Thursday, August 02, 2007

UOJ---What should I have done?

Dear UOJ,

Erev Shabbos Nachamu, after several shaggy weeks, I eagerly stepped into the small, crowed barber shop on New Utrecht Ave. in Boro Park . I took my place among the people waiting, some chatting on their cell phones or tapping on their blackberrys, others, reading a magazine or just staring straight ahead as if watching paint dry. Within a minute or two, a short, heavy, unusually dark-skinned chasid in his upper 40s walked in and looked around. I watched him head toward an empty chair at the end of the row, where he sat at down next to the tall, lanky, dark haired “modern chasid” in his 20s. I suddenly froze. The man who just walked in was the same animal who tried to molest me in the bathroom of a Brooklyn yeshiva more than a decade ago.

I was a tall, skinny fourteen-year-old at the time and attended a well-known, and rather large Brooklyn yeshiva. It was a litvishe yeshiva and the foremost of its kind. A typical day in yeshiva often ended at 10pm after a night of mishmar and basketball.

I remember once stopping off at the pay phone at the end of the hall next to the beis medrash to call a friend before heading home for the night. After around ten minutes of talking I was interrupted by a man who asked me where the bathroom was. (Years ago, our yeshiva doors were always unlocked and sometimes, members of the community would walk in to use the beis medrash if the larger one down the block was too crowded. It wasn’t entirely uncommon then, to see complete strangers stroll in and out of our mesivta building. Although when I was in eleventh grade the hanhala started keeping the doors locked at night and the entire student body was provided with a key.)

I pointed the man down the hall and continued chatting with my friend for another ten or fifteen minutes. When I was done, I headed to the bathroom which was adjacent to the stairs leading to the street. I was at the urinal when the door opened and guess who walked in? The short, fat, dark-haired chasid who asked me where the bathroom was at least ten minutes earlier. I thought it was strange that it took him so long to find the bathroom when it wasn’t more than thirty feet away. Where was he during the rest of my phone conversation? The halls were empty and I would have passed him on the way. In retrospect, the only place he could have been was either in the bais medrash, or, standing in the nook where the candy and soda machines were situated. There was a hidden spot next the machines where I often ducked in order to avoid being seen by the menahel, roaming the hallways during class. That candy machine area was right across from the bathroom.

I was hesitant to “go” because of the stranger who took the spot just near the one right next to me. The unspoken bathroom rule in yeshiva was to use the one furthest from anyone already there. I glanced at him with caution and he smiled and I noticed his piercing blue eyes that seemed to look straight through me. He began to talk to me and ask me questions about the yeshiva, like who my rebbi was, how big was the school, did I like my rebbi? I tried to answer with quick “yes and no” answers but them he grew strangely persistent. He stepped back a few feet from the urinal and I noticed he was exposed and was furiously playing with himself. I immediately froze and barely understood what was happening. It seemed as if I were standing there for hours. Without washing my hands, I backed away and reached for the door, as he was headed toward me He seemed upset and told me to stay because he was enjoying the conversation. I was praying for someone else to join us so this would end. It was too late, and I was probably one of the only ones remaining in the building. I said I had to go and I grabbed the door handle and bolted out. I was scared to leave because it was pretty late and dark and who knows? He might follow me. Although I did not look back I imagined that the man must be pursuing me. Instead of leaving the building, I ran upstairs as fast as my quivering legs could take me. He could not know the building as I did. I ran toward the gym on the third floor after I heard the thumping of basketballs, reverberating in the stairwell. Breathless, I headed inside the gym where I saw a classmate of mine along with someone from another grade playing a one-on-one. I remember I was shaking and I did not want to arouse attention so I sat down on a locker-room bench. The next thing I remember, it was nearly midnight and I carefully tiptoed down the stairs and ran home as fast as my legs could carry me.

Back to the barbershop nearly fifteen years later and there is the man, sitting next to the guy in his 20s, having an animated conversation. My thoughts were racing and I noticed the man staring at me a few times. I could never forget those cold blue eyes. I noticed him stare intently at the young guy’s face while speaking to him. It seemed as if he was attempting to make some sort of continual eye contact, ignoring the understood social “rule” of intermittently looking away from your conversation-partner for a brief moment.

I watched as every so often he would deliberately gently tap the young guy’s arm as if it were a subconscious communication component. I had an urge to get up and confront the guy but I didn’t want to look silly. Me, a “modern” young man, “accosting” a middle-age heimishe yid, in Boro Park , would land me on the wrong side of judgment. I thought maybe the young guy, being a somewhat more open-minded, modern chasidishe type would probably have zero tolerance for a complete stranger accused of being a pervert, and would probably identify with me more so than with this fat animal, but still I remained seated.

I waited for a specific barber and soon the fat animal took his place next to mine for a five-minute haircut. He carefully held on to his payos as the Russian barber, with his hair clipper set at “zero” finished the job. When he was done, the young guy said a quick goodbye to him and ascended the chair just occupied by the fat pervert. After the fat pervert paid for his haircut, he returned to the chair and gently placed his hand on the young person’s arm and stared at him for several seconds, saying “goodbye…nice to meet you….” The young guy seemed to have been oblivious that the pervert was being very touchy. I could not believe it as I watched the pervert then make a move to leave the barbershop, when he quickly turned around for another goodbye, smile, and pat on the arm. As I watched the scene play out in the mirror in front of me, this time I sensed just a bit of annoyance on the part of the “prey.”

After the pervert left, I almost started a conversation with the young guy, intending to tell him the story and to warn him to be careful if he ever meets the guy again. I refrained from doing so. I was too enraged and a little shaken up. Besides, the barbershop was crowded by now and I could not face the prospect of someone overhearing me and doubting my veracity.

UOJ--What should I have done?