I was unloading the small part, the part where a child can sit, so my back was to the people in line behind me. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem at all -- I am not noted for my paranoia -- but there was a problem. With "but" being the operative word, only add another "t" to the end of it.
As I was removing items from the cart and placing them on the belt, I couldn't help but feel something? someone? touch my bottom. I sort of froze for a split second, evaluating the situation. I mean, I've been to Italy before and I don't know if things have changed over there in the past thirty years, but my bottom got touched, like, all the time. It was great. I'm kidding. Sort of. Anyway, I was only fifteen at the time and my bottom was, well....different than it is now. I glanced quickly back over my shoulder and noticed that the old gent who was behind us in the line was actually BEHIND us. It was his behind touching my bottom.
I murmured, "Excuse me," and pushed our cart a little bit forward so that I'd be out of his way and continued piling groceries on the belt. A few seconds later, there it was again: a gentle but insistent pressure on my backside. Another quick glance confirmed that it was that man again, standing back to back with me, pressing his rear against mine.
Flustered, I moved the cart a bit forward again, deciding not to say "excuse me" again because it was just kind of embarrassing, you know? I mean, the dude was old, right? And because he was so old, it just didn't right to imply that he was engaged in some kind of pervy shenanigans that might have gotten his face slapped if he'd done such a thing forty years previously.
Because old men don't think nasty thoughts, do they?
So, back to the groceries. Back to the unloading. We were almost finished, and Meelyn, oblivious to my plight, was standing in such a manner that I couldn't push the cart forward any further without mowing her down. Which is why, when the elderly man pushed his keister into my derriere for the THIRD TIME and just left it there, touching me, I had no good way to escape.
Let me just go off on a rabbit trail here. American women, for all our Virginia Slims and equality and freedom and such, are often just too freaking nice. We are so nice that we let people get away with doing stuff that they shouldn't ought to be doing because we don't want to make a fuss, don't want to cause a commotion, don't want to embarrass anyone or draw undue attention to ourselves or whatever. So we let people carry on doing something that is clearly wrong - or perhaps maybe....not so clear? When you're in a situation that's hard to define, what exactly can you do to define it?
For instance, should I have turned around and said to the old codger, "Sir, I can't help but notice that you've pressed your backside rather firmly against mine three different times now and I'd like to know just what you're doing? I mean, are you just in a hurry and needing to get your groceries unloaded quickly and are therefore being heedless of my personal space? Or do you have some other intent? I need to know so that I can decide whether I should hit you with my purse, or threaten to have my husband hunt you down or just give you the Miss Manners patented glacial stare-and-thin-lipped-smile combo."
Instead, I just turned all the way around so that I was facing him. He must have sensed my breath on the back of his neck, because all of a sudden, he pulled his bum in and, casting a furtive look over his shoulder, suddenly busied himself with re-arranging all the boxes and cans in his own cart.
He wouldn't look me in the face, wouldn't meet my eyes.
I didn't say anything. How could I? I mean, maybe he was mortified that he'd run into me three different times. Sadly, my bottom does stick out a good bit. On the other hand, if you were an elderly clandestine bottom-rubber, mine does make an easy and visible target. It's just all RIGHT THERE, hard to miss.
I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I didn't want to call him out in front of all those people. I was second-guessing myself like crazy by that point, anyway. Surely it was just my imagination that led me to think that my rear end was not only being touched, but pressed against?
No. It wasn't my imagination. I felt all weird and twitchy about that incident for the rest of the afternoon, wondering what I would have done and how I would have felt if it had been Meelyn's bottom he'd touched. Because I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when it came to my hiney, but discovered that I was totally and completely unable to summon any feelings of "Aw, the poor old thing...he probably didn't even realize," when it came to Meelyn's hiney.
I would have jumped over the cart full of groceries and gone all Matrix on him.
Later that evening, when my husband and I were at dinner, I recounted my touchy tale to him. When I explained the first incident, he just nodded his head to acknowledge his agreement that it was probably nothing, but raised his eyebrows when I got to the second episode. By the time I was getting to the third moment of the old man pressing against me, my husband laid down his fork.
"Did you say something to him?" my husband asked.
I shrugged and swallowed a bite of salad. "What could I say that wouldn't make me look like some freakishly high-strung individual?"
My husband gave me a long look and then replied, "A lot of the time, that's probably what people like him count on. That no woman is going to want to accuse some nice old fart in a Mister Rogers cardigan of touching her for fear that she's going to seem hysterical and bizarre. Because what could be more harmless-looking than a guy who looks like he could be your granddad? That just gives men like that a green light to go ahead and touch a few more ladies. Never in a way that seems on purpose, like just reaching out and grabbing. But in a more subtle way, pressing against a butt in a grocery check-out line, 'accidentally' getting some side-boob action with his elbow when he reaches across you as we pass the collection plate at church...."
I gulped and glanced around nervously, doing a quick Spot-the-Pervert check amongst my fellow diners. "You're freaking me out. Like there's this whole world of dirty old men out there, prowling around trying to cop a feel."
It was his turn to shrug. "Well, that stereotype got started somehow. We can't blame it all on Benny Hill." He picked his fork back up and speared some lettuce on it.
"So, if this sort of thing should happen again? I should?...."
My husband smiled his lop-sided smile, the same one that melted my heart when we first met. "You look at him and say, in a very quiet voice, 'If you don't stop touching me, I am going to break you in half, motherfu.....'"
"Okay. Gotcha," I interrupted hastily.