Train Problems

So one time I was in Italy. I did not have a lot of money when I was in Italy, but I was very excited to be there and I wanted to see as much of it as possible. What I would do is I would ride the trains without buying a ticket. This is ridiculously easy to do in Italy. One thing I would do is I would buy a one-way ticket someplace (say, Florence), ride the train to my destination, spend a day there, and ride back without buying another ticket. When the ticket-taker came through, I would give him my expired one-way ticket. He would squint at the ticket, then ask me,

“Where are you going?”

“To Florence,” I would confidently reply.

“This train is headed for Montevarchi,” the ticket taker would say.

“Oh SHIT” I would cry, snatching the ticket from his hand and running for the doors. “I need to turn around. Thank you so much!”

Then I would get off the train at the next stop and get back on a car that the ticket-taker had already checked.

While I was doing this, I was also running another scam. A group of elementary school children in Arrezzo were enchanted by my juggling, and so I made sure to spend some time with them in the park every day. They would attempt to teach me Italian, and in exchange I would amaze them with my tricks and scare off the older kids who liked to set off fireworks in the park. Then, at night, I would position myself on the city’s main commercial drag, juggling with my collection dish out, and one by one the children would bring their parents by. I have never made so much money juggling as I did in the tiny town of Arrezzo (except for one time in New York City, but that’s a whole other story).

But gradually the children grew bored of me, and my earnings dwindled. Plus I’d been juggling so hard for so many days, my wrists hurt. One night, I finally decided that as soon as I made enough money for a train ticket back to the town where I was staying, I would go.

Not more than two minutes later, two coins dropped into my bowl. One was a euro – the exact amount I was short for a train ticket – and the other was a coin from Denmark, which was totally useless to me. I packed up and headed for the train station.

Of course, I didn’t actually buy a train ticket. Buying train tickets was for other people. In fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t buy another train ticket until I ended up in Portugal, where underemployment means that every train has two ticket-takers per car. One time, I pulled my get-off-get-on trick with a ticket-taker near the French border, and when she came through the train a second time and found me there, she just shook her head and let me stay. Yes, I was a terrible person in Italy. It does that to you.

But back to the night in question. I had just found my seat, when I noticed a man enter the cabin. I immediately recognized him as the one who had given me my last two coins. He was a short, balding man who wore every one of his fifty or sixty years on his face, plus some uneven gray stubble. We made eye contact, and I waved. He smiled, and took a seat across the aisle from me.

I thanked him for the money, and he thanked me for juggling. He gave me another euro, and I thanked him for that as well. The train was loud and my Italian was terrible, so he moved to the seat across from me. As we spoke he kept putting his hand on my knee, which made me uncomfortable but was obviously just a friendly Italian thing. Obviously.

There was a lull in the conversation while I tried to find Italian words for what I wanted to say. Finally, I settled for,

“I’m scared.”

He straightened up.

“What? Why?”

“Because I don’t have a ticket for this train.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t have any money.”

“Do you need money?”

I laughed.

“I always need money.”

Sexo?” he said.

“What?” I said.

Sexo?” he said.

“What?” I said, leaning forward in an attempt to hear better.

He leaned in until his mouth was almost touching my ear.

“Sexo?” he said.

“No!” I said, smiling weakly and throwing myself into my seat-back with all my strength. “No, no, grazie, grazie, no, grazie, no, no, no! Grazie!”

He smiled back, his tongue darting out to lick his lips. “Okay,” he said, “You said you needed money.”

“Haha, yes!” I said, “But no! No, grazie.”

“My apartment is in San Giovanni,” he said, putting his hand on my leg again.

“Haha!” I said, “Great! Superb!”

The conductor announced Montevarchi, my stop.

“Hey, that’s me!” I said, “Goodbye!”

“Ciao, bello,” he said, leering.

The conductor had announced my stop, but it was still fifteen minutes away. Fifteen very, extremely long minutes. I stared at the train doors with terrified intensity while my traveling companion eyed me like I was a pork carcass dangling from the metal handrail. Finally the doors opened and I left. I looked over my shoulder to see the man standing at the window, waving at me. I entered an underpass leading out of the station. As soon as I broke line of site with the man, I ran. I ran until I couldn’t anymore.

And even this did not persuade me to start paying for my own train rides.

Maybe the craziest thing about this story is that this is the only time something like this has ever happened to me. If I was a woman, it wouldn’t be unusual if I had a whole gang of stories like this. They wouldn’t seem nearly as unusual. In fact, if I was a woman and I started telling this story, chances are I’d be asked, “Why the fuck were you traveling alone in the first place? Didn’t you know something like this was going to happen?” I hate that. I don’t have anything super insightful to say about it. I just hate it, and wish it would stop. But how do I make it stop if I can’t even afford a train ticket, eh?

