at the woman. She should just suck it up and not ruin OTHER people’s day, c’monnn. Also, if the guy goes on the offensive, somehow the woman feels bad. “What the hell are you talking about, it’s crowded, as IF I’d grope an ugly bitch like you!”
    Damn. I guess it’s part of the “speak up and change things slowly, but at least change them at all.”
    But there’s always a case like your likely Parkinson’s sufferer, where you’d make a public spectacle and be oh-so-wrong.
    Also, groper usually

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