a Kafka-esque thing happened tonight

Tonight I was in Grand Central Station.

There was a sandy blond-haired man attempting to board a train. He had no shirt on. There is a rule that all passengers "Must wear shirt and shoes" when boarding a Metro-North train. So a train conductor reported him to the police. The shirtless man was in disbelief that police were called on him. He might have been drunk. He was certainly goofy. He flailed his arms in the air. Two policemen began to get nasty with him when he flailed his arms in the air. The shirtless man grabbed a camera to take photos of the police who were nasty to him.

Two policemen then became four policemen. About three out of the four policemen tried to grab the shirtless man's camera. The fourth was attempting to begin to pin the shirtless man down to the ground. "NO, wait! What are you doing? I am just trying to take pictures of you!" Four policemen became eight. "What are you guys doing to me? Oh my god! Oh my god!" Eight became 14. Four National Guardsmen in full camouflage military gear now appeared. The shirtless man's camera was flashing incessantly in what now looked like a Rugby Pile-Up of the Worst Kind. "Stop resisting! Put your hands behind your back!" A policeman with a white German Shepherd appeared. "I know my rights! Gimme Al Sharpton!" More than 20 officers - including National Guardsmen - were now sitting on the shirtless man. A bystander jumped in and tried to get the shirtless man's right arm behind his back. The white German Shepherd began to snap at the shirtless man's head. I thought for sure the dog took a bite off the shirtless man's face.

I looked around me. Dozens of bystanders were standing around the scuffle. An old WASPy-looking lady was shaking her head. "So excessive. All this because he had no shirt?" An African-American woman also shook her head. "That's why nobody likes them."

Enough was enough. The Maitresse had to do something.

I walked up to a policeman who looked as though he weighed 280 lbs. I stood four feet away from the pile-up. Nobody seemed to mind.

Maitresse: "Excuse me. There are over 20 of you servicemen and women here. You are all piled up on this guy because he has no shirt, and you are still having trouble getting the cuffs on him?"
Policeman: "Well, you know...ma'am...sometimes they're - uh - really strong."
Maitresse: "Take a look at all of us standing around you. We are watching you. You are 20 servicemen having trouble getting one shirtless, hysterical, and confused man, cuffed. Are we really supposed to take you guys seriously when the next group of 20 sophisticated al-Qaeda terrorists try to make good on a very well-funded, well-orchestrated attack - maybe right here in this train station? This is pathetic."

With that, I left. I was grateful that the shirt on my back, the shirt a total fluke and gift to me from a friend, had the word "Harvard" written on it.

Note: a more appropriate shirt at the time would have been "UC Berkeley." That's just the activist in me.


Rebel said...

Wow! I'm in awe of your presence of mind! You managed to say exactly what I would have *wanted* to say in those circumstances, but never would have managed to pick my jaw up off the floor long enough to do.
Have you ever watched a little canadian drama called "This is Wonderland"? Your story reminds me of something right out of the Toronto courtrooms (as depicted in that show). Except, of course, minus the national guardsmen and political commentary, of course.

la Maitresse said...

Never saw the program you mentioned, but I would like to, at least once. Alas, I otherwise just hate - I mean *hate* - watching anything about criminal law. It's a lack of faith in our system. My Crim Law professor didn't seem to have much hope for the criminal system here, either.

la Maitresse said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rebel said...

Here's a link to the show:
It's not your typical crime drama. There are never any clear bad guys or good guys and frequently there's no happy ending (just a blackly funny one). It's alternately hilarious and tragic. It's not big splashy crimes - just normal confusion and mental illness and ordinary human conflict. It's all about the messiness of life (imagine Night Court if it had been a realistic drama instead of a screwball comedy).
I don't like courtroom shows normally either. But this one is different (it's SO different that it's anyone's guess how long it will survive on air, unfortunately).

Anonymous said...

Wow. Poise, confidence, and the right words to say.

I'll make you my Role Model of the Day.