Maybe you have some ideas, though. There are more of you than me, and you like my website so you’re probably pretty smart. So work with me here — what can we do to make this story weird for everyone?

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15 thoughts on “Train Problems

  1. I can only assume from this story that you were dressed slutty, Ovid. Cover up next time, you whore.

    Seriously, though…yikes!!

  2. When my father was 15, in good old wholesome 1950s California, he ran away from home because dumb kid. He jumped on a train up to San Francisco and wandered around the city being emancipated until some nice dude asked him if he needed help. Dude took him home, fed him dinner, offered up his couch and to drive him back down to his parents the next day because dumb kid.

    Then when lights went out, dude says, “Hey so, maybe you want to sleep in my bed? It could be like… you know, like we’re brothers?” Dumb kid says UH NO THAT SOUNDS WEIRD and dude is cool with it. Drives him home the next day, tells him to stay in school. HOW DID THAT NOT END TERRIBLY? The world is full of good people?

    Also gads, I am still not done with your knitted hat because I can’t get the heads right. And now you’re off myths.

  3. Thanks for that penultimate paragraph. WRT the last one, I think that bystander intervention is a start. If we can yell at strangers for cutting us off on the freeway I think we can do the same for people who are sexually harassing people on the street.

    PS have you considered retelling the Satyricon yet because it would be GOLD.

  4. Ah, see, lots of times, girls will share their versions of this story (and there are many), and we just roll our eyes: “Man, you got it, too?” I do feel sorry when it happens to boys–it’s always such a surprise; y’all aren’t prepared. And now I’m bummed that it is often so routine for girls.

  5. hey, dude! i’ve been reading your website for years, but this is the first time i’ve commented on something. i just wanted to say that i love the writing you publish here, whether it’s myths or stories from your life or anything, really. i’m also SUPER thankful that you include things like the last couple paragraphs on this post – a lot of the time, it’d only be discussed in a rigid academic essay or it’d be viewed as shitting on the telling of a story, you know? i’m looking forward to any future material you put out there, regardless of what it’s about.

  6. To be clear, you just sharing your story and pointing out the fact that this weird, creepy story that seems unimaginable to guys is totally “normal” and “standard” for a female means A LOT. It gives people perspective and that’s important.

  7. My (female) friend got full-on mouth-kissed at a Moscow Metro station, and I (also female) have been masturbated next to on the DC Metro. And it’s not like either of us were dressed provocatively or anything. At least your guy had a nice conversation with you first. I’m sorry this happened to you, but I do hope it puts it in perspective for you and other men out there. Remember that guys are mostly bigger and stronger than us, too, by a lot. If you as third-parties started calling creeps on their creepiness in public forums (fora?), I think it could help create a stigma against this kind of behavior where currently there is none.

    Also it doesn’t hurt that you’re a goods storyteller and you made the incident amusing. That should get some extra traction, too. 🙂

  8. OK, I get why you did this, and it is a GOOD THING, and we do need to work out ways of ridding human society/nature of its faults, and one way of starting is for all of us to make it part of our conversations like you have. We are slowly changing things together, I hopefully believe.

    But, PLEASE, can we all stop implying men don’t stand up for women ever, or that all men COULD stand up for women always?, can we ALL stop implying that somehow, magically, “If men cared enough” or something, men could stop the predators?.

    BECAUSE WE FUCKING CAN’T always, and MOST men can’t deal with a person who is in their nature violent, has lived a violent life, is a predator, EVEN TO PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM HIM.
    MOST men don’t even get their hands up in time to avoid the attack. JUST LIKE WOMEN, most men are in real danger in these situations.
    I am strong and fit and have had years of martial arts training, played rugby all my life and have been brought up from my youth to serve society, to keep the Queens peace, to do the right thing. I never hesitate to do my duty.

    Four times in my life this has lead to my speaking up in situations where I ought to, to defend people (not always women) from predators, and then being fucked up and put in hospital.

    Ovid was too concerned and disturbed to forcefully speak up and defend HIMSELF in the situation he describes, and somehow “all” men are going to be able to do so for all women, always?.

    I will tell you what happens in that situation sometimes. You speak up, and the predator turns his attention on you IN AN INSTANT RAGE at your interference. And you get your eye-socket crushed and have five years of painful repairs done on it, and never really get relief from the pain. This happened to me, in a train station, telling a couple of guys to stop disturbing a woman.

    SO some good advice for everyone is, if you are vulnerable, plan your OWN life to keep yourself out of danger. That makes things harder for women, and YES, we must work together to overcome this, but, Ladies, most men are INCAPABLE of helping you without endangering themselves, late at night, in a train. Most guys would like to help you, but are just as afraid to try as the other women around, and for exactly the same reason.

