Ever since I moved to New York two years ago, I’ve been overwhelmed by the experience. Normally when I’m overwhelmed, I’d spend time reading and writing outside. But even that becomes overwhelming in New York because actually getting to an outside that’s not concrete is a twenty-minute trip.
The outdoor experience isn’t as good, either. I used to have a nice yard with a tree to lie under. Now I have to share that tree with at least two or three people, one of whom will inevitably be on a cell phone talking loudly about something I couldn’t possibly care less about. Thus, the introspective value of being outside gets tarnished by the sheer number of people who insist on existing near me every second of every day. It’s hard to write a masterpiece when this is happening: “No, I HEARD him when he told me to wear a condom, but I DIDN’T WANT TO. WHAT? What did you just say?” I can’t write poetry when I’m forced to think about a stranger’s sexual experience.
There is one park near my apartment that isn’t too full of people. There are benches overlooking the scenic East River. There aren’t any famous buildings in view, but there are some nice bridges. When I go there, I like to explore a little, find myself a quiet bench, and begin writing. But then, whether it’s five minutes in or an hour in, I get to experience the worst of city parks.
Something you’ll learn from hanging out in parks in New York is that packs of hormone-ravaged boys from age sixteen to twenty-five also like parks. They seem to enjoy walking around, sitting on playground equipment, and laughing. I tend not to sit near them because their loudness is extremely irritating, and I’d rather not attract their attention. As I sit and quietly read or write, though, the pack will approach, laughing and carrying on, talking over each other in a way that makes me suspect even they don’t know what they’re talking about.
No matter how small and still I try to make myself, they always spot me. Sometimes a few will say something dirty to make me look up. Sometimes the whole group turns up their collective volume, but no matter how they do it, their goal is for me to look at them. I learned early on that eye contact is your downfall. As soon as you notice them, it’s over. Even if you just turn your head without making eye contact, they take that as a sign of interest and begin wooing you. If you successfully ignore them on the initial attempt, their next strategy is getting you to talk to them by either shocking you or complimenting you. Again, your best bet is not to react at all.
I’ve gotten some okay responses by confidently saying “thanks” to their compliments and then going back to what I was doing, but that’s a risky maneuver that can easily backfire. Telling them you’re busy and that you’d like to be left alone also never ends well. I’ve been called a “bitch” and worse (MUCH worse) more times than I ever have in my entire life from that strategy, so the best course of action is to continue to ignore them or put earbuds in to make your intentions extra clear.
Shyer or younger groups of guys sometimes opt for a more subtle approach. They will walk by, see me, and then keep walking. I think I’m safe until I hear the group moving into position. They nonchalantly find a reason to hang out behind me, usually a few feet away, and then start trying to get me to look at them by doing impressive things like jumping on their skateboards, talking about their dicks, or yelling to each other about how hot they think I am while speculating about various parts of my body. I actually prefer those groups because I don’t fear as much for my safety, but some of the things they say still make me uncomfortable, even if they’re complimenting me. Call me crazy, but being stalked by a group of strangers isn’t what I would call flattering. This tactic of approaching women is a little frightening because of how quickly things can turn ugly if they don’t like my response to their attention.
Of course, if I were to go to the exact same park with my husband, none of those people would say anything to me, as if the fact that I have a male chaperone makes them unwilling to notice me at all. The mere presence of a man by my side completely changes the dynamic, and they just continue on their way.
Obviously, I like being alone at times and so am not going to bring my husband on every outing, but it makes me wonder why his being there with me is even a deterrent. I mean, I love my husband, but he’s an average-sized guy, in no way intimidating. Are they really afraid he will fight them if they talk to me? What is the point of this tactic, anyway?
I can’t possibly imagine they’re successful in picking up women that way. What woman has said, “Oh, this pack of men is cat-calling me. I shall go home with any and all of them”?
What’s a girl got to do to go to the park and avoid all human contact? We may never know the answers to these questions, but experiences like the above make me sure that I need to find a lesser-known park or make enough money to buy a place with a yard and tree.