Tuesday, 29 May 2007

A great bully

En route to Mildura last Friday I had the bad luck to be seated next to a really unpleasant human being. About eight rows back a woman was travelling with three fairly noisy little boys. Their noise was steady but in truth it was not very loud and if my neighbour hadn't objected to it I doubt it would have registered much with me. They certainly weren't loud enough to interfere with concentrating on post-Lacanian feminist literary criticism about the Maternal Symbolic in Beloved. But about fifteen minutes into the flight the man jerked his thumb back over his shoulder and said to me I was looking forward to having grandchildren, but not any more. I said Mmm and went on reading. A little later he turned around and shouted back down the aisle Oy - shut those kids up and of course the woman did 'shut them up'; everyone on the plane could hear her imploring them to please, please be quiet, which they were, for a few minutes. The man laughed as if at a great joke and I had the impression he caught the eyes of a two or three men of similar age and condition sitting in our part of the plane and a couple of them obligingly produced some smirks and Hur hur hurs. I am not describing a patriarchal conspiracy here; it was more like the man bore himself in a way that meant he was used to having authority, to being listened and attended to, and people take that at face value and respond to it accordingly, especially when it's sprung on them.

After a bit the kids piped up again and so did he. Those kids really bugged him. There was more shouting over the shoulder. Smack those brats can you. He kept restlessly turning, either to me on the right or the other fellows around the aisle on the left, and muttering about kids today ... little bastards ... bloody rugrats. As one of the cabin staff passed he stopped her with a touch on the arm: got any chloroform to quiet them down? She pressed her lips together aloofly and walked on, which he appeared to interpret as an encouraging signal. Turning to me he said no discipline, discipline is what they need. What they need is a crack on the arse a smack around the legs a kick in the guts a crack around the head.

Finally I said: I don't want to hear that, I'm not interested in your opinions. And I don't think hitting kids is a good idea. There was a moment's silence. I had been looking at my papers when I spoke and I didn't see his face, but I did see his right arm fly out in my direction, not to hit me as I thought for a second, but to petulantly strike the papers off my tray table and onto the floor. I had shrank away defensively but I leant down automatically to pick them up, thinking as I did: I'm on a plane, nothing will happen. The paperclip had come off and the pages were out of order. By the time I put them back I was not afraid of him. When the plane landed about ten minutes later I let him get well away before leaving my own seat. In the terminal I saw the woman with the boys and I told her I thought many people on the plane would have thought the man was very rude and making a fuss about nothing.

This coming Friday is my last day teaching in Mildura. My contract is ended and another person is taking over. I am very, very sorry to be not working there anymore but I won't miss the travelling. Every time the plane comes in to land at Tullamarine I feel certain it's going to crash, can picture the wings shearing off, tyres bursting, engines exploding into flame etc.


Zoe said...

I'm glad you went up to her. It's very stressful if people hassle your kids in public when they're doing normal kid stuff, ie being loud and in your face.

Rach said...

Flying is a wretched thing, especially when you have to be trapped with awful people.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Recent personal experience with the psychotic-bully kind of man has alerted me to the fact that there is a massive amount of projection going on in bullying behaviour. He was probably a very noisy kid himself. (And may have got cracked on the arse etc for it. Not an excuse, but a very possible explanation.)

He was probably just as pissed off with you, for *disgusted snort* reading. I have noticed over the decades that simply to be absorbed in any reading is enough to elicit genuine hostility, especially from men.

And if he got the actual gist of what you were reading -- like, if the word 'feminist' were visible on it anywhere, and it's a word that etches itself in letters of fire -- then it would explain why he would exercise his tendencies to violence on innocent bits of paper.

I would imagine you were quite shaken, all the same. Good on you, as Zoe says, for speaking to the mother.

Kirsty said...

See, reading how he threw your papers to the ground just makes me feel a bit ill.

I'd rather witness a tantrum from a two year old than a grown man any day...

TimT said...

What. A. Jerk. It'd be bad enough sitting next to him on the plane. Imagine, the soon-to-be-grandkids he mentioned will have to put up with him for the rest of his life.

Phantom Scribbler said...

You deserve a medal of honor for speaking up to the bully and for speaking to the mother afterwards. It was probably some of the worst few hours of her life there on that plane.

tigtog said...

Just echoing: well said to both the bully and the mother. I'm appalled that he could be so petty as to spill your papers just because you didn't agree with him (in what sounds like a very carefully neutral manner). He must be accustomed to a truly staggering degree of obsequiousness from those around him normally to respond in such a way.

Tim said...

What everyone else said. Reminds me of the grown-up tantrums I witness regularly at work. It's dispiriting having to bring out my firm-but-fair telling-kids-off voice for people who are allegedly adults. You wonder how their kids cope, and their husbands, wives, parents, pets...

Adam said...

I must live in a naive bubble of human goodness, because it still upsets me to hear about this kind of thing. In the same situation, I would probably have become complicit by saying nothing. I think it reflects your good character that you spoke up.

Meredith said...

How dare he! That's so outrageous... Laura you were wonderful to be able to not retaliate but I wonder if screaming "Help, help, this man is attacking me!" might have made him think twice about doing it again. Bloody hell.

There is something about planes that brings out the worst in some people. I've had particular experience of psychosis getting 100% worse on a plane. And 3 times now I've seen people commit in the air what would be crimes of violence on the ground and nothing was done.

Val said...

That is a very worrying story, and I would have been frightened out of my mind if that had happened to me. Your actions were measured and courageous, but can I confess to wishing a lot of bad karma to come back to that man?

sophie said...