    • I agree. That, and many people would like to do something but don’t know what. A technique I learnt in self-defence class is delegating tasks to people: “Look at what this man is doing to her, you, call the police, you, call security, etc.” I’m saying this but I don’t think I’d ever dare do it, if I saw someone getting harassed or worse I’d probably go hide in a safe place and call the cops. I live in a relatively safe area though, but some people are very rude and there’s a huge binge-drinking problem on campus close to where I live, I’m pretty sure rapes must be happening but nobody talks about them. People you don’t know can be pretty unpredictable, if you talk back even over something minor you don’t know what could happen. I have a friend who was assaulted on the trolley just because he’s gay.

      The other thing is, if you speak out about being harassed or touched in unpleasant ways by random men on public transit, some people will assume all sorts of racist things. Once a guy groped my ankle (WTF!?) on the trolley and when I told someone about this, she asked if he was an Arab. He was (or maybe he was Turkish, who knows), but it can and does happen with men of all nationalities and I can give examples, I could tell her aaaall about my shitty ex who’s a blue-eyed blond with a macho complex. I hated the fact she was right on this particular instance and I hate the fact I didn’t dare talk back against her naïve generalization. It’s like you can’t speak out about street harassment without undergoing this kind of recuperation, and for me it’s a very powerful silencing tool. Another thing that happened to me was, I heard a man getting assaulted by his ‘friend’ on the street late at night (see above: binge-drinking), he was yelling “FUCK, STOP IT!” so I called the cops. They asked me what these guys’ nationalities were and it came way out of left field, though it shouldn’t have. I mean how on earth am I supposed to know the “nationality” of two guys I heard going rapidly down the street while fighting and I didn’t even see? Are they assuming white men don’t get into fights? What the fuck people? Then when I talked to neighbours, they were complaining about the fact two men were brawling down the street and how much they hated them for being noisy scum, but one of them was very clearly getting assaulted! Anyway, thanks Ovid for enabling this kind of dialogue!

    • One of the episodes in my life that I am the least proud of is the time I got lost on a streetcar in Germany. None of the station names were intelligible for me, so I was just taking trains at random. I ended up sharing a car with a drunken couple who were violently fighting over a bag of beer. The man started hitting the woman, and I watched. I didn’t speak German, I was a malnourished 19-year-old, and I had no idea where I was.

      Two minutes later, a couple of German passengers sprinted past me and broke up the fight. The train stop, and the man escaped into the night. Cops came onto the train. One of the men who had broken up the fight walked up to me and asked me something in German.

      “I don’t speak German,” I said.
      “Why didn’t you do something?” He said in English.
      I didn’t know what to say. I just shrugged. He shook his head, and went to talk to the police.

      That scene is etched in my memory as a personal failure. Yeah, if I’d butted in I might have ended up gutted. And maybe it wasn’t my place. But I felt like I should have done something, not as a man but as a human, as a member of the community on the train. The fact that I didn’t reinforced my status as an outsider there, a traveler.

      So I’ve always kind of wished there was something I COULD do, to make up for that, and speaking up on the internet – which is a public forum just as much as a train is – is my cowardly attempt. So I respect the chances you’ve taken to try and help people, and I totally agree with you that men shouldn’t be expected to take punches for justice, but I think (I hope) there are ways of working on the problem that don’t involve getting sent to the hospital.

      • Speaking out on the internet about a VITAL cause, such as our perfecting our society so, first, women get to ONLY be as at danger as men when out and about, and second, we get the violence out of our lives, isn’t cowardly. Far from it.

        It is probably much more effective in every way than my tactic, which is intervening when I see it.

        Because, your post stays on the internet, and is hopeful, and makes people think “We SHOULD, we should speak up when we see a woman in distress” and, actually, even when I am successful, intervening involves violence, if only violence of speech and threat. It is also transient, no one but the people there benefits from it.

        If we get serious about it as a society, ONLY something like your way will ultimately solve the problem, because actually, my resorting to violence to solve violence . . . well, you can see the logical problem there.

        I wasn’t getting at you my friend. I was ( too heatedly ) pointing out the problem in the feminist catch-cry “It is mens responsibility to solve the violence problem against women”. The problem with it as a catch cry is it ignores the logic of its own statement. Bad violent men are almost as dangerous ( I would argue MORE dangerous, because the kid gloves come right off, when the person you are thumping seems/is capable of hurting you in return. ) to non-violent men as they are to women. All other things being equal.

        The sad thing is, going in to help someone, I could easily do it in a way that *problem solved* premptively put the other guy out of the fight. Each time I have taken the kicking, it is because I don’t break the law, so have to let the other person escalate the problem . . . off to A&E .

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