The Game of Menace

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By Mary Kay O'Grady


I'm aware that most young people who dress and behave in a "menacing" way are playing a game: they get to scare people like me. In turn, people like me get to feel angry, afraid, guilty and hopeless. 
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world . . .William Butler Yeats

I've developed a quick "scan" to determine whether someone around me is menacing. I note the black hoodie, pants falling down, hands not visible, looking at everyone with a scowl and using foul language, especially in a group. My scan includes the good signs: carrying a backpack, listening intently to earphones, and being on the phone. I figure someone who has a phone is not looking for mine.
If I'm uncomfortable, I often slip out the door and quickly board an adjacent car. Recently that backfired when I went from a guy singing obscene songs to a guy who had been sick on himself and was having seizures. I reported the guy having seizures, thinking he needed an ambulance, and was told "he's like that every day."
I've pretty much decided that the mumblers, the preachers, and the lurchers up and down the aisle are harmless.
Recently I came home on the EL in rush hour. I was seated next to a young man, someone who could be described as clean-cut, probably high school or college age. A woman stood above him, sixtyish I'd guess, weighted down with purse and tote, and swaying as she held onto the strap above her. I turned to him and said, " Are you sure you want her to stand?" He replied "Are you sure you do?" I said "I'm over seventy." He turned back and took a large book out of his book bag, and opened it to begin reading. It was Milton's Paradise Lost.

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