I’ve run across incidents like this before, but what reminds me of my own story is something I read recently at Patreesha.com, where a happenin’ Asian-American college student reports her daily trials and tribulations. In an entry entitled, “When Things Go Quickly From Bad to Worse,” she tells the tale of a New York City cab ride gone weird:
It's midnight on a Friday night, and I'm in a cab with a friend Harry going home from some terrible, ritzy club in Chelsea.... Harry got out of the cab before I did, leaving me alone and very visibly drunk with a young male Egyptian cab driver. Shortly after Harry exited and the cab door slammed behind him, I heard the small, throaty, mucus-filled sound of the driver clearing his throat: "AH-CHALAAHMM"
It gave me a short, quick, nervous chill down my spine, similar to the effect of when Hispanic construction workers bellow chittering animal noises at me from the sidewalk (this happened Wednesday); or when wrinkly-faced, very obviously single old Chinese immigrant men (whilst eating dinner in the same restaurant in which they work as short-order chefs) start talking in a dialect that sounds like shattering glass (jing! jong! xiang!) while slyly pointing at me with their chopsticks as fried rice comes flying out from their gaping mouths (this happened today); or when old white guys with their remaining thinning hair shaped carefully into a mullet follow me down the street in their vans with their headlights off in the middle of the night (this happened last night); or when an old dirty Mexican man with acid-wash, elastic leg jeans and a matching denim elasticated cap grabs my ass going down the steps to the subway station and runs away cackling (this happened Friday). I digress, however -- The cab driver locked eyes with mine in the reflection in the rearview mirror and began to speak:
"Hallo I am Mohammed. What is your name?"
"Your boyfriend is very lucky man."
"Oh, that's not my boyfriend. He's just some stupid asshole."
"Oh really? Lady you are most beautiful woman in world. I see you when you get in cab with your friend and I say to myself, 'Wow. Wowie. She is beautiful woman in world. I am lucky to have her in cab even though some asshole greasy young man with her. I am lucky.' -- That is what I think to myself."
"Ha ha, thank you --"
"And I say to myself, 'For that kind of woman, wow, I would kill a boyfriend like that man for her. For you I mean. I would kill with my own hands because you so beautiful.'"
"Oh do not be afraid. That is not my way. I am kind man. Okay? You like Egyptian food? You call me anytime, I take break from work since I get off 5am, we get Egyptian food to eat, together. We will do that? Let me give you phone number."
Patreesha’s story goes on in hilarious fashion, forcing me to recall when I was bartending part-time at a NYC restaurant a few years back. I was living with a waitress and a coat-check girl from the same restaurant, and they were both cute, cool chicks and thus were hit on a lot, but it was the Spanish (mostly Mexican) and Middle Eastern (mostly Bangladeshi) busboys and kitchen-staff guys who were really pushy about it. Actually, the Spanish guys were usually very copasetic, and would just drop the occasional perv comment or bad pick-up line that any guy might after being stuck changing in the co-ed dressing room with the hot waitresses and coat-check girls for the 100th time; the white waiters and kitchen guys were just as likely to attempt a game of grab-ass as anyone.
Perhaps it was the more open chauvinism of the foreign fellows that was really notable, and not their flirtatious advances. (Two of the classy French waiters were the skeeviest of them all, but that’s another story; involving, I kid you not, talk of killing goats in the context of an orgy proposition.) But man, the Middle Eastern guys, especially some of the Bangladeshi guys, were the only ones who brought up murder on a regular basis.
This was pre-9/11, mind you. Mid-2000. The strange thing was that I got along great with all these guys, but then my coat-check-girl roommate told them that I was her boyfriend, hoping to get them off her back, because they were always much worse with the single women. And my waitress roommate told them that a friend of mine was her boyfriend. The next thing the girls know, they're being told by a small group of the Bangladeshi guys that they're so beautiful they're worth killing for, and would they like to have their boyfriends killed? And if my friend and I ever treated the girls badly, the Bangladeshi guys told the waitress and coat check, they would kill us in seconds. And where did we all live, by the way?
A few weeks later, while working, one of the Bangladeshi guys casually mentioned to me that he had "just happened to find your address. I know your neighborhood well. You live on the first floor with the girls? Would you like a biscuit from the kitchen?" And he stood there waiting for me to finish eating the biscuit ("Eat! Eat!") as I kept thinking "Is this poisoned?" But it was a good biscuit and we had a nice chat.
The next day he brought the coat-check girl a flower and gave it to her while I wasn't around. He once again offered to kill me, but she said she didn't need me killed at the moment.... It was very odd. The sly seduction of the coat-check girl and the feeding me of biscuits routine went on for at least a few weeks, until the drama slowly tapered off.
Now, I’ve met a lot of awesome Middle Eastern people and some hyper-cool Bangladeshis, so don’t get me wrong: this was an isolated incident involving a select few individuals. And at the time I took it as being mostly a joke, since I got along with the guys pretty well, although they were extremely, umm, intense gentlemen (the biscuits, flowers, and murder offering busboy who wouldn't give up on the coat-check girl was often referred to as "wild eyed," but he was also a chess champion and very kind, so go figure).
However, when I hear stories like Patreesha’s, with the Egyptian cabdriver offering to kill her boyfriend (or at least the guy he thinks might be her boyfriend), forcing his phone number upon her, figuring out how to get her phone number without her permission, calling her numerous times, knowing where she lives (because he dropped her off at her apartment) ... the hairs on my disgustingly hirsute back stand on end. It’s crazy. Especially in this post-9/11 atmosphere where people are much more likely to take threats like this seriously, where a single complaint of this nature could cost a cabdriver his license, where tensions toward accented Middle Easterners are still on edge. What was the cabdriver thinking? What were the busboys thinking?
Well, they were probably cerebrating the same flustered, overheated, hormonally charged thoughts all men think when confronted with an attractive female. But they really need to get the “I will kill your boyfriend” routine out of their systems and go straight to the “Do you like Middle Eastern food” bit. Yes, Middle Eastern food is delightful. Death threats? Not so much.