Friday, August 3, 2012

A Few Notes on Public Masturbation

Like albino animals of all sorts and a man who genuinely “just wants to cuddle,” there may be some things in life you understand happen but have never actually seen.

Until a random Thursday evening when you decide to sit in a corner of a bookstore and notice, after sitting for a bit perusing your stack of books, that a man is jerking off to the sight of you.

You may gasp in surprise, have the urge to laugh incredulously and nervously (“Oh my God, that actually just happened!”), feel wildly violated, or be filled with violent rage (“NOBODY is allowed to expose themselves to me without my express permission!”). Or perhaps, if you are addled with naiveté and shocked at such a sight, all four at once will occur, manifesting themselves in puddles of saltwater collecting in and around your eyeballs. Artfully applied eyeliner and mascara will run down your cheeks and collect on tissues provided by kind store clerks. But, as you will soon find out, this is a common course of events in New York.

Your friend will say, “Yeah, a guy did that to me in Central Park once. Another time I saw a guy doing it in front of a girl on the subway and when I turned to warn her, he ran off the train.”

Your mother, from New York originally, will tell you the story of a flasher on the playground when she was 9 or 10.

Your father, also from New York, will say “Welcome to the club.”

You will, however, know none of this as you chain smoke outside the bookstore with the very friendly female clerks that have decided to comfort you as you wait for the cops to arrive. When the store manager asks if there’s anything he can do for you, you will fight the urge to say, “Uh, free books for life?” but instead say, no, nothing, thank you. The store manager tells you that, though the cops will come and search the store, it may very well be an instance of “Oh, Charlie’s at it again,” or some such phrasing that notifies you this is not an uncommon occurrence. Apparently, especially, in sections of the store including but not limited to Human Sexuality, Erotica, and Crafts (as in “Arts and”).

So, being flashed or masturbated to in a public setting is a rite of passage of sorts in New York—as if all the positive things that also happen to indicate your New Yorker-dom (seeing Woody Allen around town, finding your way home in a drunken haze from a borough not your own, knowing where to catch cabs during shift change) mean nothing if they are not also punctuated by the unpleasant ones. Though you may have already decided to use the “New Yorker” phrase to describe yourself, this is a moment that will test you. Now that you’ve been here for two years—entry-level New Yorker-dom, one might say—do you now have what it takes to live and occupy the same city as not just brilliant artists but sick, sick bastards? How will you react? What will you learn from this experience? How will you react next time if, and dear God you hope not, there is a next time?

Mindfulness is key, of course. But so is the ability to keep your shit together and simply get up and say, “Oh, get a room, asshole.” Lesson learned. Next level New Yorker-dom achieved.