What a shit. I find it hard to beleived. Did no one see what he did to you? Anyway, good on you for standing your ground.

Mindy said...

After mouthing off about children acting out he acts out just like a child. What a horrible man.

Good on you for standing up for him and for your kind words to the Mum afterwards. The world needs more people like you. And just think, that man is horrible all the time, how awful must it be to live like that.

Ampersand Duck said...

Yeah, good on you. He sounds positively brutal.

I just wanted to say that I totally relate to your plane landing sensations. Modern culture has a weird way of trying to ensure people that travel is safe whilst delighting to dwell on accident stories/ movies/ experiences. It's a wonder any of us can leave our houses.

elsewhere said...

You're brave.

>They certainly weren't loud enough to interfere with concentrating on post-Lacanian feminist literary criticism about the Maternal Symbolic in Beloved.<

And you have great powers of concentration!

meva said...

What an ignorant, aggressive bully. I pity the man's poor family. How meekly they must pander to his whims.

I applaud you for speaking out to him, and giving some comfort to the mother.

Suse said...

As a mother myself of three small boys who are often noisy in public, thank you for speaking to and supporting that woman.

I can't believe that imbecile pushed your papers to the floor. I think I would have just stared dumbly, in shock and total disbelief. And itched to knock his coffee off his tray as I bent to pick up my papers.

Well played all round, Laura. You are a good egg.

R.H. said...

Right. Bigmouth. Well that does it! I'll never sit beside you again -on a plane, or anywhere!

(Department of Multiple Disconnect)

lucy tartan said...

Thanks all. Pav, yes I did wonder if he was pissed off with my choice of reading material as it had lots about breasts and milk and babies and mothers bodies etc in it. Meredith, I already had a full-on fight with strangers earlier in the week about a gas bill mix up and I had no more wish for a confrontation. I also didn't want to get stuck hanging around the airport all day. You're right about flying bringing out the worst in people. It does infantilise you - they bring you food, you have to ask for a drink of water and you can only go to the toilet at certain times.

As for nobody seeing the shoving the papers off the table thing, I'm pretty sure the people sitting behind us did see it. The cabin staff didn't see it. Everyone was strapped in for landing by that stage. As they had done nothing to shut him up before that point I doubt they would have intervened.

kate said...

A couple of weeks ago I had a middle-aged man telling me how proud he was the none of his kids had had dummies (while my son sucked on his) as if he was the one spending 24 hours a day with them when they were babies. I was tempted to tell him where to stick his pride, but I had my hands full of cranky baby and didn't want to upset him any more.

Why people (of all ages and both genders) think random advice from a stranger, or loud pontification, is helpful or appropriate beggars belief. Creating an amusing distraction for the kid and giving their mum a break makes the situation more pleasant for everyone.

Ariel said...

I'll echoe Zoe (and others)- good on you not only for standing up to that complete asshole but also for going up to the mother afterwards with those comments. I am sure you made her day (or saved it from being truly horrendous). That kind of thing is just awful and one person on your side makes a difference.

I can't belive what he actually said about smacking and kicking the kids. And throwing your papers!?! Unbelievable. It will probably turn out that he's a minor MP or something with that sort of alpha male behaviour.

genevieve said...

My mind has just BOGGLED. Good on you for speaking up to him, and for talking to the mum (on behalf of all mothers travelling everywhere).

My brother has taken his hearing impaired autistic son, who hates flying, all the way to Adelaide before, crying most of the way - and everyone on his plane was lovely, apparently. (Said child is now a seasoned air-traveller) You can be lucky, and then there's bloody unlucky.

Anonymous said...

What they need is a crack on the arse a smack around the legs a kick in the guts a crack around the head.

Did he really say that? and is it the full moon or something, because I just had an egregious example of similarly outrageous behaviour last night. It wasn't directed at me, but a friend of mine, but I'm still shaking and furious.

The knocking-the-papers thing is really weird and awful, too. I wouldn't mind betting he's not so much an Alpha male as a Beta, would-be Alpha male, who's taking out his fury on people he wrongly perceives as weaker than him, and who will probably be eased out of his job sometime in the near future as his behaviour gets harder to conceal/excuse.

Cast Iron Balcony

Bwca said...

What Pavlov's Cat said above:
he was probably the same at that age.

You could have stopped him in his tracks by reminding him that he did not land on earth as a adult himself.

When I notice those too-regular news reports of 'defactos' bashing crying infants to death, I wonder about 'men and babies and zero-tolerance'.
he probably hates cats too, the creep.

Good on you for speaking up.
We all should always speak up.

Anonymous said...

What we need is not for more women to stand up for themselves but more MEN to step in and point out to pricks like this that it is simply bad behaviour.


Alison said...

You rock, you rock, you rock rock rock. I would've spontaneously combusted not saying anything to that guy - only becuase I wouldn't be able to think of the right thing to say. And clearly your words were enough to stop him but not enough to make spin off the handle (mind probably would've).
And his behaviour is that of a stock Beta: >he's not so much an Alpha male as a Beta, would-be Alpha male,< (cheers anonymous)
AND THEN, to just pollish the halo, you speak to the mum.
And refs to all that's been said so far. Props to you. I hope you teach my kids someday. Rock on.

Alison said...

Thats what I meant to say...
This story has this strange cross-over of peculiar social norms:
- men who feel they should never be inconvenienced, and so forth,
- people's strange inclination to hold politness above proportionate responses, and
- the public's apparent right to comment on an individual's mothering skills.
Becuase we all went to school, so we can tell you how to teach. And I'm just going to take my child's hand and place it on your heavily-pregnant belly so she can feel the joy. Feel it, honey?

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